Share your voting memories

COL131COL130A post by volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan

In the build up to the General Election on the 7th May, we have been asking visitors to share their voting memories in the Election! exhibition here at the People’s History Museum. We have had a variety of responses, and visitors have shared memories such as voting in the EEC referendum in 1975, students in university celebrating the election result in 1997 and even bumping into exes at the polling station!

A handful of people seem disillusioned, saying they have never voted and believe it doesn’t change anything, but overall the responses havCOL132e been positive. Many visitors consider voting to be a democratic right and have written about the importance of having a vote in a democracy. One visitor believed that voting is a right we take for granted when others are risking their lives across the world to have a vote and another said that everyone has the right to be able to say how we live together in a society.

 

IMG_0715A common theme running through the responses is the sacrifices that groups such as the Chartists and Suffragettes made for the right to vote. Michael Carter, pictured, explains why he will be voting this year:

“Due to the suffragette movement and in particular Emily Davison, who stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 in favour of women receiving the vote, I consider it a privilege and a necessity to vote. One lady lost her life for the chance to have her say therefore in memory of her I must vote.”

In our exhibition, we have also been asking if people will be voting in the General Election this year and why. Again, a lot of people have responded with exercising theCOL133 right to vote because of the historic struggle for voting rights. But what is also interesting is the overwhelming response from young people who are not old enough to vote but wish that they could, as well as the excitement from first-time voters.

What are your voting memories? Will you be voting in this year’s General Election and why?

 

 

 

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What if….the suffragettes didn’t get the vote?

On Thursday 15 May, the PHM will explore alternative histories for Museums at Night. Join our hypothetical tour guides as they weave tall tales and ask you to imagine infinite possibilities of what might have been.  In a series of blog posts before the event we’ll be featuring questions so you can swot up on your hypothetical history and add your own alternatives.  On the night we’ll subvert our timeline with your suggestions. In the first blog, our Head of Collections and Engagement, Louise Sutherland asks What if… the suffragettes didn’t get the vote?

We’ve all heard the word Suffragette, most of us know that it’s primarily about women and their fight to get the vote and some of us will know that most UK based suffragette activity took place before World War I. There is a fair bit of talk about 2018 at the moment and its place within British democratic history, not least through PHM’s Wonder Women programme. In 2018 it will be 100 years since women over 30, who fulfilled certain criteria, were eligible to vote. Full enfranchisement on equal terms with men took another 10 years to 1928 and the voting age was lowered to all adults over the age of 21.

What if… this cat didn’t get to wear this incredible hat?

In February 1918, the Representation of the People Act (or the Fourth Reform Act) was passed through British Parliament. It gave voting rights to men (all men, regardless of background) as long as they were over the age of 21 and resident in their constituency. Women over 30 now qualified to vote, but additionally they had to meet one of the following specific conditions; that they were either a member, or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner or a graduate voting in a university constituency. At this point women now accounted for 43% of the voting electorate.

The national women’s suffrage movement started with the formation of National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872; clearly activities and groups existed before this, women had been excluded from voting in the Great Reform Act in 1832, but this is the campaign really making its mark on the national stage. Early campaigning was on the whole peaceful and the militant tactics that many suffragettes are remembered for coincided with the formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1905. Hunger strikes occurred from 1909 onwards and Emily Wilding Davison’s death at Epsom took place in June 1913.

But what if?
What if the suffragettes had not be partially enfranchised in 1918? What if they were still vote-less?
What if there had been a return to the militant tactics seen before the war? What if tactics became even more militant? What would the more pacifist arms of the movement have done?
What could this have looked like? How would this have affected Britain?
Most suffragette campaigning stopped at the outbreak of war in 1914. In 1918 following peace there were more women in the country than men as a direct consequence of the war. Women’s networks still existed and the mothballed coordinated approach so expertly managed by the different societies would have been easy to kick-start again. The frustration at being unable to vote, coupled with the successes of the franchise campaign in other countries, would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
What do you think would have happened? How you have felt as a member of one of these women’s organisations and your demands for the vote had gone unanswered? What would you have done?

