Email this review


Their goal was eminently modest and middle class: they wanted the vote. But their tactics--rude, disruptive, violent--sent earthquake tremors through Edwardian society. Raeburn's narrative history of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the indomitable Pankhursts, who instigated and exhorted the legions of embattled women, is woven around the wonderful gallery of portraits and photographs of the Valkyries in action. For the photojournalists of the day they made wonderful copy: by 1913 their militancy had escalated from harassment of cabinet ministers and the smashing of windows on Regent Street to pouring jam down mailboxes, slashing paintings in museums and other acts of vandalism. An especially enterprising suffragette set fire to Lloyd George's house. As Malcolm Muggeridge notes in his only slightly sardonic foreword: ""a Michael Collins, a Gandhi, a Kwame Nhkrumah may be seen as standing on the shoulders of the suffragettes."" Raeburn gently suggests that the vote, once women got it, did little to relieve female oppression, but the politics of confrontation, direct action and spectacular visibility which these activists invented was to persist. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia get much of the footage here and the camera shows them not as hysterics but as remarkably poised, attractive and intelligent women. But Raeburn shows the whole panoply of WSPU heroines, their marches, demonstrations, hunger strikes, banners and combat gear. Today's feminists seem tame by comparison.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1975
Publisher: St. Martin's