ListenLarger documents may require additional load time.
I vote we honour those brave Scottish suffragettes
Sunday Times (London, England). (Jan. 4, 2015): News: p5.
Full Text: 

On January 10, 1906, a Daily Mail journalist coined the word that has become synonymous with the fight for women's votes: suffragette. That neat diminutive "ette" used derisively in inverted commas in the headline "Mr Balfour and the 'suffragettes'" seemed designed to dilute the power of the political term "suffragist" into something frivolous and feminine.

Instead, it had the opposite effect.

Members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), headed by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, were quick to jump proudly on the name. Until that point, the term "suffragist" was a catch-all, incorporating the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies as well as the WSPU. Yet the notion of a "suffragette" was of a woman of different mettle: tough, fearless, and furious to the point of bursting at successive governments' perpetual dodging of the issue of women's votes. Eventually, in 1912, the WSPU would go on to name its flagship newspaper after it.

When I decided to write a book involving suffragettes, there were many reasons I wanted it to centre on London: my love of the city, its music halls and its position at the heart of the struggle. I dug out stories to fit the setting, but I found some of the most creative activities went on up and down the country, not least in Scotland. I still chose to set The Hourglass Factory in London, but owe some of the book's action to events that took place much further north by a slew of indefatigable women.

The Hourglass Factory opens with daredevil suffragette Ebony Diamond jumping into the Albert Hall on a trapeze, midway through a Liberal party rally. This was inspired in part by the disruption of meetings by London suffragettes on one occasion a front-row gathering threw off their overcoats to reveal Holloway prison dress, in protest at the force-feeding of hunger-striking suffragettes but far more by the actions of Isabel Kelley in Dundee. I first came across her in Antonia Raeburn's The Militant Suffragettes, but her activities are detailed fully in the September 17, 1909, issue of the Votes for Women newspaper.

The paper says Kelley caused "unprecedented scenes" when "she climbed a high scaffolding erected on the Bank of Scotland, from the roof of which she let herself down a distance of some 25ft on to the roof of the [Kinnaird] hall ... In order to facilitate her movements, Miss Kelley was attired in gymnastic dress, over which she wore a dark cloak ... Entering by a skylight which gave onto the stairs leading to the gallery, Miss Kelley was able to make her protest".

Kelley wasn't the only Scot to make an indelible mark on the movement. Indeed one key soldier, nicknamed the General, grew up on the Isle of Arran. On joining the WSPU, Flora Drummond swiftly took on high-level administrative duties, overseeing the London HQ before transferring to Glasgow and leading the October 1909 Edinburgh procession down Princes Street, boldly sitting astride her horse, rather than side-saddle.

She obviously made an impression, as the Scottish suffragette movement was raging by the 1910s. Not only were there multiple arrests for vandalism including an attempt to blow up Robert Burns's cottage in 1914 but a women's march from Edinburgh to London in 1912 proved the movement was just as capable of peaceful valour. Among the younger recruits was Bessie Watson, who took part in the 1909 procession aged nine. An adept bagpiper, Bessie went on to skirl her pipes outside Edinburgh's Calton Gaol to help boost the morale of hunger-striking suffragettes within.

Not all the stories of suffragettes in Scotland are quite so uplifting. In her 1931 book The Suffragette Movement, Sylvia Pankhurst cites the cases of women held in Perth prison. According to Pankhurst, Ethel Moorhead got pneumonia in 1913 after a Perth medical official accidentally poured food into her lungs during a force-feeding. Even more grave are the allegations by Frances Gordon and Janet Arthur the latter signed a statement saying that not only was she force-fed through the rectum while in Perth, but suffered "a grosser and more indecent outrage, which could have been done for no other purpose than to torture".

The Hourglass Factory only scratches the surface of what was a turbulent time. This year, the director Sarah Gavron releases the film Suffragette, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep. Let's hope it's the start of something, as there are so many stories of these brave women to be told.

Lucy Ribchester is the author of The Hourglass Factory (Simon & Schuster, PS7.99) out on January 15.

Read an extract at

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"I vote we honour those brave Scottish suffragettes." Sunday Times [London, England], 4 Jan. 2015, p. 5. Academic OneFile, Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A395970392