Ipswich suffragettes and the arts

The women’s suffrage campaign may not have been the first protest movement to utilise the arts to promote its cause, but it was supremely successful in doing so. Its enormous processions in London in the early years of the twentieth century were made all the more empowering for women by their use of pageantry, intricate banners and symbols. Posters, postcards, cartoons, games and songs were created. Artists of all kinds lent their creativity and skills to orchestrate the demand for women to have a say in the running of the country .

My new book, A Song of their Own, explores what the women in and around Ipswich did to convince the local people of the justice of their demand for the Vote. Some of these women were artists, making posters, cartoons and banners. For example, Margaret Fison designed all the posters for various events, and created a cartoon for an Exibition in 1912 in Felixstowe called ‘Anti-sufffrage Ostrich’.  Bessie Ridley sewed a ‘beautiful’ banner to head up the Ipswich contingent at the 1910 Women’s Coronation Procession in London, bearing the words ‘Be Just and Fear Not’. They wrote and put on plays and sketches illustrating how limited the choices were for women at that time.

The most notable suffragette writer in and around Ipswich was Isobel Tippett of Wetherden (the mother of Michael, who would become the famous composer). She was a committed supporter of the local campaign. She seems to have had a commanding presence and perhaps a rather eccentric appearance – a reporter describes ‘her flowing but abbreviated costume … somewhere between the robe of Portia and that of a nurse’. In the autumn of 1911, two of her suffrage propoganda plays were performed at the Ipswich Hippodrome. She also wrote several novels, now out-of-print, including The Power of the Petticoat in 1911 and Green Girl in 1913.

Women used every possible skill to promote their demand to have a say in how the country was run via the ballot box. They needed to: they’d already been campaigning for over 40 years, and many more would go by before they got the vote on the same terms as men in 1928.

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