An Unboxed Blog from Yaiza Canopoli.
Lady Pethick-Lawrence was an important figure in the suffragette movement. In 1907 she started the publication Votes for Women, with the help of her husband. Supportive male partners are not so rare these days. But in the early 20th century, a man would more likely be scared off by a woman who wanted the vote than to stand by her side as she campaigned. Lord Pethick-Lawrence supported the movement from the start, and in the 1950s published an article, preserved in the UEA Archive, reflecting on the impressive struggle for women to get the vote.
As a prominent and proud member of the Labour party, Lord Pethick-Lawrence begins the article by explaining that this is where the movement began, and where most of the suffragette tactics were taken from. Nonetheless, the women from the Labour party had to accept other political ideologies into the community, for the movement could not have survived by remaining ‘a section of a section’. What is interesting about this article is his praise for the more radical tactics adopted by the movement, ‘which would alienate the timid and the lukewarm’. This praise is a considerable change of opinion, for in 1912 he served a nine-month prison sentence for a violent form of protest that he and Lady Pethick-Lawrence disapproved of at the time (their disapproval caused them to be expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union).
In the article, he endearingly praises the militant women involved in the movement:
A tiny suffragette—Mary Gawthorpe—had a cabbage thrown at her by a male auditor during a park meeting. Catching it and holding it up, she remarked: “I knew a man would lose his head before long.”
This kind of appreciation and subtle humour is present throughout the article. Perhaps the most hilarious passage is his recounting of a conspiracy trial staged by the government: he and some other suffragettes were found guilty in court and the judge sentenced them to nine months in prison, but he remembers the moment with humour, saying that ‘shortly afterwards [the judge’s] two daughters joined the organisation’.
This way of remembering the suffragettes in an almost nostalgic way goes to show that feminist men are not a modern invention, and that people were different back then is not a valid excuse for any kind of oppression. We are living in a time now where meninism has become a thing, and feminists are still seen as radical and men-hating by many people all over the world. This article puts things into perspective: feminism is not new, it is not the internet corrupting women, and it is perfectly valid for men to be supportive of the movement even today.
Another thing Lord Pethick-Lawrence shows his readers (both at the time he wrote and now) is how to be a good ally: write about the movement, write about the people who were involved and who had to fight for their own rights, and don’t make it about yourself.
Unfortunately the article is not preserved in its entirety, and thus we cannot read the full extent of Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s memories of the movement, but we get a clear idea of where his thoughts are headed. He and his wife might have disagreed with some of the more radical aspects of protesting, but they were undoubtedly an important part of the organisation, and their names deserve to be remembered.
Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s article can be viewed as part of the Kenney Papers in the UEA Archives at the University of East Anglia, alongside multiple documents and forms of correspondence between the Pethick-Lawrences and other suffragettes. https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/kenney