Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback early copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This is one of the types of books this publisher excels at. Experts on a topic with good access to images and visual resources create an informative and compelling narrative of a historically important subject or event, combining easy to read accounts with pictures and documents relevant to the matter that help make it more vivid and memorable in our minds.
In this case, the images of The National Archives about the Suffragettes serve to illustrate the story of the movement in the UK. The fact that the author was a records specialist at the National Archives is evident, as she wisely chooses, from what must be a large selection of material, a variety of documents: comic and cartoon images (of the disparaged “new woman”, wearing trousers or bloomers, ignoring her children, and smoking!), pictures of the women involved (including a fascinating one of Evelyn Manesta, or rather two, one showing clearly that she refused to have her picture taken and therefore somebody was holding her from the back, and then the manipulated version of it, where the person behind her had been removed. No Photoshop yet, but photo manipulation even in the early XX century was already in existence), letters from the women complaining about the conditions in prison, or the fact that they were treated like common criminals, a wonderful image of a boycotted census form, from 1911, with a handwritten note (No persons here, only women!), a picture from 4th June 1913, at Epsom, the Derby Races, where we can see Emily Wilding Davison after being trampled by a horse and another picture of her funeral procession, images of the destruction caused when things escalated…
These wonderful —scary, moving, and incredible, at times— images are accompanied by a brief history of the movement for the women’s vote in the UK. The book is short (under 100 pages) and therefore this is not a very detailed account, but as an introduction to the topic it works well, as it includes the antecedents (how married women had been fighting to try to keep their property for decades, and how they became more and more frustrated on seeing how other countries in “the colonies” like New Zealand and Australia passed more advanced legislation an introduced women’s vote before the UK did), the development of the different associations (Manchester and the Pankhurst women play an important role), their initial peaceful tactics, their focus on deeds and increase in the visibility of their actions, imprisonment, hunger strikes, the pause during WWI (which not everybody was in agreement with), and the final achievement of some sort of vote after the war (in 1918, only for women over 30 who were property owners or married to property owners. It would take 10 years to normalise the situation). The summary is well-written and it is fairly comprehensive, considering the length of the book, although it won’t tell experts anything they didn’t already know.
Although the images include the archival reference, I missed a bibliography, a list of illustrations and an index, but otherwise I found the book great for reference, also as a book to complement a collection for those interested in the topic and a good introduction for people looking for an informative and easy to read account.
If readers are interested in knowing more about the Suffragettes and the efforts to achieve women’s vote in the UK, especially in a particular city or region, I recommend checking the publisher’s website, as they are continually updating their collection Struggle and Suffrage in… (which includes already many cities and counties: Manchester, Leeds, Wales…), and they have other books looking at some of the figures involved in the fight as well. I plan on talking about some of those soon.