Adele Patrick, curator of the Revolting Women theme, opens proceedings at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She took the time to name and challenge: “In this wonderfully auspicious year, the centenary of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918, in which awareness of issues of privilege, power and inequalities are almost omnipresent across the media, with campaigns such as #nomore, here we can reflect on the feminist continuum and audit its progress.”
She passes on to Donna Moore, also from the Glasgow Women’s Library and making her debut as chair, who introduces Jane Robinson. With her ready smile and silver shoes, she sits next to Diane Atkinson, resplendent in suffrage colours; both experts in the history of the suffrage movement with a focus on telling the stories of the individual women involved.
“You could hurl this at a Westminster window and it’ll do some damage!” said Moore, holding Atkinson’s weighty volume, Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. Standing to speak and with no need of notes, the author came to life, showing us photos and hilarious postcards from the times. She regaled us with true-life accounts of the militants and merchandisers of the suffragette movement.
Starting, fittingly, with the Pankhursts (“so charismatic – feminine, fashionable and able to light up a room very quickly”), she chose to tell us about women from all walks of life, all over the UK who joined them, in upholding the slogan, ‘Deeds not Words’, which was adopted after hearing about the working conditions and poverty of so many of their sisters.
Robinson, whose Parrot Pie for Breakfast, An Anthology of Women Pioneers is being made into a TV series, has recently produced Hearts and Minds, The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote The book tells of the suffragists, “peeresses and millhands, stepping out” in 1913, “the last long summer before the war” to march to London. This did more than any other single activity to persuade Prime Minister Asquith that “yes, I suppose women are people after all.”
As advice to young, disheartened women (a question from the audience), Robinson advised, “…being with other like-minded women, putting one foot in front of the other” and Atkinson added, “Think of actions that will change things.”