PANKHURST, Dame Christabel (edited by Lord Pethick Lawrence of Peaslake). Unshackled. The Story of How We Won the Vote.
London: Hutchinson 1959 [38290 ]
Social History. First Edition. A REMARKABLE ASSOCIATION COPY, signed by Lord Pethick-Lawrence (husband of Emmeline Pankhurst) and Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. The book is also signed by eleven notable suffragettes, most of whom are named within the text. Publisher’s oatmeal coloured cloth in a striking pictorial dust-jacket (showing railings). A near fine copy in a slightly nicked wrapper. The manuscript of this inside story of the Pankhursts and the triumphant ‘Votes for Women’ campaign was discovered in a trunk after Christabel’s death. Editor Pethick Lawrence, her brother-in-law and a distinguished politician, was an advocate of the movement and was gaoled for conspiring to aid and abet the agitation. Other autographs include those of the Great War French Red Cross winner Lilian ‘Lillie’ Lenton, who served time as a convicted arsonist, in Holloway and other prisons, where she conducted hunger strikes; Grace Roe, who was Executrix of Christabel Pankhurst and the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, was also jailed on several occasions for public order offences, and suffragettes Mary Leigh, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Marsh and Leslie Hall were all Birmingham militant prisoners subjected to the Government’s forcible feeding policy; Nellie Hall was also the god-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.
Now, we often get books that are pretty, or impressive, or horribly rare (No, we do…really, I just don’t get to touch them very often), we similarly find books on occasion that we love on a personal basis…we gather round them in the shop and make infantile cooing noises, and we resent it slightly when you come in and buy them. This is one such book. This book rocks.
Not only is it an account of how a relatively small group of extremely brave women took on centuries of prejudices and ass-hattery (I mean really, you can’t vote because you’re a woman? Have you seen some of the men allowed to vote…have you seen what they vote for?)…not only is it signed by a large and impressive number of said unstoppable women…it is also signed by this woman:
This my dearly beloved, is Lillie Lenton, she’s what you get if you cross a tiny, little woman who’s sick of being sidelined and abused, with nitro-glycerine and a Tasmanian Devil. A little more extreme than some others it’s true, in 1913 she embarked upon a campaign of burning stuff down to bring attention to the cause. She was arrested and thrown in jail. The British Government (imagine 200+ clones of Nigel Bruce frowning heavily and tugging at their whiskers) decided they weren’t having any of these uppity women making them look foolish by going on hunger strike whilst in jail, so they decided to force feed them…with nasally inserted hoses and restraints. It took 2 doctors and…wait for it…SEVEN warders to hold her down long enough for them to pump food into her lungs and give her a near fatal case of pleurisy. The public were outraged (about time), the government were embarrassed and she was quietly released into the world at which point I’m sure that everyone who hadn’t seen the look on her face after the 7 warders got off the top of her thought she’d take up knitting or breeding pomeranians or making jam. Lillie went with a slightly different approach, basically she became the early twentieth century version of V for Vendetta:
“Whenever I was out of prison my object was to burn two buildings a week… The object was to create an absolutely impossible condition of affairs in the country, to prove it was impossible to govern without the consent of the governed”.
Which she did…escaping from the police so many times that she was referred to as the “tiny, elusive pimpernel”, in public anyway.
Delicate types these women, can’t handle stress, no point in giving the vote to them…
During the war the women’s movement suspended their efforts, legal and otherwise in order to contribute to the war effort.
Lillie went off to become a hospital orderly, for which she was awarded the French Red Cross. She served in Serbia, travelled through Russia after the revolution, arm wrestled bandit chieftains and made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
Okay, I might have made the last couple up, but I wouldn’t put it past her.
In 1918 women householders over 30 were given the vote.
In her own words; “Personally I didn’t vote for a very long time because I hadn’t either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30.”
She died in 1972 having lived long enough to see that small, beleaguered, marginalised groups of people can change the face of society for the better over as short a timespan as the course of their own lifetimes. I think if she’d been left to it she probably could have fought the world to a standstill by mid 1932.