Edinburgh’s Suffragette history examined at new exhibition

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Little-seen photographs and artefacts linked to the women and children involved in the suffragette movement in Edinburgh a century ago are to take centre stage in a major exhibition this summer.

Scarves, sashes, placards, and banners normally stored in the city’s archives will be going on display at the Museum of Edinburgh in honour of the participants in the 1909 demonstration that brought the city centre to a standstill.

The city's Suffragette history is the focus of a new exhbition. Picture: Greg Macvean

The city's Suffragette history is the focus of a new exhbition. Picture: Greg Macvean

The exhibition, Their Work Is Not Forgotten, will have a special focus on the story of nine-year-old Bessie Watson, who famously played the bagpipes as she marched along Princes Street wearing a “votes for women” sash.

She rode on a float beside a woman dressed as Isabella Macduff, one of the leading women involved in Scotland’s Wars of Independence.

The show, which will run for more than four months, is also expected to focus on other high-profile protests staged by women around the city.

These include the case of Maude Edwards, who was convicted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for slashing a portrait of King George V in the Royal Academy in protest at Emmeline Pankhurst’s famous arrest at Buckingham Palace.

WSPU demonstration along Princes Street, 9 October 1909. Picture: Contributed

WSPU demonstration along Princes Street, 9 October 1909. Picture: Contributed

A suffrage campaigner was thought to be behind the still-unresolved bomb attack on the Royal Observatory, in Edinburgh, which only employed men at the time of the attack in 1913. Police recovered a “ladies handbag of the kind used for shopping” at the scene. Also recovered was a note which read: “How beggarly appears argument before defiant deed. Votes for women.”

Also featured will be Ethel Moorhead, who became the first suffragette to be force-fed in Scotland when she was imprisoned at the Calton Jail in Edinburgh.

Their Work Is Not Forgotten will also explore the evolution of social and political protests in Edinburgh and the part played by women in them. Organisers want to include the voices of modern-day young women in the show, which will be launched at the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile just days before thousands of women and girls are expected to parade through the Capital to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.

Edinburgh is one of four locations around the UK, along with London, Cardiff and Belfast, to be taking part in the Processions event, which is aimed at creating a series of “living artworks”. Participants will be urged to wear green, white or violet – the colours of the suffrage movement – at the four parades on June 10.

Edinburgh born suffragette and doctor Elsie Maud Inglis, ran a field hospital at Royaumont Abbey in France during the First World War.

Edinburgh born suffragette and doctor Elsie Maud Inglis, ran a field hospital at Royaumont Abbey in France during the First World War.

The Museum of Edinburgh will be hosting a special event on April 27 to allow young women to record their views on modern-day protests, women’s rights and the relevance of the suffrage centenary.

Anna MacQuarrie, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries history curator, said: “Edinburgh’s place as a centre for political and social action is long-standing and our museum collections reflect this. We’re thrilled to be displaying important objects from the suffrage movement in Edinburgh as well as objects from recent political demonstrations held in the city.

“This exhibition offers an opportunity to reflect on the significant role that women have played at the heart of Edinburgh’s social and political action for over a hundred years.

“We hope it leaves visitors feeling informed, engaged and asking questions of their own.”

Amy McNeese-Mechan, vice- convener of culture at the city council, said: “Documenting the bravery and struggle of Scottish women who fought long and hard to win the right to vote, this powerful exhibition features an impressive display of protest banners, sashes and photographs from our city’s collection. Designed to commemorate the centenary of this historic moment on the road to full gender equality and celebrate the achievements of our female ancestors, it also contemplates whether their fight is really over, 100 years on.

“I hope visitors of all ages feel empowered by the display, and perhaps even inspired to create their own banners and take to the streets on June 10 to join me and many other women as we channel the suffragette spirit.”

iT’S TIME TO REMEMBER FEMALE GREATS

Edinburgh is filled with statues. One ‘minor’ problem, however, is the vast majority depict men (fictional and non), dogs, giraffes, and bears. Those with two X chromosomes are rather conspicuous by their absence. The only two real-life women who boast a statue in their likeness are “Craigmillar heroine” Helen Crummy and Queen Victoria.

In 2017, we shared the story of pioneering suffragist doctor Elsie Inglis, who was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War.

In a joint campaign with Lord Provost Frank Ross, and with the help of Edinburgh-based charity One City Trust, we aim to raise the £50,000 necessary to build the statue that Dr Elsie Inglis rightly deserves.

To donate, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/elsie