Monday, 18 March 2013

Rebel Girls/The Woodhouse Woman

Jill Liddington

Lucy Bourne, Maggie Mash, Beth Kilburn

Mary Francis writes:
Headingley Library was packed out for this lively double bill. The event was inspired by Jill Liddington's superb research into little known Yorkshire fighters for women's suffrage.

Rebel Girls, the book, published in 2006, is a tour de force - and also a riveting read! It features an astonishing number of local women - from a range of backgrounds and from the West Riding in particular - whose lives, exploits and sometimes even names had slipped into obscurity. It gives the lie to the notion that only middle and upper class women were interested in women’s rights and truly makes you understand the courage that it took at that time to step forward - out of line and into the front line, with all the vitriol and abuse that generally followed.

Jill talked about three women from Leeds who epitomised the waves of the early 20th century movement: Isabella Ford, the wealthy suffragist who introduced the issues to ordinary women in Leeds but did not want to go to extremes: Mary Gawthorpe, the diminutive working class woman from Woodhouse who was prepared to go to prison for the cause, and Leonora Cohen, who progressed from making marmalade for the Suffrage Movement to nearly dying from her hunger strike.

Questions from an enthralled audience ranged from the problems of researching 'ordinary' women (including the value of the internet, especially when subjects had moved to other countries in later life) to the impact of the Russian revolution in precipitating change.

Jill's review of the facts was followed by an imaginative dramatization of key moments in the life of Mary Gawthorpe by members of Theatre of the Dales. This wonderful drama, commissioned by Headingley LitFest and supported by the Arts Council, explored Mary's motivation through events from her childhood; changing her name from Nellie to a more forceful and admired Mary, and led us into the sheer exhilaration of being caught up in an inspiring movement that moved from protest to prison.

We went home humming suffragette songs. A brilliant evening!
Click here to go to Jill Liddington's website

Photos by Richard Wilcocks

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