Learning about Suffrage
Suffragette Stories launched in Cromer, where we worked with adults and year 9 students from Cromer Academy.
Students were able to explore the idea of ‘Historical Fiction’ and how archives, and creative writing, can help connect with the past. They were particularly intrigued by the collection of badges in the archive, including one promoting the ‘National League for Opposing Women Suffrage’. We considered some of the reasons why both men and women would oppose Votes for Women and critiqued these. The anti-suffrage league has particular local significance for Cromer; Evelyn Baring, who was born in Cromer in 1848 and later became Lord Cromer, was a founding member of the league and subsequently president, which he remained until it disbanded after the Representation of the People act permitted some women to vote.
We discussed the Kenneys and the Suffragettes who planted trees at Eagle House, and also women with a connection to Cromer, one of whom was Ethel Williams, the other being Emily Wilding Davison.
Within the archive is a ribbon that was once worn by Emily Wilding Davison, who lost her life after being hit by the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Students from Cromer Academy were excited to discover that before joining the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, Emily worked for a time as a governess in the household of Sir Francis Layland Barrett, who owned Red House, now Halsey House, in Cromer. Emily took care of the children. She sent postcards from Cromer, indicating which room of the house was her bedroom, depicting ‘a favourite view’, and referring to the day she had ‘the last bathe of the season’.
Our next workshop was at Cromer library, where the students interviewed adults from their local community about their life experiences, and how they have seen the position of women in society change since the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918. Students worked in small groups to record memories and to look at objects that the adults had brought with them.
Among the objects and stories collected was a copy of ‘Blackies Children’s Annual’ brought in by Stella Evans, which she acquired for her daughter at a school sale. Produced in 1910 and aimed at children, Stella explained to the students that she feels the book tells us a lot about the ideal portrait of childhood at the time, set in the context of the family. Stella noted that interactions between adults and children in the book are more commonly between mother and child, while interactions between father and child are rarely depicted. The book positions the ideal role of women at the time of the suffragettes as in the home.
Other objects that the students examined were a Coronation spoon commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and a book written about Louie Jermy- ‘The Maid of the Mill’ to whom the famous journalist Clement Scott dedicated his book ‘Poppyland’, about Cromer and the surrounding area, after Scott stayed with Louie Jermy and her father at Sidestrand Millhouse. Scott wrote the famous poem ‘Garden of Sleep’ whilst staying with Louie and her father.
Anne Payne brought in a National Registration card that she was given as a child during the Second World War. Anne’s card enabled the students from Cromer Academy to consider the way we can often label past events in a binary way as positive or negative. It is easy to learn about wartime and to simply label the period as ‘bad’ and assume that no one experienced anything positive during that time. Anne’s identity card opened the door for the students to discuss the way that both world wars afforded many opportunities for women in Britain, as women were needed to take on what were formerly male jobs as men went off to fight.
Writing and Curation
In our final workshop in Cromer, students from Cromer Academy selected one of three different activities; a creative writing workshop led by Ben Morrison, a UEA Creative Writing student volunteer, a Speechwriting workshop led by Fiona Sinclair, the Suffragette Stories writer-in-residence, and a curation workshop, led by Kate Cooper and local historian Stella Evans, where the students curated an exhibition for display in Cromer Library, of the memories they had collected and items from the Kenney archive.
The student curators chose to explore the themes of Commemoration, Activism, Childhood, and War; selecting memories archive materials. For example, the group decided to display Anne Payne’s Identity card alongside images of Annie and Jessie Kenney’s passports, as during WW1 Jessie Kenney accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst on a diplomatic mission on behalf of the British government; a career opportunity that she would never have otherwise had, if not for the war.
A Coronation Spoon, brought by Sheila Cummings, which was a commemorative object that also spoke to Sheila’s childhood, sat alongside cuttings from the lost Suffragette plantation at Eagle House.
The students also felt it important to include some information on Lord Cromer and Emily Wilding Davison, who both had a local connection to Cromer.
The Suffragette Stories exhibit was on display at Cromer Library between July and August.