Читать онлайн «Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention»
In January 1913 it looked as if women might win the vote at last, as the Franchise Bill was debated. But at the last minute the Speaker – Sir James Lowther, himself opposed to female suffrage – declared that any adoption of an amendment would so alter the bill that it would no longer be the same measure, so it would have to be cancelled and reintroduced in new form. The suffragettes took their anger out on Lloyd George, sending him sulphuric acid in the post and trying to burn down his country house.
The most notorious event in suffragette history was to follow: Emily Davison was trampled by the King’s horse at the Derby on 4 June 1913 and died four days later. The thinking now is that she was trying to attach a scarf to its bridle, not throw herself under it. Then again, as a devoutly Christian radical, she had on previous occasions been willing to damage her body for the cause. Over the course of seven hunger strikes, she was force-fed forty-nine times. At one stage her cell was deliberately flooded with ice-cold water.
On YouTube you can watch flickering footage of her funeral procession: a solemn, stately affair, though judging by the number of caps and straw boaters – removed out of respect as the cort?ge goes past – the crowds lining the streets contained far more men than we might expect.
But of course, many men supported female suffrage, not just as theorists (John Stuart Mill) and proud domestic cheerleaders (Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s blind husband, Henry) but as activists too. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was imprisoned and force-fed alongside his wife, Emmeline, while George Lansbury MP, having resigned his seat to fight a by-election on the female suffrage issue, also found himself in a cell for defending the suffragettes’ arson campaign in a speech at a WSPU rally.
It’s somehow fitting that the best photos of the suffragettes were taken by a resourceful, enterprising woman. Christina Broom was a self-taught photographer who emerged as one of the key image-makers of the early twentieth century and is now celebrated as the first female press photographer. With her daughter Winnie helping, she would carry her heavy glass-plate camera onto the streets and photograph what she found – straightforward views of Tower Bridge or Oxford Street; royal events and sporting tournaments; Lyons tea boys brewing up at Victoria Station; the 1905 Earl’s Court Exhibition, with its makeshift Red Indian village – turning the resulting images into postcards which she, her disabled husband and Winnie printed up at home in Fulham and sold in their thousands. She also submitted her photographs to agencies for publication in newspapers and magazines.
Broom’s photos of the WSPU on parade take you beyond the Pankhurst family psychodrama, beyond the arid accounts of who did what to whom, and show you these extraordinary figures as they flit across the drab Edwardian landscape like exotic birds. Some of her finest ‘suffragette’ photos were taken on 23 July 1910 at a Hyde Park rally to celebrate the Conciliation Bill being debated, where over 150 campaigners were due to give speeches. Walking at the head of the ‘Prisoners’ Pageant’ are three formerly imprisoned suffragettes: Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and, wearing her academic robes and looking stern, Emily Davison.
Christina stopped photographing the women’s suffrage movement in the summer of 1913. The following year, her health failing and increasingly confined to a wheelchair, she found a new subject: the military, especially soldiers before they left London for the Western Front.
Her photos of young men relaxing and on parade at their barracks are exceptionally moving – we know, as they do not, what fate has in store for them. But other more random pictures tell another parallel story. Among her First World War photos is a portrait taken in May 1916 that shows the direction of travel for women – a group of women police officers at a Women’s War Work exhibition in Knightsbridge. In their long black skirts, barely mustering a smile, they look austere and forbidding. At the centre, holding her gloves, staring down the camera as if she is about to arrest it, is a former suffragette called Mary Allen, now a police inspector …
An ambiguous, disturbing figure, Allen is the shape of things to come; a tidy emblem of the confusion many felt and would continue to feel as the twentieth century unwound; an example of what happens when a damaged personality grows convinced that the only meaningful solutions are extreme ones. But that is all in the future. For now, let us read the image as a celebration of female strength, solidarity and progress – a glorious summation of over thirty years of vigorous campaigning.
Of Soldiers and Suffrage (#ulink_1dbc44e8-f716-5403-b3aa-e2176866fbcf)
The First World War might have been a ‘total war’ – a conflict in which opposing sides are ready to sacrifice anything and everyone to achieve victory – but in Britain this didn’t extend to women being allowed to fight.
Not that this stopped them from trying.
In 1915, eighteen-year-old Dorothy Lawrence fulfilled her ambition to see action on the Western Front by selecting the only option open to her – pretending to be a man. Frustrated by the refusal of any Fleet Street editors to employ her as a war correspondent, Lawrence travelled to Paris where two English soldiers she met in a cafе helped her by smuggling out items of uniform with their washing.
