Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Use of the Pen" - Women Writers, Banners and Cat Tails

Jane Austen's Suffragette Banner

"The Suffragists held a very great meeting in Hyde Park on Sunday last, when more than a quarter of a million people were gathered together. Seven processions started for the park from various points in the metropolis:  Trafalgar Square, Victoria Embankment, Euston, Paddington, Marylebone, Kensington, and Chelsea. The proceedings were quiet and peaceful, and the ladies claim a great victory for the cause. Some six thousand policemen were on duty to protect Suffragists from hooligans and others."  - From The Illustrated London News, June 27, 1908.

Pictures give some idea of the size and spirit of the "Great Demonstration" on what came to be called Women's Sunday:

Among the marchers were members of the Women Writers' Suffrage League, newly founded by the playwright Cicely Hamilton and Bessie Hatton of the Women's Social and Political Union. The group's motto was: "To obtain the vote for women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men. Its methods are those proper to writers - the use of the pen."

Edith Craig and Cicely Hamilton

Cicely Hamilton had a hit play, "Diana of Dobson's," that year, about a department store worker. Her famous Suffrage play, "How the Vote was Won," was a hit in 1909.  Edith Craig, daughter of actress Ellen Terry, was a member of the Women Actresses' Suffrage League, also founded in 1908.
The Illustrated London News ran a piece on "The Women Militant: Leaders of the Suffragist Procession and the Banners Commemorating Great Woman of All Ages."  Seventy banners were created and carried for the Hyde Park demonstration.

Suffragettes making banners for the Hyde Park march

Elizabeth Robins, actress turned writer, and first President of the League, wrote, "The qualification for membership is the publication or production of a book, article, story, poem or play for which the author has received payment, and a subscription of 2s . 6d. to be paid annually...Women writers are urged to join the League. A body of writers working for a common object cannot fail to influence public opinion." 

Other women writers who joined the organisation included Elizabeth Robins, Charlotte Despard, Alice Meynell, Olive Schreiner, May Sinclair, Marie Belloc Lowndes, Mrs. Israel Zangwill, and Mrs. Havelock Ellis.  Some familiar names, some not; fun to google them all.  Elizabeth Robins is one of the most interesting. 

 An American born actress, she emigrated to England after the bizarre suicide of her actor husband (he jumped into the river wearing a theatrical suit of armor), and became famous starring in the plays of Ibsen.  In 1900 she went on an adventurous journey to Alaska searching for her long-lost brother (she found him), and turned author, writing about the trip.  As a Suffragette, she supported the cause as a speaker, and by writing plays such as her controversial "Votes for Women" (it was about women's rights and abortion, way ahead of its time).

Elizabeth Robins as Hedda Gabler

The banners that floated above the heads of the women writers are a fascinating collection.  I like that they chose to celebrate so many famous women writers of the past.  Here are a few of them:

And here is an piquant assortment of others:

You can see all the banners!  Here:

And now, for your cat picture.  The song "March of the Women" should be sung while viewing.  Here is the song:  

 The sister cats, as you see, are appropriately Shoulder to Shoulder.

Shoulder to Shoulder:   Martial and Catullus
with their Tails as Banners