Friday, April 6, 2018

Tom’s Archive Work Placement Blog No2

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of British women (over the age of 30) first gaining the right to vote in parliamentary elections, so to honour this I’ve delved into the Archives and uncovered the 1906 diary of Ethel Wedgwood, wife of Josiah Clement Wedgwood M.P. This diary provides invaluable insight into Ethel’s social and political activities and, crucially, her first hand encounters with the Suffragist movement.

Ethel Wedgwood’s diary 1906 (UGSD188) Special Collections and Archives, Keele University Library

Josiah Clement Wedgwood was particularly active in politics, representing Newcastle-under-Lyme in parliamentary debate for over 35 years. Politics was naturally high on the agenda for discussion within the family, and Ethel was very much involved in her husband’s political career, recording her daily observations in the House of Commons within her diaries.

At the time of Ethel’s writings, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) had only just begun to adopt more militant tactics. These new tactics are observed in many of Ethel’s diary entries, in which she details the controversial nature of “Pankhurst & Co.” (most likely referring to Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline’s daughter), who would frequently interrupt political meetings and generally, in Ethel’s opinion, act like “insufferable nuisances”.

We can quite clearly deduce from her writings that Ethel was not too fond of the Suffragists and their aggression, most evident through her concern that the controversial tactics of the group would “set half the country against” the women’s plight, and instead preferring to defend the rights of her “Staffordshire Women” through respectable debate.

Ethel’s qualms with Pankhurst and her Suffragettes illustrate the extent of opposition that these women faced, not just from men, but from people of any gender and class. Even so, while their controversial tactics may not have made them many friends among politicians, it is impossible to deny the effect that the Suffragettes had on the public consciousness, using their commitment and determination to force women’s suffrage to the forefront of political and social discussion. Without them, we would not be where we are today!

An extract from Ethel Wedgwood’s 1906 diary (UGSD188) Special Collections and Archives, Keele University Library

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