Suffragette City: “Votes for Women” at the Museum of London

Finding something to do that doesn’t leave either me or my baby (or both!) mind-numbingly bored is getting to be more and more challenging as my maternity leave dwindles to a close. Museums are a life-saver, because there is usually something in any museum interesting for both of us to look at, and at the very least older kids running around to amuse Theo and a nice book or toy to be purchased in the museum shop.

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This week we went to the Museum of London. We frequent the Docklands museum as it’s near our home but it was my first time visiting the main museum in more years that I can count. I wanted to see the”Votes for Women” exhibit so we headed there first, then wandered backwards in time through 20th century London. Very enlivening stuff, much different from the stuffy Roman mannequins I seem to recall from my study abroad days when the Museum was home to our “History of London” class.

The “Votes for Women” exhibit was a bit disappointing, however. I did enjoy the video, which addressed the fine line between civil disobedience and violence, and recognised the oft-forgotten fact that in 1918 not *all* women were granted the vote. The objects chosen for the display were poignant and powerful.

Missing, however, was a discussion of the Suffragists, and their objection to the Suffragettes use of force, which they felt damaged rather than aided their cause. A baffling omission as it would have aided and illustrated the debate about civil disobedience.

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Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike medal. In many ways the colours, parades, and awards of the suffrage campaign echoed the military culture of the time. 

And of course, the First World War was mentioned, but not the fact that some suffragists and suffragettes alike refused to aid the war effort, either motivated pacifist beliefs or because they refused to be distracted from their main aim of women’s suffrage. Instead, the museum presented the usual narrative that women’s contributions helped them to be seen as worthy of the vote (indeed, this was the motivation for many suffrage-minded women to join the war effort) and therefore was the reason for extension of suffrage (despite the fact that the women who won the vote in 1918 were not the smiling on the film, nor indeed were they the vast majority of women who put their lives on hold for their war work). It was a short exhibit, but given they’d already found room and capacity for nuance, I felt there could have been more of it.

We are spoilt for choice on suffrage-related exhibitions in London at the moment, so stay tuned for more.

The “Votes for Women” display is on in the Museum of London until 6 January, 2019 (free).

 

 

 

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