Cover Image: Mrs Despard and The Suffrage Movement

Mrs Despard and The Suffrage Movement

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Member Reviews

I’ve read widely about the Suffragists/Suffragettes and their fight for the vote but somehow Mrs Despard, a quite remarkable woman, had eluded me and it was a real joy to discover her in this comprehensive biography.  She was at the heart of the movement for women’s suffrage as well as a host of other philanthropic ventures, and later in life became a key player in Irish liberation politics. She knew just about everyone of importance in the causes she devoted her life too and led a truly adventurous and endlessly fascinating life. And yet she is not a household name by any means and I hope this well-researched biography will change that. The book has its faults – the chronology is a little muddled at times and there is some repetition – but these faults can surely be forgiven given Mrs Despard’s importance and relevance to early women’s history and the need to make her more visible. An absorbing and compelling read, from which I learnt a lot.
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Mrs Despard and The Suffrage Movement is a well researched and enlightening book about not only Mrs Despard, but the women's rights movent in general. She's often overlooked, but she did a lot of work, not only for women, but also workers and the poor. I wish more people knew about her.
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Thank you to the publisher and to Net Galley for the opportunity. My review opinions are my own.  This is a brilliantly written body of work. 

Throughout my women's studies education I was dismayed when I read this book that I had not known of Mrs. Despard prior to reading this book.  She is a fascinating  important part of women's  history ! She was the key central figure of our history of the women's movement. A amazing woman ahead of her time of independence and knowledge.  She was driven to fight for women's rights and for fairness for all women in a time of a strict male dominated society where her work at times had the result of her being imprisoned and treated like a pariah in society.  She bravely led hunger strikes in prison and was force fed against her will.  She was central in the creation of the  Women’s Freedom League which remained  in existence until 1961. She fought for women her entire adult life and even in failing health in her later years she did not deter from her goals. 
She was known for  giving amazing speeches and putting on numerous demonstrations no matter what she was up against at the time. Her courage both help create and galvanize the suffrage movement.  She is a great part of women's history and this book should be utilized in all women's studies classes.  I thank the author for this outstanding body of work and am grateful to have read about this brilliant woman  . This book should be taught in all women's history courses.
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I have always had a keen interest in history and adored the subject at school. I do feel drawn more to certain periods of history or the history of certain people and incidents, such as things to do with the Titanic, from it’s building to it’s sinking and what happened afterwards. I also feel strongly about the Holocaust and World War 2, I believe it is a period of history that should never ever be forgotten. I am also very interested in the Suffragette’s and their individual stories and what they did within the various movements that arose in that area. So, when I saw this book about a Mrs Despard and the fact that she was the founder of the Freedom League I wanted to learn more.

I think the cover is very striking, the image of Mrs Despard with the demonstration banner in the background. The cover made me want to know more about the rather finely dressed lady on the cover. I wanted to know why I hadn’t heard her name widely used in connection to the suffrage movement along with the others I knew rather well such as Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia & Christabel. I was also familiar with the tragic story of Emily Wilding-Davison and had heard other names but not the name of Mrs Despard. On the cover Mrs Charlotte Despard looks like a stern, wealthy woman and after reading the book I have learnt that she wasn’t afraid of speaking out and going against what others thought.

Obviously, the book is factual but it is not just a list of facts, it is a book that once it gets going comes across of more like an observer’s view of Charlotte Despard. In fact, the book begins with the authors Helen Matheson-Pollock & Lynne Graham-Matheson saying that they came across Mrs Charlotte Despards name quite by accident. As I said above, I reckon most people will have heard of the Pankhurst family and their involvement in the whole suffrage movement and will probably of heard the story of Emily Wilding Davison who died on the racecourse when she attempted to pin a suffrage rosette on the Kings horse during the derby.

At first when I saw the acronyms list, I felt a little put off and worried about the practicalities of reading the book and remembering what all the acronyms stood for but once I started reading it really wasn’t a problem. Also, with the list being at the very beginning of the book it was easy to pop back to that point to check them. In a paperback or hardback this would be even easier.

I would say that the book is very wordy and I did take the occasional break to read some fiction so I didn’t feel like it was an obligation that I had to read the book. I will say I do take breaks from most non-fiction reads as I did with this book. Then when I got to around 47% I was so engrossed I didn’t want to take another break from my non fiction read, I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to this really remarkable lady.