Add your answers below or come and discuss at our Museums at Night: What if…? event on Thursday 15 May, 5.00pm – 8.00pm

The Legacy of the Suffragettes

A guest blog by our Director, Katy Archer

The People’s History Museum hosted the Suffragette Legacy Conference on Saturday 8 March, in partnership with Manchester University. The event formed part of the International Women’s Day celebrations for 2014 and the ongoing Wonder Women campaign.8 March 2014, Suffragette Legacy Conference @ People's History Museum (2)

With a diverse and dynamic programme of speakers and contributors, the day was interesting, engaging and thought-provoking. I personally found parts of the day funny, sad, inspiring and surprising…

Alison Ronan’s paper really helped to set the scene by exploring and uncovering the work of the Suffragettes in Manchester and the North West, while we also heard an international perspective from Katherine Chan and about the Birmingham experience from Nicola Gauld and Sima Gonsai in the afternoon.

The day included fascinating perspectives on research into the legacy of the suffragettes and their links to modern day campaigning such as Ben Halligan’s presentation on the ‘Slutwalk’ and Bernadette Hyland talking about the links between the Suffragettes and working class women today.

There were creative sessions including Steph Pike’s beautiful poetry, information about Warp and Weft’s ‘Masks in the TownHall’ project and the Pankhurst Centre’s photography project. All showing how important and powerful arts and culture are to making a point, to engaging audiences and to reflecting on big contemporary issues in today’s society.

And the day was also brought to life by our very own Hannah Mitchell with an extract from The Hard Way Up – the real-life story of a working class Suffragette from the North West.8 March 2014, Suffragette Legacy Conference @ People's History Museum (1)

The day has been captured on storify and definitely generated a lot of comment and dialogue on twitter. We received lots of positive feedback from speakers and from delegates and the conference format is definitely something for us to build upon in future years as we head towards 2018 and the centenary of women gaining the right to vote for the first time.

But the Suffragettes story and legacy wasn’t just about the right to vote – something that we discussed a lot on the day – and there were many other issues being addressed by women at the time and by women today… rights at work… rights at home… rights that are all part of the People’s History Museum’s story as the ‘home of ideas worth fighting for’.

You can see these ‘ideas’ on display in our main exhibition spaces, our changing exhibitions, our community gallery and our pop-up displays around the museum.

And you can take part in and enjoy many more events like the Suffragette Legacy Conference at the museum in 2014 – keep checking our website for details of upcoming events and sign up to our e-newsletter as well to keep up to date.

Snapshot on Women

3 March 2014, Snapshot on Women @ People's History Museum

The first Monday of every month brings a lunchtime Snapshot session down in the archive in the museum’s lower level. It’s an opportunity for anyone to have a look at some of the 80,000 photographs in our huge collection from the Labour Party and Communist Party archives in a friendly and informal setting.

On Monday, 3rd March, Snapshot focuses on women. The 20th century saw enormous changes in women’s lives and in women striving towards equality. There’s a wealth of photos of women in many roles, from the suffrage movement, strikes for a living wage and equal pay, taking up jobs previously unavailable, the women’s liberation movement, and much more.

3 March 2014

All are welcome from 12:30 to 1:30 pm, further info on the main PHM website.

This event is part of Wonder Women: Radical Manchester.  Every spring, Wonder Women shines a light on some of the incredible, creative and campaigning women working in and from this city today – it’s our way of highlighting that feminist journey, via a month’s worth of events, debate, music, art, gigs, profiles and more. More information on Creative Tourist

Ask a Curator: Why is the suffragette section so small?

A guest post from our new Curator, Chris Burgess

09 October 2013 (9)In a recent experiment to gather people’s thoughts and questions on PHM’s galleries, one visitor asked two questions. The first was Why is the suffragette section so small?  And the second Where is the info on the women who campaigned for the vote for all women, not just ‘educated’ women from the start? Here is my response.

