The Lost World of the Suffragettes

// 14 February 2012

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A British suffragette (c. 1910)Last weekend, Radio 4 broadcast an absorbing documentary called The Lost World of the Suffragettes. The hour long programme highlighted a project undertaken by the historian Sir Brian Harrison between 1974 and 1981, in which he interviewed over 200 women to compile a set of audio files recording the experiences of some of those who had been part of the Suffragette and Suffragist Movements.

Those recordings – Oral Evidence on the Suffragette and Suffragist Movements: The Brian Harrison Interviews – are now in the care of the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University and the makers of Saturday’s programme were given extensive access to the archive.

In the programme, the presenter Dan Snow listened to some of the tapes with Sir Brian Harrison, Baroness Brenda Dean, Shami Chakrabarti and suffragette historian Elizabeth Crawford. The subject matter was wide-ranging and covered many aspects of the movement, from the various direct actions and their consequences for the individual women involved, through to the ideological aspects of this important campaign to extend voting rights to women.

The interviews with women who were beaten by police and force-fed while on hunger strike were particularly harrowing to hear and, as Shami Chakrabarti pointed out, the actions of the state were nothing less than torture.

I came away from the programme feeling simultaneously aware of how far the women’s movement has come in the century since then – and how far there still is to go. The programme is available to listen at the BBC iPlayer site until Saturday and I’d say it’s essential listening for anyone with an interest in the roots of the women’s movement.

Click here to hear the programme Archive on 4: The Lost World of the Suffragettes on BBC iPlayer.


Public domain image A British suffragette (c. 1910) via Wikipedia

Comments From You

Gappy // Posted 15 February 2012 at 10:30 am

Reading about the suffering of the suffragettes at the hands of the police just makes me so furious, for them of course, but also because now I have this right to vote but there is no-one that even remotely inspires me to want to go out and vote for them.

Just look at how these women fought and sacrificed. And then look at the present day options on offer. I’d like very much to know what past suffragettes make of modern day politics.

Helen G // Posted 15 February 2012 at 12:35 pm

Gappy: Part of the broadcast did indeed touch on the views of some of the suffragettes on the present day women’s movement but I agree it would have been interesting to hear more on this. I imagine time limitations precluded in-depth analysis of any specific aspect in favour of a more general overview. It would be great if a series of follow-up programmes could be made in the future, focusing not only on this but also on the intersections of class, race, age, etc, from the perspectives of those involved in the suffragette and suffragist movements.

Laurel // Posted 15 February 2012 at 3:11 pm

guess i take more Goldman’s view on it. id be quite happy without voting rightsha. its worthless. but at the same time, it affects how our standing is seen in society and reflected the view of us as second class citizens.

Clodia // Posted 16 February 2012 at 3:54 pm

I spent 34 years in education telling young people about what the suffragettes went through to gain the vote and how important it is that they use that vote and appreciate having it even if there seems little point in doing so when you consider some of the politicians we have.

There is no way of knowing how many if any might have re-thought a decision not to vote; a teacher never knows where and whom she influences, but I just hope that a few do reflect on what women endured to get equal rights in the democratic process.

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