City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Exhibition and March Celebrates Suffragette Struggle


By edg - Posted on 29 July 2009

Bessie Watson, 9 years old in 1909

The struggle to win the vote for women will be showcased in a new Museum of Edinburgh exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the 1909 suffragettes' procession in the city.

A hundred years ago, young Bessie Watson, only nine years old, played the bagpipes in the 1909 Pageant, highlighting the cause of votes for women.

Nannie Brown wore out her shoe leather walking 400 miles from Edinburgh to London, with other members of the Women's Freedom League, to present a petition to the Prime Minister.

Ethel Moorhead was imprisoned and force fed in Calton Jail and cared for on her release under the Cat and Mouse Act by Grace Cadell, a doctor and tax resister.

These are just some of the real life stories captured in the Museum of Edinburgh exhibition, which runs from 31 July to 9 January 2010.

Using images, original artefacts and eye-witness accounts, it charts the suffragette struggle from the mid-19 century to 1928, when the right to vote was finally achieved.

The exhibition is a contribution to the Gude Cause, a programme of events leading up to a re-enactment of the Edinburgh Procession and Women's Demonstration of the 9 October 1909.

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture Leader, said: "I feel enormous admiration for these brave women. At that time they were regarded as freakish and unnatural, and they withstood huge pressures from their family, from politics and from society in general. The strength of character it took to stand up to that amount of disappointment and hatred is astonishing. This fascinating and informative exhibition will bring to life their struggle for equality, reminding us all of the sacrifices made on our behalf."

1909 Pageant

At the height of the campaign to win the vote, a grand historical pageant was held in Edinburgh in October 1909. Hundreds of women, children and men took up banners and flags and joined the Scottish Women's Suffragette procession in Princes Street, with hundreds more thronging the street to cheer them on.

There is to be a re-enactment of this on October 10 2009 and this exhibition is being staged to complement this event.

Different aspects of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Edinburgh are explored in the exhibition, including the roles of the different groups and the work of particular individuals. The Women's Social and Political Union scarf worn by 9-year-old Bessie Watson on that day also features in the exhibition, together with a folder of biographies of more than 40 women produced by Women's History Scotland.

Helen Clark, Curator of the Votes for Women exhibition, said: "The struggle went on in Edinburgh for more than 60 years, right from the early beginnings in the 1860s up to 1928, when women got the vote on the same terms as men. Women couldn't own property, they couldn't hold public positions and they couldn't get the vote. Men could stand up and heckle a public meeting, but if women did it, they were physically thrown out in the street."

A number of additional events will be staged to highlight the Gude Cause, including story-telling workshops and illustrated talks at the Museum of Edinburgh and Lauriston Castle. A song book of suffragist protest songs is also being re-created and will form the basis of a special music event at the Central Library in October, with a travelling audio-visual display will tour various libraries across the city, starting in the Central Library.

Exhibition runs 31 July 2009 - 9 January 2010, Museum of Edinburgh. Hours: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. Sundays during August only, from 12 noon to 5pm. Admission is free.