Dear anonymous visitor,

I’m going to attempt to answer your query. But I should warn you that PHM is a museum of politics and debate. In this spirit I should state that don’t entirely agree with the premise of your question. Relative to the rest of the gallery I don’t agree that the suffrage display is that small. In terms of floor area its one of the largest, although I’ll admit it would be better if it were bigger (but I’d say that about much of the sections of the galleries).

To some extent all the displays reflects the size of the collection. As a museum our uniqueness, our USP, is the stuff.  Often it was objects that drove the decision making about the relative size of displays. The suffragette collection at PHM is probably one of the largest of its type in the UK (the Museum of London and obviously the Women’s Library also in London can count larger examples). Despite this, other collections at PHM dwarf it, the examples of posters and the banner collection spring to mind. Suffragette material is highly coveted by public institutions and private collectors alike, acquiring more of it is very difficult (though we would like too). Given the size then of the collection what with the objects and the recreation of leading peoples history museum ManchesterSuffragette Hannah Mitchell’s kitchen, I’d say the display is relatively large.

I’d also like to say that I think the museum’s focus on the suffragettes goes beyond the story of ‘rich women’. As stated the kitchen is a recreation of Hannah Mitchell’s who was a working class woman from Derbyshire who lived in Bolton and Manchester. We also have the arrest warrant of Leeds suffragette Alice Noble a 17 year old working class woman arrested on a march in London and sent to Holloway. Moreover, the museum’s ‘displays’ move beyond the physical. We host a yearly festival called ‘Wonder Women’ which has events, conferences, art instillations etc which highlight women’s fight for the vote. The museum also has aLiving History - The Hard Way Up @ People's History Museum 021 ‘living history’ character which brings to life for school groups the story of afore mentioned working class suffragette Hannah Mitchell.

Does this sound defensive? It’s not meant to. Because I do think there are some problems with the display as it stands. That gap between 1918 when women aged 30 and over were included in the franchise (I’m avoiding the word given, far too patronising) and the equal franchise act in 1928 is almost entirely absent from the gallery. Bearing in mind this was a time when there a significant campaign to end the discriminatory age bar for women, we do need to say more. And to be honest, the act itself, that seminal moment when women and men could vote on equal terms is also not properly recognised. Every time I give a tour of the galleries, I emphasise that crucial point, and yet not everyone who visits can make the tour.

To finish I’d like to say that of course there is mention of the famous women of the suffrage movement; the Pankhursts and Emily Wilding Davison’s. Though I feel we’d get complaints if there were not. And we recognise that there were thousands of women (and men) who campaigned for suffrage. Of them nothing survives, not even a name. How then to recognise those women? I’d like to think that in some ways the museum is a memorial (is the right word?) to them, but perhaps we need more. When working on the new museum we had the same problem with the display on sweated labourers; women who worked horrendous hours for criminally low pay. The same for the account of match girls strike, of which there are no objects. There is a display to both and an interactive which (we hope) helps people empathise with their plight.

But ultimately the museum is one of the poor, the unrecognised, and the underrepresented. These people did not necessarily own much. At which point the obvious question arises: how do museums whose very foundation is built on objects of the past, tell the lifes of those whose history is not expressed through material possessions, but through ideas, through fights and above all through hope?

In part, I hope, it’s by having these discussions with our visitors.

Staff Top Picks: A Suffragette’s Home

In the first of our ‘Staff Top Picks’ series, PHM Director Katy Archer tells us why the poster A Suffragette’s Home is her most-loved object in our collection. What’s your favourite item in the museum? Tell us on Twitter using #phmtop10.

Katy Archer (4)

One of my favourite objects is the poster – A Suffragette’s Home, produced by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage around 1910. The poster appealed to the working man who has returned home from work to find his hungry children in an untidy house.

The poster stands out to me for a number of reasons. Its style, aesthetic quality and colour palette are striking and part of the iconic design of many posters of this era. The artist responsible for this poster was John Hassell who also designed the famous holiday poster, Skegness is So Bracing.

