Monday, August 15, 2016

Suffragettes Across the 20th Century

This is an image, captured off YouTube of the 1975 BBC Masterpiece Theatre mini-series, Shoulder to Shoulder. I didn't see it. I was in college and didn't own a TV.

I'm thinking again about the Suffragettes and the Sixties. (After all, I have just finished writing Furies Cross the Mersey and Service and Disservice about the crazy  and slightly nefarious suffrage movement in 1910 era Canada.)

I mentioned in an earlier post that the  Danny Boyle opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, four years ago,  was thematically very similar to the British Pavilion at Expo 67, what with Churchill and the Beatles and Austen Mini and all the social history. Similar but different in one key respect. The British Pavilion at Expo 67 contained nothing about the suffragettes (as far as I can see).

Why not?

Well, for one, the suffragettes weren't big in 1967, despite the fact a giant rally was being planned for the next year.

I can't find much written about them in the newspapers of the time (archive-wise).

And Google Ngrams reveals the terms, woman suffrage, suffragist or suffragette, weren't evident in the books of the era.

My history book, Canada Then and Now, had nothing about the suffrage movement in Canada. Indeed, there wasn't one woman mentioned in the book.

(So no wonder I couldn't have told you when Canadian women got the vote, not 7 years ago when I embarked on my Nicholson Family project.)

If I saw anything about the suffragettes as a child, it was in a movie like Mary Poppins or The Great Race, where they are mocked or at least poked at for fun.

As for the British Pavilion, they were more interested in promoting women through the lens of Swinging London, their long-legged models and and mini-skirted hostesses, who apparently were the envy of the other national hostesses at Expo, some of whom took scissors to their uniforms to acquire the London Look.

(I clipped this from

Suffragettes in 1967 were making news for dying, mostly.

Suffragettes were old ladies with funny dress habits and smelly dead otter skins hanging in their closets.

Young people cannot envision that old people were once young themselves.

Any film footage we would have seen of suffragettes would have been on the small black and white TV screen and all jerky, making the protesters waving their big unwieldy placards look silly. They couldn't play the old silent films at the correct speed back then.  So the BBC program Shoulder To Shoulder would have been correcting this perception.

(As I have written, the British Suffragettes were very fashion conscious, partnering with Selfridges and promoting pretty clothes in their magazine Votes for Women.

The British Suffragettes were media savvy and they helped to shape their own legacy by immediately authoring their own books on their movement for posterity. Lots of these are now available on

I got this picture off

I wonder what Edith Nicholson of the Nicholson Family Letters thought of the 60's Youth culture. (Edith was all for the militant suffragettes in her day... the brick throwing ones...quite scandalous for a prim and proper Presbyterian school teacher.)

Well, I can guess. She probably liked it.

She didn't think of herself as old (she told my husband) and she had spent part of her career associating closely with young college age women as the Assistant Warden at McGill's Royal Victoria College. (They apparently confided in her often and she sometimes felt sad for them, her 1930's letters show.)

Edith young in 1911, with fiance Charlie who died in fire

Edith Old in 1960 or so, with great nephew Blair.In the pearls.

With modern YouTube, there's no excuse not to learn about the Suffragettes.