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Saturday, June 09, 2018

Suffragette Terrorism

The Suffragettes - History Extra

"Rather an amusing campaign called pestering the politicians. And that was rather amusing. It sounds a bit like stalking to us today although it was very fun and it was, it wasn't threatening or malevolent but suffragettes would find out where cabinet ministers were playing golf or where they were going to church or were going away for the weekend and would turn up - perhaps three or four or five of them and they would just follow them everywhere and they would, whenever they had a chance approach them...

You could actually go up and buttonhole them and say when are you going to give women the vote... they would regularly hide in the bushes on golf courses and when cabinet ministers were teeing up for their shot they would jump out and say: Mr so and so. Mr Asquith when are you going to give women the vote? So they were a real nuisance.

It was quite funny... it wasn't threatening at all, physically dangerous at all... police manhandling and violence was so extreme it sometimes would end in a riot...

Burning down churches which is quite a step forward, quite a decision for lots of those members to take. That was really one of the most difficult decisions I think a lot of the women had to take was were they going to go and burn down an empty church or not and actually quite a lot of them did"...

The press was quite hostile. I think most members of the public were pretty, well at best indifferent, and at worst hostile. Most people didn't want women to have the vote and that included a lot of women too...

People thought the suffragettes, if they were roughly handled at police demonstrations. Well, you know, if that's what you do, if that's how you behave, this is what will happen to you. So generally, the British public are pretty unsympathetic and towards the end where they see newspapers full of stories of burnt house, burnt sports facilities, burnt grandstands, football grounds attacked - that kind of thing. And of course, churches burnt down, then the public actually are openly hostile and really rather dangerous."

If a man tried doing this "very fun" thing to a woman, a court would not agree it "Wasn't threatening at all" or "quite funny"

Strangely the suffragettes can do no wrong - their violence was a justified reaction to patriarchy, so we are told.

One way to summarise the suffragettes: "men had to wait 2,500,000 years to get the right to vote and women had to wait 2,500,100 years and that's why we need feminism <3" Suffragette 'plot to assassinate Asquith'

"Suffragettes plotted to assassinate Herbert Asquith, the Liberal prime minister, as part of their campaign to achieve votes for women... two members of the movement were perfecting their pistol shooting in the hope of killing Asquith as he arrived at the House of Commons"

Maybe feminist assassination attempts are very fun, quite funny and not threatening at all.


Were the suffragettes terrorists? - History Extra

"The anger that women have that change hasn't come and Kitty's retaliation at that time was to pick up a bomb, and become a suffragette bomber...

No one actually knows about this post over our history, and I think that's an incredibly interesting thing. We're taught about the suffragettes marching, we're taught about window smashing, but we're not taught about the bombs, we're not talked about the arson attacks. I wasn't taught it in school. We know today that people have very little knowledge of this. We don't know it at large. Not that it's not something everyone knows. And changing cultural memory is really the job of historians and stories like this that have been hidden in archives that have been forgotten or ignored, or passed over because either they weren't fashionable or people had their own agendas and didn't want to draw attention to them. Means that young historians like me get to discover them for the first time, and that's incredibly exciting...

I think it helps us reset this dormant understanding that we've had of womanhood in the last 200 years, which is as purely a state of victimhood. And as someone who works on this period, all I can find this incredibly strong, passionate and powerful women - not victims. And I kept getting really angry as a PhD student...

People have always told me that this wasn't happening, and the women didn't know anything about sex. And actually, I'm finding female birth control campaigners in the 1870s who were publishing hugely popular books that talk about condoms and the withdrawal method. And I was never taught this in school... reassessing how we see women and not seeing them just solely as victims before the vote...

In the 1930s, the suffragette fellowship, which was putting together the record from which all of our suffragette history has been built... very clearly decided that they were not going to talk about the bombings... police hadn't really decided what they were going to do with the people who had committed very serious criminal damage... A lot of these women who were starting to wonder if they should talk about that part of their lives in their memoirs were very aware that it could leave them open to criminal prosecution...

Anywhere in British society where you could find a woman you could find a suffragette bomb. They put bombs in theatres, in churches, in railway carriages, in railway stations. They burnt down railway stations, they burnt golf greens, they burnt postboxes.

Literally every facet of economic and social life, the suffragettes attack. From the Roslyn Chapel in Soctland down to churches and theatres in Somerset to St Paul's in London to theaters in Dublin. They are everywhere. They attack everywhere. In terms of the scale of these bombs.

One of the bombs that's discovered at the Southeast London post office, which was a huge central depot, has enough nitroglycerine in it to blow up the entire building and kill the 200 people who worked there. They put two bombs on the same train line between Waterloo and Kingston-upon-Thames at the same time, one coming out of London and one going in.

This is a hugely skilled and highly organized group who are determined to terrorize the British public and they're very open about that. Emmeline Pankhurst states very clearly: we did this because we wanted to terrorize the British public who would then put pressure on the government to say yes to our demands... They were owning their violence, they weren't embarrassed or ashamed by it. They were absolutely dedicated to it.

And I think one of the things that really surprised me the most when I was researching it was just how many bombs that were in one month alone in 1913. If you think they're bombing throughout 1913 and 1914. In one month alone in 1913 in May, there are 52 attacks - either of a bomb or an arson attack...

This is an incredible scale of violence. Unlike anything else we've ever experienced at the time... The police at the time were absolutely convinced that the suffragettes were the most dangerous organization working in Britain at that time. Not the Irish, not the anarchists...

'Do you think that it's fair to refer to the suffragettes as terrorists?'

'Absolutely. And one of my favorite things to find, which has never been found before, was the headlines: suffragette terrorism, which they use about the bomb, that blew up Lloyd George's house. And when we know that it was referred to as suffragette terrorism at the time, when we know that Emmeline Pankhurst specifically says we wanted to terrorize the British, the greater British public, and we know that they are taking out communications.

They cut down trunk telegram wires and telephone wires between London and Glasgow. That's like taking out the internet between London and Glassgow today. Can you imagine what that would do? They would put serious phosphorous chemicals in the post, in postboxes that resulted in horrendous burns on the postman who were emptying those or finding them later. That they were putting bombs on public transport, that they were hoping to target timber yards, that they burned that they absolutely burnt and gutted MPs' houses and churches, and theaters.

This is everything that we understand as domestic terrorism today, and it is everything that they understood as domestic terrorism.

The question of whether or not we should call the suffragettes and the WSPU terrorists is redundant to me because they are and they were, and they were proud of it then... when you're looking at civil rights organizations across the board, across the world, every single civil rights movement has an extremist violent element... They really were committed to showing that if you aren't going to listen to women speaking... we are going to show you the women have the same capacity to fight as men, and to scare you, and to terrorize you as men can...

A lot of people found that reality incredibly difficult, were very upset and almost traumatized by discovering this in a movement that they idolized and they thought of as close to perfect as possible. Personally, I think we have to know our history in its totality. A half history, or a sanitized history serves no one. It's a corruption.

And if you can present people with the facts that actually gives us a far more interesting conversation and it makes us ask questions of ourselves, and it makes us as questions of the past that we haven't before. And history isn't easy, it shouldn't be comfortable. It shouldn't be something that is safe. It should always challenge you. It should always be challenged. And that's why we have to look at these women, and we have to understand their motivations and understand how people have fought for our rights. Because if we don't, we're going to ignore how hard and those incredibly difficult decisions they made to get us here, and that does a disservice to them. And it does a disservice to history."
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