‘I’ll see what an ordinary English girl, without credentials or money can accomplish,’ she wrote several years later in a memoir, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence.1 (#litres_trial_promo) After darkening her skin with furniture polish, bulking out her shoulders with sacking and – a surreal touch, this – making tiny slashes in her cheeks with a razor to create the illusion of a shaving rash, Lawrence headed for the front with faked papers identifying her as Denis Smith, 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.
The plan worked well, at first. Lawrence took a train to Amiens, then cycled to the small town of Albert, the Allies’ centre of operations. There she befriended a soldier, a former coalminer called Tom Dunn, who risked court martial by smuggling her into the trenches.
‘Now I see thoroughly the sort of girl yer are, I’ll help yer,’ Lawrence has Dunn say in her book. ‘Yer no bad ’un. You’re a lady.’2 (#litres_trial_promo) Lawrence would claim to have worked alongside Dunn laying mines in no-man’s-land some four hundred yards from the German trenches, though the extent of her involvement has been disputed – it was, after all, highly skilled work for which she had not been trained. More probably she just kept a low profile during the day and, when night fell, slipped discreetly away to the derelict cottage in nearby Senlis Forest which Dunn had identified as a safe house, there to feast on the remnants of his rations and get a few hours’ kip on a straw-bale bed.
Before long, however, problems arose. The tight swaddling around her chest grew painful – Lawrence had a ‘robust figure’ – and the stress of maintaining the subterfuge combined with the horrible conditions triggered a host of anxiety-related ailments. After just ten days she decided to give up, reasoning that it was better to be honest than to be discovered by accident.
When she made her announcement to the Sergeant in charge, his first reaction was to smile and pat her on the back. Lawrence was relieved: such heartiness surely meant he was going to allow her to stay at the front? In fact, he called the military police immediately and within minutes Lawrence was hauled out of her trench, screaming and shouting at her betrayer, ‘You are the biggest blackguard I have ever met. If I were really a man I’d knock you down here and now.’3 (#litres_trial_promo)
Suspected of being a spy, Lawrence was interrogated by a panel of intelligence officers. ‘So utterly ludicrous appeared this betrousered little female, marshalled solemnly by three soldiers and deposited before 20 embarrassed men,’ she wrote. Rather than act manly and tough, however, Lawrence found herself ‘[lapsing] into feminine attitudes despite my little khaki uniform, concealment no longer being necessary’.4 (#litres_trial_promo) Her private letters were scrutinised for signs that she had been passing secrets to the enemy.
The discovery that Lawrence was neither a spy nor a ‘camp-follower’ (i.e. a prostitute) but a would-be journalist seemed to confuse military top brass, who had expected her to defend herself by professing patriotic loyalty. Still, her presence at the front was a serious security lapse, if nothing else. To avoid further embarrassment – and to stop Lawrence trying to file stories about the incident while preparations were underway for the imminent Battle of Loos – she was bundled off to a nearby convent while a decision was made about her future.
If Lawrence is to be believed, the nuns there loved her and were ‘utterly enthralled at the adventures of a woman who had got out to the big world’.5 (#litres_trial_promo) So too the soldiers she had served alongside, a small crowd of whom queued up to shake her hand before her final expulsion from France.
On the ferry home, in a bizarre coincidence, Lawrence bumped into Emmeline Pankhurst, who was fascinated by Lawrence’s story and tried to persuade her to speak at a WSPU event to encourage women to play an active part in the war effort. But the War Office had forbidden Lawrence from telling her story or discussing anything she had witnessed in the trenches until the end of the war. This was a professional blow to Lawrence, who pointed out: ‘In making that promise I sacrificed the chance of earning by newspaper articles written on this escapade, as a girl compelled to earn her livelihood.’6 (#litres_trial_promo)
Not until 1919 did Lawrence’s book see the light of day. It made little impact, possibly because it’s brief and indifferently written; possibly because, even at the time, it felt a bit over-egged: not the sort of war story the British reading public wanted to hear. Its subtitle – ‘the only English woman soldier’ – has a whiff of fake news about it: Lawrence never served as a soldier and was only in the trenches for two weeks. What’s more, other women found equally creative ways to see action.
