Thursday, July 7, 2016

Suffragette Memorabilia at the NLA

The National Library has launched a crowdfunding campaign, asking for people to donate so that a significant collection of documents and memorabilia chronicling the suffragette campaign can be digitised.
Suffragettes in a police wagon in London, 1913
South Australian Bessie Rischbieth was a feminist and social activist who was fascinated by the militant actions of the British suffragettes. Australian women had already won the right to vote in 1894, two decades before Britain, and Rischbieth made several trips to London to see the UK movement gain momentum.  Before she died in 1967, she donated her entire collection of memorabilia to the National Library of Australia.
Between 1900 and 1914 around 1,000 British suffragettes were imprisoned because they refused to pay fines for crimes such as vandalism. Several prisoners went on hunger strikes; the British government released these women to avoid liability for any deaths. Many of the released women were then force-fed.
It wasn't long before Bessie was swept up with the whole whirlwind of passionate speeches in packed venues and marches through the streets of London. Over the years, Rischbieth made other trips to London, (right up until the 1950s), and she religiously chronicled the fight of suffragettes, keeping an enormous amount of documents, newspaper clippings, posters, photographs, pamphlets, suffrage periodicals, postcards and suffragette items.  The collection also includes personal letters from Vida Goldstein (instrumental in getting the right for women to vote in Australia), embroidered banners and cloths. There's also Letitia Withall's medal for 'valour' after she went on a hunger strike for the right to vote, as well as suffragette Louise Cullen's Holloway Prison brooch.
Letitia Withall's medal for 'valour'
Louise Cullen's Holloway Prison Brooch 1908

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