In groups of ten to fifteen at a time, audiences will set off on a specially prepared route through Covent Garden starting from the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane. At intervals throughout the route, actors and actresses begin their performances as the groups draw near, engaging audience members in comic and moving moments from the struggle for Votes for Women with pieces both inspired by and directly from the plays and experiences of the Actresses’ Franchise League…
Audiences will discover theatrical Suffragette secrets they never knew Theatre Land had been keeping!
2. Male support for Votes for Women
In the film 'Suffragette' the character of Hugh Ellyn, played by Finbar Lynch, is described by the policemen watching his property as being part of the 'Men's League.' Married to a known militant, he has apparently previously been imprisoned for his role in the suffrage campaign, and we see him in the film helping the WSPU to organise and carry out violent militant actions. Although we never get to hear any of his story, it's good to have acknowledgement of the male support for suffrage in the film - as it's an important part of the history of the campaign.
It's not made clear in the film or production notes, but I reckon, given his militant leanings, Lynch's character is most likely to have been part of the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement (MPU). The MPU was directly affiliated with the WSPU, the society featured in the film 'Suffragette,' and shared their colours of purple, white and green. As well as their headquarters near Charing Cross Station in London, they had a number of regional branches across the UK, including in Eastbourne, Birmingham and Letchworth and at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. One branch, in East Grinstead, was apparently "actually the outcome of an anti-suffrage meeting there... One gentleman was so struck with the feebleness of the arguments that he proceeded to found a branch of the Men's League."
Seen the Suffragette film and interested in finding out a bit more about the
stories it tells? Well, hello!
1. Police Surveillance Photos
In the Suffragette film, we see police taking and collating surveillance pictures of suspected militant women both out in public and whilst they are in prison. As violent direct action became more frequent, surveillance of militant women and their networks by police increased. The photographs could then be circulated not only to police forces up and down the country but also to potential sites of protest, like galleries, so that known militants could be refused access.
The women in the pictures below include Mary Richardson (no. 11) who slashed the Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in 1914 in protest at the treatment of Emmeline Pankhurst in prison, and Kitty Marion (no. 13) a music hall performer and member of the Actresses' Franchise League.
It's curious that Marion's publicity photograph has been used here - there are other pictures of her taken by press and police photographers that could have been used but perhaps this full face image was thought more valuable.
So this month I graduated with a PhD in Drama from the University of Manchester after four years of research and study that has been a total joy. I can't believe how it much it has changed me.
This is the transcript of my talk for BBC Radio 3's
Free Thinking Festival, recorded on the 2nd November 2014 at the Sage, Gateshead.
It was broadcast on 24th November 2014.
The broadcast version was cut, so the transcript below is the" full piece. You can hear the broadcast version by clicking on the picture above - or clicking here
I was just casually reading through Votes for Women from 23rd January 1914 when this leapt out at me and made me giggle:
The final hurrah of the Actresses' Franchise League was in December 1958 at a special Ball held in the Savoy Hotel.
The programme for the event is fantastic - a treasure trove of information and a tantalising glimpse into what sounds like an amazing evening. The great and the good had their dinner at 8pm but there was a later "Actresses' Supper" served at 11pm, presumably so that actresses in shows could come and join the festivities after their performances had come down.
This article was published in the Observer newspaper on 24th August 2014 - it was originally published by the same paper on 24th August 1986 and is about the vote of the Magic Circle, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, in that year on whether to allow female magicians to become members of the organisation.
Actress and Actresses' Franchise League member May Whitty's memories of August 4th 1914:
Aug 4 – “We played as usual for Church, traveled home, supped with Cissie L and an air man Carlton after going to Hippodrome, all so strange, unreal – wild rumours of naval engagements, ships sunk – the streets as we walked home were full of excited people waving flags – Singing Marseillaise, riding on tops of cabs – all so horrifying, then the tension – the rumours – the hopes the fear, and the Sheer World of such stupidity, and life went on..."
Researching my PhD about the Actresses' Franchise League and their work has been and remains wonderful - there's been so much to find and it's a treat to look for it. I've discovered that I love tracking things down! The absence of archives or papers for the most longstanding and active members of the League has been the most frustrating part, although of course it's always worth being optimistic about the future.
Then there are the near misses... here are two that I've experienced that are to do with the actress Adeline Bourne.
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research