The long struggle for women’s suffrage and the debates it inspired across the homes, workplaces and communities of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be explored in 2018 as part of the National Trust’s commemoration to mark 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act.
The 1918 Act granted some women the right to vote in British parliamentary elections for the first time. A century on, the Trust will launch Women and Power, a year-long national programme celebrating this historic milestone.
Events, exhibitions, on-site tours and creative commissions will take place at properties with links to both sides of the suffrage movement. The Trust has also invited a number of contemporary thinkers and artists to reflect on the significance of the centenary of women’s suffrage at places around the country, including Knole, Wightwick, Cragside and Tyntesfield.
Edith, Lady Londonderry (C) National Trust/John Hammond
Many Trust places have unique stories to tell about the people involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. They include:
- Bodnant, Conwy, where suffragist Laura McLaren founded the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union
- Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, the home of Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons
- Mount Stewart, County Down, where Edith, Lady Londonderry was an ardent suffragist and political campaigner, whose pro-suffrage behaviour caused her mother-in-law to label her ‘a young hound running riot’
- Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, the estate run by Emily Massingberd, who founded the Pioneer Club; a pro-suffrage members’ club for the advancement and education of women
- Shaw’s Corner, Hertfordshire, home to playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose writings protesting the sexual double standard inspired the Pankhursts.
In contrast, the programme will also explore some of those who opposed women’s suffrage, including the Trust’s co-founder Octavia Hill, who speculated that ‘a serious loss to our country would arise if women entered into the arena of party struggle and political life’.
Over 100 other Trust places around the country will respond to the anniversary by giving greater prominence and depth to the stories and experiences of women from many periods of our history, some of which have been overlooked in the past.
They range from Bess of Hardwick at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, who wielded immense power 300 years before the right to vote, to Fanny Boscawen, who built Hatchlands Park in Surrey and was a founder-member of the Bluestocking Society, who held debates on women’s rights and access to education in the 18th century.
The Trust will also continue its successful partnership with the National Portrait Gallery with a series of special displays around the Women and Power theme, and will be collaborating again with The National Archives on a pop-up heritage project in London.
Rachael Lennon, curator of the Women and Power programme for the National Trust, said: “We can see the footprints of this intensely personal and political argument in the places and collections of the National Trust. A century on from the Representation of the People Act, our programme will reveal some of the debates heard in the drawing rooms, kitchens and bedrooms of National Trust places as the country fought openly over whether a woman might have a voice in public life.
“Women and Power will explore the complexity of the histories of power and gender and will give voice to the, sometimes hidden, lives and legacies of women who lived and worked across the special places now in the care of the National Trust.”
Over the course of the year, online and published resources will be available, including a podcast series and a new guidebook exploring the struggle for suffrage at Trust places, co-authored by the Trust’s Rachael Lennon and Dr Sophie Duncan, a specialist in women’s political activities and the suffrage movement at the University of Oxford.
Sophie Duncan said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping the Trust illuminate the vital stories of the women who shaped their properties. These eclectic, passionate and sometimes controversial women changed Britain forever, and the Trust is ideally placed to share their stories.”
Women and Power is the theme for the second year of the Trust’s ‘Challenging Histories’ programme. This national public programme aims to share, celebrate and unpick some of the more complex or hidden histories relevant to National Trust places.
For details of events and activities in the Women and Power programme for 2018 see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/womenandpower