Rebel Girls: How Votes for Women Changed Edwardian Lives

Alison Light writes:

In November 1913, ‘the Headingly two’, a dark-haired woman of about twenty-five and ‘a girlish figure in green cap and sports jacket’, stood trial for attempting to set fire to a football stand in Leeds. Among the evidence produced against them were some postcards, one declaring ‘No Vote, No Sport, No Peace – Fire, Destruction, Devastation’ and another addressed to Asquith: ‘We are burning for “Votes for Women”.’ It wasn’t a joke. In the last months of peacetime, suffragettes belonging to Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union, committed arson on a scale not seen since the rick-burnings of the Captain Swing riots in the 1830s. In the first seven months of 1914, a hundred buildings were set on fire, including the ancient White Kirk in East Lothian, which was totally destroyed, the refreshment room in Regent’s Park in London and houses in Liverpool and Manchester. There were other ‘outrages’, as the press called them: a railway carriage set ablaze; pillar boxes ‘fired’ with phosphorus packets which burned when exposed to air; telegraph and telephone wires cut; glass smashed in public buildings and shops. ‘Votes for Women’ was scorched in acid across golf greens in Bradford and Birmingham, and Lloyd George’s country house was attacked. In Doncaster, suffragettes tried to blow up an empty house, and a bomb went off under the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey; the explosion could be heard in the House of Commons.

(LRB 25 January 2007)

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