Fantastic Finds for Friday: Votes for Women!

Although the purpose of this blog is to bring you items which have been ‘stumbled’ upon as I work my way through my daily tasks in the College Archive, this week’s Fantastic Find really is an unexpected find!

I have been looking through some papers of the General Secretary of the Midwives’ Institute, dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, in order to gather material for the next heritage display here at the RCOG. In one of the files I found this image tucked in the back behind the papers. On the reverse is written ‘6th April 1911’ and ‘The Southend and Westcliff Graphic 14th April 1911’.

Papers of the Royal College of Midwives
Suffragette rally, Southend, April 2011

I knew that the midwives had some affinity to the Suffrage movement from articles and notices posted in their journal ‘Nursing Notes’, but there was nothing to clarify why this particular photograph should have found its way into the hands of Paulina Fynes-Clinton, General Secretary of the Institute. Investigation of the 1911 volume of Nursing Notes offered no clues or sign of the image being reproduced there, and there is nothing to suggest that any of the ladies pictured were midwives or nurses.

More investigation provided some context to the photograph: rallies took place all over Europe during the spring of 1911 in support of women’s rights to work and vote, and these were so powerful that they spawned what today is celebrated as International Women’s Day on 8 March. What is more the WPSU had been active in Southend as part of their holiday campaign the previous season and this had obviously left some influence among the womenfolk of this Essex seaside town!

It is possible that some clue to the photograph will come out later, after more work has been completed on the collections – nevertheless, it is a great peek into this particular point in British history and an unexpected find in a medical college collection!

Penny Hutchins, College Archivist

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kate says:

    For a moment I wondered if some of the women had been identified as Nurses or midwives and wondered what sort of bother they’d get into had Matron found out! Great photo.

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