The most famous of these other ‘military maids’ is Flora Sandes, a Yorkshire woman with close-cropped hair and a determined manner, whose career as a soldier seems partly to have been an expression of dissatisfaction with the limitations of her gender: ‘When a very small child I used to pray every night that I might wake up in the morning and find myself a boy,’ she admitted in her second volume of autobiography.7 (#litres_trial_promo)
Sandes’ transformation from nurse at a military hospital in the then-Serbian city of Prilep, to soldier with the Serbian army was, she wrote, a result of her having ‘naturally drifted’ rather than any concerted effort to enlist. Female soldiers were not unusual in Serbia, where skill set was considered more important than sex, so given that the middle-class Sandes could shoot, ride and speak French and German as well as English, her appeal isn’t hard to fathom. (Serbia was Britain’s ally in the First World War, affiliated to the so-called Triple Entente linking Britain, France and Russia.)
Sandes’ career ended in glory. Wounded by a grenade in 1916, she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major and awarded one of Serbia’s highest military honours, the Order of Karadorde’s Star. At home, too, she was lionised. As Julie Wheelwright observes: ‘In the English press she was catapulted from Red Cross nurse to the “Serbian Joan of Arc”’8 (#litres_trial_promo) – stopped in the street by taxi drivers; invited to dine with royals and generals. Her first autobiography, published in 1916 – presumably she wasn’t bound as Dorothy Lawrence was by War Office demands for secrecy – received rave reviews and set her up for a successful career as a public speaker and unofficial ambassador for Serbia, whose post-war plight she was determined to alleviate.
Everywhere she went she relished her ambiguous, swaggering appearance (short hair, cane, full military regalia including sword) and the confusion it caused. In return, she was accorded the greatest respect. Introducing her to a capacity crowd at Sydney’s King’s Hall on 8 June 1920, the governor of New South Wales, Sir Walter Davidson, declared: ‘I have not heard of anything finer, or brighter, or more natural, or more modest, or braver or more skilful than the work of Lieutenant Flora Sandes.’9 (#litres_trial_promo)
Dorothy Lawrence, on the other hand, was unable to parlay her early daring into anything lasting or substantial. The career in journalism she craved eluded her and by 1925 her increasingly eccentric behaviour landed her in Colney Hatch Asylum in north London where she revealed to staff that she had been raped as a child by the church guardian who raised her after her parents died. She was locked up there until her death in 1964.
Lawrence’s sense of herself as unique was clearly the point of her story. But this uniqueness would not have been much appreciated during the war when the prevailing sense among men (and many women too) was that women functioned best en masse as busy little worker bees. This is not to demean women’s achievements at this time. After a century in which the First World War has been seen largely as a man’s war – because it was the men who lost their lives and ran the show – the roles played by women have recently started to receive more attention.
Much of this wartime work, it’s true, was traditional angel-in-the-house stuff. Thanks to Florence Nightingale’s efforts during the Crimean War – trailblazing in some ways, constricting in others – the healing and caring professions were felt to be natural options for women. Not just by men, either: ‘It was universally felt that there was work for women, even in war – the work of cleansing, setting in order, breaking down red tape, and soothing the vast sum of human suffering which every war is bound to cause,’ wrote Millicent Garrett Fawcett, looking back on the 1850s from the pre-war, pre-suffrage vantage point of 1912.10 (#litres_trial_promo) And yet much of it was radically different from anything women had done before.
So let’s begin at the beginning of the women’s First World War.
Everyone knows that the First World War was triggered by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914.
The American journalist Mabel Potter Daggett would write that on that day ‘the door of The Doll’s House [as in Henrik Ibsen’s feminist play] opened – for the shot that was fired in Serbia summoned men to their most ancient occupation – and women to every other.’11 (#litres_trial_promo) In other words, the tragedy of the First World War ended up empowering women in a way no one could have predicted.
A global game of dominos began as countries resurrected long-dormant loyalties and alliances. Britain entered the war to support Belgium after Germany demanded free passage through it for its troops, according to its ‘Schlieffen Plan’ for a hypothetical European conflict. Although Britain was the only allied power to declare war on Germany rather than the other way round,12 (#litres_trial_promo) it didn’t want a war. Nobody did. But European countries’ huge armies, amassed to provide security and preserve the peace, ‘carried the nations to war by their own weight’, in A. J. P. Taylor’s memorable phrase.13 (#litres_trial_promo)
The size of Britain’s armed forces before 1914 was around 400,000 (compared to around 144,000 today), a figure the government initially thought satisfactory. It took the appointment of Lord Kitchener as Secretary of State for War to convince them that millions more men would be needed to defeat Germany. With the cabinet still opposed to conscription, Kitchener was placed in charge of voluntary recruitment and approved the use of his own image in propaganda posters, which played heavily on waverers’ guilt and made it socially unacceptable not to sign up. The famous ‘Lord Kitchener poster’, designed by Alfred Leete and featuring a moustachioed Kitchener pointing at viewers, his eyes locking with theirs, appeared in September 1914.
