When I’m not at work I am involved with Brighton & Hove Women’s History Group. We have campaigned locally for greater awareness of the work of women in Brighton & Hove and have had some success with blue plaques for such notables as:
Minnie Turner was a suffragette who spent time in prison for breaking a window in the Home Office. She ran a boarding house in Brighton (13 Victoria Road) where many of the women stayed after leaving prison having endured hunger strikes and forcible feeding. Minnie also helped run and attended many meetings of the Women’s Socialist and Political Union.
We also now have a blue plaque for the WSPU offices in Brighton which were near the Clock Tower. It was above a Singer sewing machine shop and rumour has it that women would pretend to be going to the shop but then quickly nip up the stairs to the WSPU office to plot and campaign.
Clementina Black (Ship Street) was born in Brighton woman of note who was a writer, feminist and trade unionist. She was heavily involved in organising the Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888. She was more suffragist than suffragette becoming the honorary secretary of the Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee. She joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the London Society of Women’s Suffrage. By 1912–1913, Black was acting editor of the Common Cause the “organ of the women’s movement for reform”, using her writing rather than direct action to influence change.
Margaret Bondfield MP (Church Road, Hove) was the first woman cabinet minister and the first woman privy counsellor. She later become the first woman to chair the General Council of the TUC. In her early days she worked in a shop in Brighton where she was shocked by the working conditions of shop staff, particularly within the “living-in” system, and became an active member of the shopworkers’ union which started her political career.
Our current work is around bringing back home the banner of the Brighton Branch of the National Women’s Socialist and Political Union which is currently housed in the People’s History Museum in Manchester. We feel it is really important that we have this banner in Brighton Museum to raise awareness locally of these fantastic women who helped secure us the vote.
We are also working to erect a statue to Mary Clarke, sister of Emmeline Pankhurst and aunt to Christabel and Sylvia, who was born in Manchester who later moved to Brighton where she helped run the WSPU office and campaigned tirelessly for the cause. She was the first women to die for the suffrage movement on Christmas day 1910 following a period of imprisonment and forcible feeding. The campaign for the statue is being supported by local councillors, MPs and such local people as comedian Zoe Lyons and writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe.
Currently there are only two statues of women in Brighton and both are of Queen Victoria! We will not stop until women’s work is recognised alongside that of men.