The starts have aligned on the Hisdoryan blog. It’s officially Women’s History Month. It’s also Welsh History Month on the blog. And I’ve just finished reading Women’s Suffrage in Wales by Lisa Tipping. The timing is perfect for a review.
I’ve always been into Women’s History, and I’m so glad the field of study is finally getting the recognition it deserves. I remember studying the suffrage movement and the suffragettes in school, but it was from a very British (read English) angle. So when Rosie from Pen and Sword Books offered me the chance to review Women’s Suffrage in Wales I jumped at the chance.
Upon starting the book, it soon became clear that the author felt the same way I did. Lisa Tippings has sought to redress the balance and shines a much-needed spotlight on both the Welsh working class women who realised the suffrage movement provided an opportunity for change, and the middle and upper class women who played prominent roles.
The strength of this book is most definitely the author’s description and analysis of the social and economic context which caused the suffrage movement to flourish in South Wales. There is some consideration of the suffrage movement in other parts of Wales – mostly North Wales – but most of the activity in the book is focused on South Wales. I get that this is where most suffrage activity took place due to the social conditions and population numbers, but some readers may find the title a little misleading.
The author also weaves in the distinct political context that the suffrage movement in Wales had to flourish in – namely the cult of Lloyd George and the Liberal movement. David Lloyd George was the ‘Welsh Wizard’ who would eventually help win WWI as Prime Minister, but his Liberal party defeated five suffrage bills from 1906-1914. He and his party were extremely popular in North Wales, which had more branches of the Anti-Suffrage League than any other part of Wales – a definite correlation. It’s a very interesting relationship that is explored in this book.
Chapter Three is all about the early years of the suffrage movement in Wales, and sets the scene well in terms of key political players and organisations. It then moves on to the women who played a role in the suffrage movement, looking at both well known names and some lesser known ones.
It was great to learn more about Lady Rhondda after featuring her in my recent 10 Welsh Women That Changed The World post. But I also learnt more about inspirational people like Elizabeth Andrews, Amy Dillwyn and Rose Mary Crawshay.
I particularly liked learning more about Amy Dillwyn (pictured). Amy was one of the first female industrialists in Britain and a bit of an all-round badass. She was a great social benefactor, building on her families’ liberal and Quaker values, and even a novelist in her spare time. She was also seen as a bit of an eccentric by her peers – wearing practical ‘man-like’ clothing and smoking cigars.
Amy was president of the Swansea Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and was a generous donor to the more militant Women’s Freedom League. She was also concerned about the rights of poorer women, supporting striking seamstresses with both money and connections to well-placed contacts.
She’s one of those remarkable women whose life is full of a great number of incredible tales – I thoroughly recommend you give Amy Dillwyn a good Google and learn more about her.
Back to Women’s Suffrage in Wales. The book then looks at the effect of WWI on the suffrage movement, before moving into the inter-war period and beyond. It follows the gradual evolution of the suffrage movement into the more general women’s rights movement, as well as considering the role of the women of South Wales in the more general movements concerning greater equality for all and the welfare state that accelerated after WWII. The book ends in a fitting way, bringing the reader right into the present day and the commemorative events that were held in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the enfranchisement of women.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a book to provide a good historical introduction and overview of women’s suffrage in Wales then this is it. It introduces the key players and does a really solid job of placing a dynamic movement in a Welsh context. It provides a Welsh angle to a very important historical topic that is often generalised as a British issue. As a young Welsh women, I find this incredibly important in understanding where I come from.