Voice and Vote: Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women – a guidebook

Dr Paul Seaward is one of the editors of the “Voice & Vote guidebook” to accompany the UK Parliament Vote 100 project‘s landmark exhibition in Westminster Hall. In today’s blog he explains the contents of the book, who contributed to it and where you can get one…

Last week we were delighted to celebrate with the curators of the wonderful Voice and Vote exhibition in Westminster Hall, Mari Takayanagi and Melanie Unwin, the publishers, St James’s House, the contributors, and the many sponsors, the publication of the beautifully illustrated book that goes with the exhibition. We are delighted with Voice and Vote: Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women, which charts the story of women’s involvement in politics from the seventeenth century right up to today. We are enormously grateful to Stephen Mitchell and his team at St James’s House for producing such an attractive looking volume; and most of all to a great team of contributors – Paula Bartley, Elaine Chalus, Krista Cowman, Emma Crewe, Amy Galvin-Elliott, Oonagh Gay, Elizabeth Hallam-Smith, Helen McCarthy, Simon Morgan, Emma Peplow, Louise Raw, Sarah Richardson, Kathryn Rix, Jane Robinson, Anne Stott, Duncan Sutherland and Jacqui Turner, as well as Mari and Melanie, who found time to work on the book as well as the enormous job of researching, commissioning and setting up the exhibition itself.

The book is arranged, like the exhibition, around the spaces with which women have been particularly associated in Parliament over the years. The first section opens with the Ventilator, the extraordinary construction in the attic above the House of Commons, designed to take away the heat from the chamber, but which women – banned from watching proceedings from the main public gallery – used in order to get a glimpse of the heads of the leading politicians on the floor below. The second two sections cover the ‘Cage’ – the stifling special gallery constructed in the new House of Commons built by Sir Charles Barry in the mid-nineteenth century, where women were allowed to view debates, but only with difficulty through a brass grille, designed to keep them out of sight and mind. The third is built around ‘The Tomb’, the gloomy common room offered to the first women MPs. And the last section covers the ‘Chamber’, and marks how women finally arrived in both Houses in decent numbers – though in still far from equal numbers to men.

The text charts, of course, the struggles of women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to obtain the vote – the frustrating business of successive petitions and private members’ bills, of suffragists and suffragettes and of promises made and promises broken. But it also shows how women were highly active in the political arena well before this: as very visible canvassers in elections; as campaigners in causes, including the abolition of slavery; and as political hostesses and influencers. It charts the work of women in Parliament once they were, finally, able to both vote and to stand for election, highlighting remarkable MPs such as Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams, and many others. It describes the other battle to secure seats in the House of Lords for women too, only finally achieved in 1963. The illustrations include most of the items in the exhibition, as well as many contemporary photographs and other material.

This is our second collaboration with St James’s House. Our first was on a book covering The Story of Parliament published in 2015 to coincide with the anniversaries of Magna Carta in 1215 and the Simon de Montfort Parliament of 1265, and we very much look forward to working with them again on further publications.

Not only a fine souvenir of the exhibition, our new book is also, we modestly think, an excellent introduction to its subject. You can obtain it from the Parliament Shop online or, if you can get there, by buying it at the exhibition itself – click here for more information about the free exhibition which is now open in Westminster Hall until 6 October 2018.

Voice and Vote: Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women edited by Mari Takayanagi, Melanie Unwin, and Paul Seaward [Price: £15] ISBN 978-1-906670-70-2


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