Subsequent adverts deployed women as weapons. The ‘Women of Britain say “Go!”’ poster produced for the Imperial Maritime League at around the same time as Kitchener’s shows a mother clasping her two children to her as her husband marches away from their house. The woman stands not just for innocence, domesticity and morality, but for Britannia herself. As reports of rape and torture filtered through from Belgium and the other occupied territories, the necessity of defending Britannia at all costs seemed clear – and who better to do the defending than a husband?
Graphic atrocity propaganda depicted German soldiers spearing babies and raping nuns. In one poster a demon-eyed German soldier treads on a woman’s corpse, blood dripping from his bayonet. Printed alongside it is an excerpt from what purports to be a British officer’s letter to The Times:
We have got three girls in the trenches with us, who came to us for protection. One had no clothes on, having been outraged by the Germans. I have given her my shirt and divided my rations among them. In consequence I feel rather hungry … Another poor girl has just come in, having had both her breasts cut off. Luckily I caught the Uhlan [cavalryman] officer in the act, and with a rifle at 300 yards killed him. And now she is with us, but, poor girl, I am afraid she will die. She is very pretty, and only about 19, and only has her skirt on …
A report by Viscount James Bryce’s Committee on Alleged German Outrages detailed German atrocities against Belgian women. ‘A witness gives a story, very circumstantial in its details, of how women were publicly raped in the market-place of the city, five young German officers assisting.’14 (#litres_trial_promo) The accuracy of Bryce’s report was challenged after the Armistice, but there is no doubt that sexual violence against women in conflict zones is and was prevalent.
However, Millicent Garrett Fawcett – instinctively pacifist but a practical patriot who thought the war would ultimately advance the feminist cause – objected to these stories, arguing that ‘it is surely no part of patriotism to stir up by speech or writing ungovernable rage and fury against the whole German people … After nearly 2,000 years of Christianity we have but imperfectly learned one of its lessons if we think we can drive out cruelty by cruelty.’15 (#litres_trial_promo) She instructed her NUWSS to cease campaigning for suffrage and instead focus on sustaining the nation’s vital energies: supporting Infant Welfare Centres, fundraising and keeping the food supply chain intact – for example, ensuring that ripe fruit did not rot on trees for want of workers to pick it.
While it suited the government to show women as passive, delicate creatures pining for their husbands, it was clear that with a third of the male labour force away fighting, they needed to roll up their sleeves and get to work doing ‘men’s jobs’. In March 1915, 80,000 women filled out a registration form declaring their willingness to do war work. Olive Schreiner, the South African writer and pacifist, observed cannily that ‘the nation which is the first to employ its women may be placed at a vast advantage over its fellows in time of war’.16 (#litres_trial_promo) But ironically it was existing female workers – specifically working-class workers – who suffered most after the outbreak of war, as panicking wealthy households dismissed servants, and factories responded to drops in orders by laying off staff.
In September 1914, just over 44 per cent of all female employees were out of work. To address the problem, a system of relief work was created in the form of the Queen Mary’s Work Fund, administered by the Central Committee for Women’s Employment and run by labour-movement stalwarts such as Margaret Bondfield and Marion Phillips. The workrooms run by the fund paid notoriously badly – around 10 shillings a week; Sylvia Pankhurst called them ‘Queen Mary’s Sweatshops’, though, as Gerry Holloway points out, ‘unemployed women were probably grateful for any work they could get’.17 (#litres_trial_promo) There was also the Educated Woman’s War Emergency Training Fund – what a title! – which attempted to retrain women for clerical positions.
But as the war progressed and munitions and textiles factories went into overdrive, thousands of working-class women used their own initiative to find jobs, or rather new jobs, as most of them would have earned a wage before, doing piecework at home if not in a factory or in service. (In July 1914 there were already 200,000 women employed in the metal and chemical trades.)18 (#litres_trial_promo)
New soldiers needed new uniforms, and fast. Jane Cox from Mile End in London worked at Schneider’s, which manufactured caps for the military. The poisonous khaki dye brought her out in boils: Cox developed a large, painful one on her spine but no treatment was offered. ‘If you stopped to blow your nose you got the sack,’ she remembered. ‘You couldn’t go to the toilet. You really worked in those days.’19 (#litres_trial_promo)
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