I also think it’s interesting to see a poster arguing AGAINST something that can now sometimes be taken for granted. Votes for Women is such an important part of the People’s History Museum and we have a fantastic collection of objects representing this story, as well as other organisations in Manchester such as the Pankhurst Centre who are key to telling the story of Women’s Suffrage.

PHM is a champion for the Wonder Women campaign commemorating how much will have been achieved in the 100 years from 1918 (when women first won the (partial) right to vote) to 2018. 1918 was the culmination of a long, hard struggle, and although we’ve come a long way, there is still much work to be done. With events, debate, music, art and more, Wonder Women is a five-year project that asks how far we’ve come – and how far we have yet to go.

So for me this poster sums up that struggle – it shows how women had to make sacrifices for a cause that they believed in – and it shows that there have always been (and continue to be) ideas worth fighting for!

It also reminds me that working towards a bigger goal and fighting for something you believe in is more important than keeping a tidy home – which is good to see as the poster also reminds me a little bit of my house when I get home from a day working at PHM!

Ingrid’s placement reflection

Today we have a guest post from Ingrid who is studying Museum Studies at Newcastle University and recently completed an eight week placement with the museum. Ingrid has been tweeting about it and more at @museumingrid

The work placement is a key part of Museum Studies Masters programmes, and I jumped at the chance to do mine at the People’s History Museum (PHM). I’d first visited the museum in winter 2010, where I had a chuckle at the temporary community exhibition of political Christmas cards and was struck by the contemporary and eye-catching way the museum presented the chronological story of working people in Britain.

My placement has been mostly within the Exhibitions department. I’ve been conducting research into Tailored Trades as part of a newly formed AHRC Network between Northumbria University and the University of Exeter. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to create a display case for their launch event – the case will be in the museum’s processional way museum on 29 June and will include objects highlighting the radical changes in production and consumption of clothing between 1880 and 1939.

paper pattern adverts from Labour WomanI’ve had the pleasure of working with the collections of both PHM and the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and have unearthed incredible treasures such as tailors notebooks from 1907, and these incredible paper pattern adverts from Labour Woman, the Labour Party’s publication for women. They’re so Great Gatsby!

I’ve done so much research into the banner collection at the museum and read so many different records from Tailors Trade Unions that I feel like I was a member myself! The solidarity of trade unions is such an inspiring story and one which is core to the museum’s exhibitions. Tailors trade unions are pretty much the first examples of women being active in trade unions, basically due to the amount of women who happened to work in these trades. The role of working women campaigning for rights and an active voice has been a real theme in my placement which has been an unexpected delight as it’s one close to my heart. This particular project has helped me to develop working knowledge of the exhibition process, I’ve really had to manage my time myself which has been a really useful experience which I’m sure will come in handy.

Food Pamphlet Table DisplayAnother task I was given was to create two small displays for the museum cafe, using material from the archive. I scanned in some eye catching pamphlet covers and newspaper articles and created reproductions to use as table top displays. This was really fun because the museum has some really amazing things in its archive that don’t often see the light of day, so doing this has meant that visitors can enjoy them and the cafe has been brightened up too.

I’ve also been able to experience the early stages of a major changing exhibition, as museum staff have been busily preparing ideas, having meetings and developing designs for the forthcoming exhibition about the Cooperative. I shadowed the Exhibitions Assistant in several visits to the museum’s collections store to photograph potential objects that may be selected for the exhibition. This chance to go truly behind the scenes and put my object handling training into practice was very enjoyable.

Emily Wilding Davison the one who threw herself under the horse a play by Cambridge Devised TheatreAnother one of my highlights has been blogging for the Wonder Women Manchester blog about a series of events at the museum in commemorating the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death. There have been installations, talks and even a play in the museum!

I’ve really loved doing my placement at PHM, it’s gotten better and better and I’ll be sad to leave, thanks to all of the staff for being so supportive to their placement students, I’ve been one of a few in the time I’ve been here. It’s been incredibly varied, possibly due to the nature of my interests and I’ve loved every moment!