Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette

Google tells me it's Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday today (she would have been 156), so it seemed appropriate to talk about Sally Heathcote, the heroine of the graphic novel by Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (the illustrator) and Bryan Talbot.

The first thing to say is that I've learned a lot about my own local history from this book. I grew up in Manchester, and that's where the story starts, in the household of Mrs Pankhurst. Sally is in service there, and later moves to London where the headquarters of the Votes for Women movement were.

I'm about half way through the book at the moment, and enjoying it immensely. It includes leaders of the movement I'd never heard of (it wasn't all the Pankhursts, though they are the most famous suffragettes), like the Pethick-Lawrences, and Emily Wilding Davison, the woman who threw herself under the King's race horse, who Sally meets when she goes up to Edinburgh for a demonstration.

It's very good at showing the gradual hardening of attitudes among the politicians of the time. First, women asked questions at public meetings about votes for women - and were thrown out. Then they were banned from attending the public meetings, so they protested outside. Then they started getting arrested. When they demanded the status of political prisoners they were refused, so they went on hunger strike - which led to force feeding, and the notorious Cat and Mouse Act, by which a woman would be released from prison when she was weak from her hunger strike, and re-arrested as soon as she had recovered.
But the women didn't go away, and they didn't stop asking the Establishment for the vote.

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