Guest Post: Is Flora Maguire a Suffragist?
My knowledge of Suffragettes was restricted to stories of hunger strikes and Glynis John’s singing and wearing a, ‘Votes For Women’ banner in Mary Poppins – well maybe not quite as simplistic as that, but my facts were sketchy.
That the women who gathered in tea rooms planning to deface works of arts and eat vegetarian lunches to change the laws made by big bad government men was only half the story. There were two factions fighting for women’s rights; the Suffragists, or non-militant arm led by Millicent Garret Fawcett who had been campaigning to instigate change in parliament for women forty years before Emmeline Pankhurst threw her first brick through a window. Then there were the Suffragettes; Mrs Pankhurst’s more aggressive splinter group whose WSPU made the cause less acceptable to society and probably put the cause back years.
In the early 20th Century, it wasn’t only women who were denied the vote, but one in three of the male population did not qualify for the ballot either. Young men were happily conscripted to fight Britain’s wars, but had no vote unless they owned property or paid a minimum rent of £10 a year.
In fact ‘Votes For Women’ also fought for ladies who owned property, while those from the lower classes were excluded from their manifesto. The poor and indigent, men as well as women, weren’t seen as worthy of a vote in their own government.
The 1918 Representation of the People Act brought more than five million men over the age of 21 into the electorate without regard to property or class as well as over eight million women over 30; although the majority of these did not qualify for reasons of property ownership. It wasn’t until the 1928 Act that this changed.
So what are Flora Maguire’s views in this area?
Flora is a modern young woman who sees the need for change, but she isn’t the type to break with convention to the extent she’ll vandalise a work of art or chain herself to railings to make her point. I gave her a middle of the road view in that she admired Mrs Garrett Fawcett’s principles as the way forward, but regards Mrs Pankhurst and her radical ideas a step too far. Flora believes this behaviour might well persuade the male population that women were irresponsible, flighty creatures in need of control that the male population have always believed. How could women who chain themselves to railings be trusted with the responsibility of something as important as the vote?
Flora is also keenly aware that had she remained a governess and not married to a solicitor who owned property, she too would have been excluded from any legislation achieved by these women.
In A Knightsbridge Scandal Flora attends a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society meeting and hears Miss Evelyn Sharp expound the new WSPU formed in Manchester. However like many of the audience, Flora isn’t at all happy with this new group who advocate a campaign of civil disobedience.
Flora therefore becomes a passive Suffragist, believing the whole of society needs to be more equal, not just wealthy, upper class ladies who preside over tea tables in drawing rooms.
I also included a scene where Flora is taken for tea at Prince’s Ice Rink where The Women’s Exhibition hosted by the Women’s Social and Political Union was held six years later in May 1909.
Maybe she’ll even meet her heroine one day.
Millcent Fawcett worked tirelessly until her seventies, but was only 56 when this book is set and living at 2 Gower Street, a house she lived in for almost 65 years. Years where she was involved in international women’s suffrage, the opening up university education to women, raising the age of consent, making horticulture a possible employment for women, criminalising incest, providing homes for middle-class working women, and even for offering a German ‘open-air treatment’ to tuberculosis sufferers.
An excellent Blog which provides varied information and some interesting stories on the Women’s Suffrage Movement is Elizabeth Crawford’s Women and Their Sphere: https://womanandhersphere.com/
Anita’s earlier novels are set in 17th Century England, with a family saga set in Exeter during the Monmouth Rebellion and a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray during the English Civil War in Surrey. Her fascination with the revival of cosy mysteries made her turn to the early 1900’s for inspiration where she found Flora Maguire lurking. The series of five novels was taken up for publication by Aria Fiction, a digital imprint of Head of Zeus Publishing.
Murder on the Minneapolis is available here [http://tinyurl.com/z2ly6lm] and Murder at Cleeve Abbey can be pre-ordered here. [http://tinyurl.com/zkqhx37]
Anita’s Blog – http:thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.co.uk
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About the book
Flora Maguire has escaped the country to enjoy some time in fashionable Knightsbridge, London. Extravagant shops, exuberant theatres and decadent restaurants mean 1903’s London is a thrilling adventure, but there are dark secrets threatening from the continent.
When the body of a London socialite, and leading light of the burgeoning women’s movement, is found outside The Grenadier public house, Flora can’t resist investigating.
Mysterious letters are discovered in the victim’s belongings, strange links to the foreign office and why do the clues keep coming back to the assassination of a Baltic king?
As Flora closes in on the killer, it soon becomes clear she is no longer safe in London, but will her husband Bunny be able to get to her before it’s too late?
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