Charlotte Pope picks out some fabulous feminist reads to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918
Bad Girls Throughout History, by Ann Shen
From queens to warriors, activists to astronauts, Bad Girls Throughout History has them all. Featuring 100 incredible women who changed the world in various ways, this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls for grown-ups. There’s Lilith, the lesser known first wife of Adam, rejected from the Bible for refusing to be subservient to her husband; the revolutionary Anita Garibaldi who rode into battle on horseback while pregnant; the daring Annie Edson Taylor who became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls, at the age of 63; and Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to receive a bachelor’s degree. These amazing women and more – beautifully and colourfully illustrated by Anna Shen – are in this book for daring to be bad and fighting back against the status quo.
The Bristol Suffragettes, by Lucienne Boyce
Local author Lucienne Boyce was one day rummaging in the Corn Exchange market when she came across a photograph of a group of local women standing under a women’s suffrage banner. She has been researching and writing about the Bristol suffragettes ever since, and has produced an excellent book documenting the fight for women’s right to vote in this city – a side of social history that is relatively unknown to many in Bristol. Did you know about the colourful demonstrations on the Downs, and the stone-throwing in the city centre? Included in the book is a short guided walk around Bristol detailing several interesting locations around the city, steeped in history; from the homes of many prominent suffragettes to the Victoria Rooms, where the Bristol and West of England Society for Women’s Suffrage held its meetings.
Little People, Big Dreams: Emmeline Pankhurst, by Lisbeth Kaiser and Ana Sanfelippo
When she was a girl, Emmeline Pankhurst read all about heroes who fought for others and was utterly entranced. One night she heard her father saying it was a shame that she wasn’t a boy: as a girl, she’d never be able to go to university or even vote. Emmeline began researching women’s rights and went on to become one of its leading activists in the UK, inspiring women to fight back in a way that had never been seen before – braver and stronger than anyone had ever believed they could be. This gorgeously illustrated book is just the thing to teach little ones about the 100th anniversary of such an important part of British history. Simply written and carefully curated for younger readers – the perfect addition to any young egalitarian’s library.
Women and Power, by Mary Beard
Adapted from two lectures given by the author, this book may be only 115 pages long but it packs one hell of a punch. Beard traces the roots of misogyny right back to Ancient Rome and Greece, to Homer’s Odyssey with young Telemachus effectively telling his mother to “shut up”. Beard highlights how the silencing of women is a common theme in ancient literature, therefore arguing that the practice of revoking power from women by keeping them mute has been dictating human lives for thousands of years. She theorises that if the entire concept of power has been so ingrained and tailor-made for male voices, that it may be the concept of power itself that needs to change in order for women to take their place there. Women & Power is an insightful, thought-provoking and eye-opening read, for men and women alike.
Opal Plumstead, by Jacqueline Wilson
When her father is imprisoned for embezzlement, 14-year-old Opal must give up her highly prized scholarship and instead go to work at Fairy Glen sweet factory. Alienated for her upper class education, Opal finds a saviour in factory owner Mrs Roberts – a suffragette. Opal becomes inspired to fight for women’s rights and begins attending suffragette meetings, much to the disapproval of her mother. Many of the people around her reject the suffragettes, calling such ideas foolish and silly but Opal remains convinced of the importance of the mission. Before long, she is consorting with Mrs Pankhurst and learns the suffragette motto of deeds, not words. But will getting newspaper headlines be enough to win the fight? This excellently written novel – Wilson’s 100th book – is a great introduction to the women’s suffrage movement for readers aged nine to 12.