Yesterday some of us gathered at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park to commemorate the NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) and the women who marched from around England and Wales in July 1913. Culminating in a 50,000 strong gathering of women in Hyde Park on 26th July 1913, the NUWSS supporters were constitutional suffragists who walked from their communities to London to show the Government how many women wanted the right to vote.
Many many walks have been organised to honour the women. You can find out more on the Walk For Women website.
The week before I'd been to see a new play about the NUWSS pilgrimage. Written by Natalie Mc Grath and directed by Josie Sutcliffe, Oxygen has been performed along the route that the suffragists took from Lands End to London.
It was great to hear more about the constitutional suffragists and their journey alongside the more familiar WSPU stories - and the cast were full of passion and energy.
Yesterday in Hyde Park we celebrated the first wave of feminism as well as the third wave. Speakers (click on their names for more info about their work) included:
Lucy from the No More Page 3 campaign;
Laura from the Everyday Sexism project;
Caroline from the Keep Women on Banknotes campaign;
Sarah from the Coalition to End Violence Against Women;
Feminist comic and campaigner Kate Smurthwaite.
There was also a speech from one of the Greenham Common women protesters who had been jailed in Holloway for her actions - she spoke movingly about her experiences and the past and future of feminist activism. A relative of one of the most famous militant suffragettes, Annie Kenney, also spoke.
I was honoured to speak about the suffragist campaign and the Actresses' Franchise League and ended with some fantastically uplifting and positive words from one of the most well known Suffrage plays, Pageant of Great Women. Several people asked me to post the words here - and here they are!
If you'd like to find out more about suffrage theatre - my book
The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays would be a great place to start!
An edit of the final speech from Cicely Hamilton's
Pageant of Great Women (1909).
Spoken by Woman.
I will go speak with him as peer with peer,
Free woman with free man.
Free words, and therefore honest…Thus I’ll speak him!
I have no quarrel with you; but I stand
For the clear right to hold my life my own:
The clear, clean right! To mould it as I will,
Not as you will, with or apart from you.
To make of it a thing of brain and blood,
Of tangible substance and of turbulent thought –
No thin, grey shadow of the life of man!
Your love, perchance, may set a crown on it;
But I may crown myself in other ways -
I have no quarrel with you; but henceforth,
This you must know: The world is mine, as yours,
The pulsing strength and passion and heart of it:
The work I set my hand to, woman’s work,
Because I set my hand to it. Henceforth
For my own deeds myself am answerable
To my own soul.
For this in days to come
You, too, shall thank me. Now you laugh, but I
Laugh too, a laughter without bitterness;
Feeling the riot and rush of crowding hopes,
Dreams, longings and vehement powers; and
Knowing this –
‘Tis good to be alive when morning dawns!