New exhibition celebrates the work of Edinburgh’s suffragettes

New exhibition celebrates the work of Edinburgh’s suffragettes

The Museum of Edinburgh will soon be honouring the efforts of women and children involved in the suffragette movement over a century ago in the Scottish capital. The exhibition is set to include rarely-seen photographs and artefacts, including sashes, placards, banners and scarves which are normally kept in the city’s archives.

The exhibition, entitled “Their Work is Not Forgotten”, will look closely at the participants of the 1909 suffragette demonstration which brought the city of Edinburgh to a halt. There will also be a particular focus on the story of Bessie Watson — a nine-year-old girl who famously marched along Princes Street playing the bagpipes and wearing a “Votes for Women” sash. She also rode on a float beside a woman dressed as one of the leading women involved in Scotland’s War of Independence: Isabella MacDuff.

The show will run at the museum for more than four months, and will also look at other high-profile protests and incidents staged by women across Edinburgh. These include Maude Edwards’ famous slashing of a portrait of King George V in the Royal Academy – an act carried out in protest of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest at Buckingham Palace. Edwards was later convicted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

There will also be artefacts surrounding Ethel Moorhead (the first suffragette to be force-fed in Scotland during her imprisonment in Edinburgh’s Calton Jail) and the 1913 bombing of the Royal Observatory, which was thought to have been arranged by a suffrage campaigner. The observatory only employed men at the time, and a note recovered at the scene was reported to read: “How beggarly appears argument before defiant dead. Votes for women.”

Their Work is Not Forgotten will also look at the evolution of Edinburgh’s social and political protests over the last 100 years, and hear from modern day women regarding their thoughts. A special event hosted by the museum on 27th April will allow women to record their views on modern protests, women’s rights and the relevance of the suffragettes in today’s society. The exhibition is set to launch this month, before thousands of women are expected to parade through the capital to commemorate the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote.

Edinburgh is one of four major UK cities to take part in a Processions event on 10th June, which aims to create a series of “living artworks”. Participants will wear green, white or violet (the signature colours of the suffragette movement) as they take to the streets in Edinburgh, London, Cardiff and Belfast.

Edinburgh Museums and Galleries history curator, Anna MacQuarrie, expressed her excitement at the upcoming exhibition, saying:

“Edinburgh’s place as a centre for political and social action is long-standing and our museum collections reflect this. We’re thrilled to be displaying important objects from the suffrage movement in Edinburgh as well as objects from recent political demonstrations in the city.” 

MacQuarrie says that the exhibition provides an opportunity for reflection on just how big a role women have had in the shaping of the Edinburgh we all know and love today.

“We hope it leaves visitors feeling informed, engaged and asking questions of their own.”

Remembering the efforts of Edinburgh’s suffragettes is just one more reminder of how rich and fascinating the history of this incredible city really is. No matter how long you spend getting familiar with the Scottish capital, there is always something new (or old) to discover.

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