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Cheney School

Cheney School

Suffrage Stories Slam

Suffrage Stories Slam

21 Year 10 students arrived bright and early to start the day at the Weston Library with a talk by Linda Newbery, author of Polly’s March and Until We Win. Linda began by introducing the premises behind these two books, before exploring some of the key women and events in the movement, including Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, and Annie Kenney, a working class suffragette. Linda also spoke about law-breaking, imprisonment and force-feeding, as well as the activities of the suffragists who were law-abiding under the helm of Millicent Fawcett.

We then welcomed Professor Senia Paseta to give an introduction to the Sappho to Suffrage Exhibition, of which she is a curator. Senia spoke about how she had initially wanted to have an exhibition focused only on suffrage, but eventually the exhibition was decided to focus on items created by women, ranging from the ancient Greek poet Sappho to the suffragists and beyond.

She spoke about the challenge in finding material made by women, and how much of that material was also then very limited in terms of diversity, and dominated by white, middle class women. She spoke about the challenges, too, of deciding how to present the material.

The students were then able to explore the exhibition with both Senia Paseta, and Rosie Sharkey, Bodleian Education Officer, available to answer questions and guide.

After that, the students split themselves into five groups to begin work on their task: to develop a display board on either a fictionalised account of a suffragist or a museum style presentation.

The groups explored biographies on suffrage campaigners from the Bodleian Library based on the women featured in the Sappho to Suffrage Exhibition. The groups had been given a range of pens, decorative materials, paper and a large board, and they were allotted three and a half hours to complete the displays.

The groups set to work. They chose the women they wanted to explore, and then devoted themselves industriously to the task of selecting material, and illustrating the material to create eye-catching, engaging boards which communicated important facts about the women’s lives, the wider movement and the legacy of their involvement.

One group chose to explore Flora Drummond, nicknamed the General, who was known for her military-esque appearance and dramatic actions. Another chose Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who, with her husband, Frederick, edited the newspaper Votes for Women, but who split with the WSPU through disagreement with their violent tactics.

Two groups chose Annie Kenney, the working class suffragette who was among the first to be arrested, and who was imprisoned many times. Finally, one group chose to explore both Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, and their very different beliefs and approaches to the movement for Women’s Suffrage.

The groups presented their displays and spoke about the women’s lives to their fellow classmates as well as to Linda and Rosie. The presentations and boards were excellent, and everyone was extremely impressed with how hard the Year 10s had worked to create such striking, thoughtful displays in such a short time with such enthusiasm.

We are very grateful to everyone who took part, as well as to Linda, Rosie and Senia for all their support and time. We are also very grateful to the Weston Library for making it possible for us to host this Rumble Museum event at such a beautiful and stimulating venue.

This event was funded by a grant from the Women’s Vote Centenary fund.

Dr Lorna Robinson, Director, The Iris Project