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Newsletter, July 2014 (Issue 196)

Book review: A song of their own

A Song Of Their Own: The Fight For Votes For Women In Ipswich
by Joy Bounds, The History Press, 2014. £12.99

History, they say is written by the victors. It is also, by and large, written by the men. So much of the story of women's struggle for the vote is only recently coming to light. Clare Balding's recent Channel 4 documentary about Emily Wilding Davison, who stepped (rather than 'threw herself') in front of the king's horse at the Derby in 1913 and died of her injuries, revealed how little we know and how much of what we know is wrong. One aspect of the programme which may surprise us is the description of the Suffragettes as a terrorist organisation ('suffragists' worked within the law and had been working for the women's vote since the 1860s).

Joy Bounds has become well-known as our local suffrage historian and this book contains primary and secondary research which reveals the way in which the long campaign for women's votes affected Ipswich and Felixstowe. The Census returns for the period in question only came into the public domain in 2009. Two episodes in particular are described in A song of their own and they highlight the two arms of the suffrage movement. Firstly, the evasion of the official Census enumerators in 1911, when women from the area gathered for an all-night party in the disused Museum Rooms (now Arlington's restaurant) in Museum Street. Not illegal exactly, but certainly a challenging and brave thing to do. Secondly, the arson attack by two suffragettes which destroyed the Bath Hotel (on the site of the later Bartlet Hospital), at the time the biggest and most prestigious hotel in the town.

There is much here to surprise and enjoy, but the grimness of the long struggle is the lasting impression: imprisonment, force-feeding (horrific and akin to torture in many's view) and political betrayal. An excellent addition to the Ipswich story of non-conformism over the centuries.

R Gaylard

    Front cover of issue 196 Cover, issue 196

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