I want to share some of the information I learnt from the book yet not reveal a whole lot as I want you to discover all the facts as I did, in the right order within this great book.

My initial impression of Mrs Despard was partly right, she did wear fine or nice clothes, she came from a family with enough money to get by on quite comfortably. I was surprised to learn that she, sort of, turned her back on an easy wealthy life where she wouldn’t come into contact with what some would consider the riff raff of society. Mrs Despard didn’t just fight for the rights of the “common people” she lived amongst them, and invited them into her home. Mrs Despard really did help these people on a practical level. Mrs Despard wasn’t just a name, or a person who attended meetings, she actively helped by joining different boards and committees and if she didn’t agree with what was going on, she spoke up and created her own group. As she did with the Women’s Freedom League. Charlotte Despard did marry but she and her husband Max didn’t have children. Later in the book we learn that Charlotte adopted a young girl called Vere, though it was a nurse Charlotte employed that did the day to day caring and bringing up of Vere. Charlotte was so deeply involved with the suffrage movement and the different boards and committees she sat on that she seemed to have very little time for her adopted daughter.

I honestly, truly enjoyed reading about this remarkable woman’s life, her ups and downs in both her public and private life. The way she moved from her large home to a smaller property to be nearer those people she felt she needed to help. Charlottes dealings with the government really put me in mind of the situation we find ourselves in at this present day. After reading this book the impression, I get is that Charlotte would have approved of Jeremy Corbyns sentiment of “For The Many Not The Few”. Those who needed help were reliant on the charity of those with money. Men were thought to be in charge, as if their wives were their possessions rather than there equals in both public and private lives.

The Women’s Freedom League was in existence until 1961, long after other similar ones had disbanded. Charlotte Despard went to prison on many occasions, and kept vigil outside prisons whilst others were inside. Charlotte stayed active into her latter years managing to keep up with others half her age. Charlotte had her quirks such as wearing sandals in winter. Despite her own ill health, she continued to battle on giving speeches, taking part in demonstrations, being arrested and taken to prison.

Charlotte was born 15th of June 1844, she is was the third of seven children. Charlotte’s siblings that are mentioned in the book are Mary, Caroline, Margaret, Sarah, John and Katherine. From reading the book Charlotte seemed to have a close relationship with her brother John. Sadly, they had disagreements in later life being on opposing sides of the Irish troubles and when John was dying, he refused to allow Charlotte visit him. Charlotte owned, sold and gave away many properties in her lifetime and always stayed firm about getting the vote for women, and having equality between men and women. Charlotte had strong views and shared them loud and clear with all those that would listen. Despite being pelted with rotten vegetables and even stones she would go on delivering her talks as she travelled in a caravan that she had fitted out for that purpose. There were disagreements about militancy and actions that were being taken. From what I read in the book Charlotte and her Women’s Freedom League seemed to have fitted in the middle between the other organisations, promoting peaceful demonstrations where possible but could be militant if that type of action was considered to be necessary. Mrs Charlotte Despard died on the 10th of November 1939 at the age of 95 years old. Many people paid tribute to her from the more, well known, Pankhurst’s and other suffragettes too. One snippet in the book quotes from a letter wrote by Marion Reeve to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington “We shall certainly not see her like again”. It was also said that when the Pankhurst’s gave speeches they spoke like lawyers and politicians whereas Charlotte did not. Charlotte lived amongst and associated with those whose rights she was fighting for. I could honestly go on and on about this book, all the new information I learnt about a fascinating time in history.

I really did enjoy this book and feel it’s such a shame this, women, who did so much for the cause isn’t as well known as some others names associated with the suffrage movement. There are some great photographs at the end of this e-book, I would have loved even more throughout the whole book. This book is full of information, facts and figures, it is quite thought provoking. You can’t help but wonder as you read where you yourself would have fit in society, would you have been part of the suffrage movement, what would you have been prepared to do for the cause, would you have been willing to go to prison for your beliefs, able to survive in the horrible conditions in the prison, primed to go on hunger strike and be forcibly fed when you did.

I love reading about those people that were perhaps not as well known, names but equally involved and pivotal in history. As I said at the top of this post, I always find myself even more fascinated by these people who worked as hard if not harder than the popular names we have all heard of but just perhaps didn’t get the recognition.

To sum up I found this book a great read about an amazing woman who inspired other to fight for their rights. Sadly in the present day it increasingly feels like our present Tory government wants to take away these hard fought for rights.
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