This is my first interview, with Elizabeth Crawford. I leave Mat’s studio with my Zoom recorder fully charged, extra batteries (just in case) and excitement about meeting such a well-respected historian. I’m not quite sure how to work these interviews and not sure how I will use the recordings. I’ll just try it out and see.
I arrive at Elizabeth’s house. I’m welcomed in and led to a beautiful conservatory with mature plants entwining themselves around the building. I explain to her that she is the first person I have come to. From that moment Elizabeth took control and for the next two hours she laid out for me the whole story of the movement.
We started in 1866 with Emily Davies, Barbara Bodichon, Elizabeth Garrett and the first petition. She talked to me about the importance of the work done in the 19th century and the relentless petitioning that enabled us to get the vote. We reflected that this story of suffrage wasn’t so well known, as peaceful lobbying didn’t capture the imagination in the way the suffragettes did.
She told me about the apple seller painting by Bertha Newcombe. It was painted in 1910, at the height of the suffragette campaign, and was a very romanticised representation, far removed from the reality of women’s experience at the time.
I wondered if it had a more knowing symbolism than what appeared on the surface. I asked Elizabeth if she thought we would have got the vote if the suffragettes were not in the mix. Was the violence and disruption an essential element of the movement? Elizabeth used the analogy of water dripping on a stone, wearing it away. The right to vote would have been attained in the end, regardless of the suffragettes.
I asked her about the colours of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She told me the colours were chosen in honour of Garibaldi and unification of Italy, Red, White and Green. The NUWSS were the first of the suffrage organisations to have organisational colours.1 All the other groups later followed suit, and taken as a whole, they encompassed all the colours of the rainbow!
I parted by asking Elizabeth how she would want an artwork in Parliament to represent the movement. She was unsure, but hoped that it would somehow put across all the groundwork of the 19th century.
Come back on Tuesday 2 August 2016 to read Mary’s interview with fellow artist Sarah Dewing…
1. The NUWSS used red and white as early as 1906. This turned into red, white and green in 1909, after the Women’s Social and Political Union adopted their colours in 1908.