The Stage Rights! Walk was all about “The Suffragettes Stood Here” - and here was everywhere on the streets of London and in the hearts and minds of the performers, audience and passers by. Engaging emotionally with buildings and physical historical sites is of course a nostalgic pleasure - however what I found most moving this morning was that I couldn’t project that urge to connect to the past onto physical buildings – instead it is within myself, stirring my emotions and thoughts and colouring my encounters with the city.
It’s exactly the same along Robert Street just off the Strand – the site of Adelphi Terrace House where the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women’s Freedom League had their offices. George Bernard Shaw, Richard D’Oyly Carte and J.M. Barrie had property there, and the Minerva Press occupied the same building. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the 1930s, and only a few black and white pictures remain of the original building. For me this area is the most evocative – standing there knowing that the area was buzzing with Suffrage activities and picturing the Actresses’ Franchise League offices with the embroidered banners in the windows makes me a silly, sentimental fool, I know!
Suffragettes were visible everywhere on the streets of London and many other cities – selling newspapers on the streets, selling branded goods outside and inside Suffrage Shops and offices and protesting, demonstrating, marching, engaging with the public on many levels. Because many of the buildings they occupied so visibly only a hundred years ago are not there it is hard to come across traces of their presence unless you know where to look – I can’t walk up Charing Cross Road without thinking of the Women’s Press bookshop there and wondering what it would have looked like in real life. I also remember the Silver Moon bookshop and mourn the loss of another obviously feminist bookshop along that street.
The loss of the Women’s Library building is also sad, memories for me of precious, exciting time spent there catching glimpses of researchers and feeling humbled and impressed, but also thrilled and so lucky to be in their space, learning too. I’m sure the new location at the LSE will be great, but it’s such a shame to lose that connection with the immediate past – the passion and drive of the people that set up the Women’s Library building and the layout of the reading room made me feel part of something, part of a respectful attitude to studying, collecting and preserving the history and lives of women as well as influencing my own research and behaviour. Ah well. That’s enough sentimentality for one Sunday, I think!
Do take a walk around whatever city you are in next with the Votes for Women movement in mind. I’ll bet you there were Suffragists standing where you are standing, meeting, laughing, shouting, speaking and making the campaign impossible to ignore.