Words with… Professor Katharine Cockin: ‘Votes for Women! Arguments for and against in literature, the visual and performing arts’

5pm for 5.30pm, Wednesday 20 June 2018

Special Collections Reading Room, 1st Floor, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex

The Lakeside Theatre and the Albert Sloman Library’s fourth event in the ‘Words with…’ series, exploring the relationship between writing and performance, features Katharine Cockin, Professor of English Literature, University of Essex. This event is open to all – University of Essex students, staff, alumni and general public. Tickets are free but spaces are limited in the Special Collections Reading Room and booking is required. Tea and coffee will be available from 5pm.

After decades of lobbying and letter-writing, the campaign for women’s enfranchisement in Britain took many frustrating and spectacular turns. In the militant phase, from 1905, posters, postcards, literature and performance were all used to persuade the public that women should be given the vote.

Some activists, including men, took part in the militancy of ‘The Suffragettes’ and were even imprisoned. However, some activists objected to the violent destruction of property and law-breaking. Others insisted on party political affiliation, favoured publicity stunts and witty ways to raise awareness of their challenging vision for a new world.

This talk will explore the wide range of political positions and arguments (for and against; contradictory and confused; elitist and egalitarian; international and intersectional; prejudiced and racist). Artistic responses to this controversial and divisive political movement were equally diverse.

Powerful visual imagery characterised the campaigns on both sides: for and against the vote. Emotive references were made to expectations about women’s role in the management of the home. Drama and performance brought activists together to rehearse the arguments and they reached new theatre-going audiences to build the movement. Examples of the variety of plays and performances will be discussed with reference to the significant contributions of the leading director of women’s suffrage drama, Edith Craig (1869-1947).

This year marks the centenary of the first phase of women’s enfranchisement in Britain. The majority of women had to wait another decade. Some of the most striking anti-suffrage posters were designed by the artist and illustrator, John Hassall (1868-1948), whose papers are held in the Special Collections, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex. An exhibition of materials from the Hassall collection and selected publications on women’s suffrage from the Albert Sloman Library, will be on display.

Hassall postcard small

Professor Katharine Cockin, Dept of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies, University of Essex k.m.cockin@essex.ac.uk 

Professor Katharine Cockin has published widely on women’s suffrage drama. Her most recent book is Edith Craig and the Theatres of Art (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama 2017). Other relevant publications include: Edith Craig: Dramatic Lives (Cassell 1998), Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players 1911-25 (Palgrave 2001) and volumes on women’s suffrage drama and Gertrude Colmore (Routledge 2007). You can find these publications in the Library, in print and as e-books.

Image: Postcard design by John Hassall, from Albert Sloman Library’s Special Collections

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