Emmeline Pankhurst has monopolised the suffragette story for over a century, never wobbling from the pedestal we place her on. But our relationship with her should not be this comfortable.

Emmeline Pankhurst rules the suffragette story with autocratic power. That’s fairly impressive considering she’s been dead for nearly 100 years.

It seems that in death, as in life, Emmeline has harnessed a legion of loyal followers; people who fail to look too closely into what she was about, maintaining a blinkered view on the battle for female franchise.

I’m not saying Emmeline wasn’t an extraordinary woman. She was an invincible…


It’s 50 years since the 1970 Equal Pay Act, but we still have not solved the gender pay gap. And we never will until we address the real issue — the devaluing of women’s work.

Those who argue the gender pay gap doesn’t exist often base their claim on the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which made gender discrimination unlawful. Those people conveniently forget that even in 1970, activists from the Women’s Liberation Movement to the Dagenham Ford Machinists were hugely dissatisfied with the Act.

So no, the 1970 Equal Pay Act did not remedy the issue. What it did was…


It was one of those stinky, sweaty July days in London. I was standing at the foot of The Shard. Someone passed me a pair of binoculars so I could peer up at the ant-like figures climbing the tower. You couldn’t tell from so far below, but those five figures were all women. They were from Greenpeace and protesting Shell’s oil exploits in the Arctic.

The fact the activists were all women was important. Greenpeace had a reputation as being, what climber Victoria Henry describes as, “beardy boys in boats.” She said after the climb a lot of women approached…


Lesbian and bi-sexual history is tangled up in societal and cultural constraints. As I tried to unpick it all, I often ended up asking myself: is what these women did in the bedroom any of my business?

May Morris and Mary Lobb with unknown gentleman © William Morris Gallery

Debate rages about the relationship between Mary Lobb and May Morris. Sean Curran describes their relationship as “visible queer history” and accuses museums of excluding LGBTQ heritage from mainstream narratives. However volunteer researchers for the Women Activists of East London project failed to find solid evidence to define their relationship.

The same could be said for Evalina Haverfield and her relationship with Vera…


We’re taught that the suffragettes were heroes who gave us our freedom. The real story is far more complex, and at times darker than you’d think.

Emmeline Pankhurst led us on the road to equal franchise; Emily Wilding Davison gave her life to the cause; hundreds more endured imprisonment or force feeding to give us our freedoms. These are the stories we are told. As a young woman I held them up as inspiration and motivation for a more just and better world.

Yet as I have delved into archives I found a different picture. I discovered a movement led…


Exploring how white people can be a good ally is important, but not if they eclipse the stories of black activists.

I saw a video on Twitter the other week with the comment: “this is how you use your white privilege”. It was of a young white woman jumping in front of a black man to protect him from the police. It has been described as “historic”. Another person said it moved them to tears.

It is indeed an extraordinary moment of solidarity, but let’s roll it back a bit. A black man jumped a fence near the White House…


Get out of your home without leaving your house, with these virtual walking tours exploring local history

It’s with great sadness we cancelled our summer walking tours with our partners, Hackney Tours and JoyRiders. We’re exploring socially distanced version of those tours, but in the meantime, here are some virtual walking tours to explore from the safety of your own home.

In Her Footsteps
While we don’t recommend using our walking tour app on location at the moment, it is designed to be used at home too. …


Get your headphones on and immerse yourself in some radical history listening, with the best podcasts on inspiring women.

It’s not hard to find a podcast about women’s history, but how to chose the best? Here are a selection to help launch you into this inspiring history.

Restoring Women’s Voices — BBC History Extra
Sarah Jackson from the East End Women’s Museum explores how women’s voices having been missing from mainstream historical narratives, in this BBC podcast. She shares some of her favourite stories of East London’s radical women.

Women Who Made Modern Britain — BBC History Extra
Journalist and news…


Museums might be shut, but there are some fascinating online exhibitions exploring radical women’s history for you to delve into. Here are seven of my favourite.

The story of the Gay Liberation Front in Britain
It’s 50 years since the formation of the Gay Liberation Front in London. Our plan was to delivery a series of talks, tours and exhibitions this spring/summer to celebrate the role of East London women in the organisation. While we restructure our content to bring it online, check out this digital exhibition about the GLF from the LSE Library.

Sexual Revolutionaries of the Suffragette Movement
This…


Lockdown doesn’t mean we have to stop sharing heritage. Here’s a guide to films about women activists to watch and learn from at home.

It’s testament to the increasing awareness of women’s history, and specifically women’s radical history, that a list of ten feminist films is so easily put together. With schools closed, and the curriculum out the window, it’s also a chance to inject some historical diversity into your children’s learning, without having to leave the sofa.

Harriet
Charting the incredible true story of Harriet Tubman, who brought hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. This story maybe…

Esther Freeman

Socialist-feminist. Writer-historian. Passionate about what women today learn from our sisters of the past https://about.me/esther_freeman

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