It might seem strange now, if not outright bizarre, that 100 years ago half the population were excluded from voting purely on the basis of gender.Advertisement
If you were female you had no vote. Granted many men were also excluded on the basis of class or wealth which was just as unfair and both sets of voting rights were addressed in the ’Representation of the People Act’ in February 1918.
Whilst this gave the vote to almost all men over 21, women had to be over 30 and meet certain property owning qualifications. It has been speculated that the stipulation that women were aged over 30 was to prevent them suddenly being the majority of voters. It took another ten years before women enjoyed equal voting rights with men.
As has been seen repeatedly around the world achieving freedom or voting rights rarely happens without a struggle. This was just as true in the late 19th and early 20th century with the cause of the suffragettes. The most famous of these campaigners are well known such as Emmeline Pankhurst and the tragic Emily Davison, killed when she walked in front of the king’s horse during the 1913 Epsom Derby. We however had our own famous suffragette, Edith Rigby, from right here in Preston.
During recent centenary commemorations of women getting the vote it was shocking to find how few Prestonians knew about Edith Rigby. She is a historical figure of real significance who had an undoubted impact as a suffragette. Edith took part in demonstrations, first being arrested for the first time in 1908 whilst marching in London. She was arrested and imprisoned seven times in total during the struggle for women’s voting rights. On each of these occasions she took part in hunger strikes and was force fed by the prison authorities. A gruesome process.
Read more: Preston’s university asking for your memories as part of 190th celebrations
She was also known for more than demonstrations. Edith took part in what would be described today as ‘direct action’. These included an attack on the Liverpool Corn Exchange which was described as a bombing but actually involved what has been described by historians as a very loud firework. She claimed to have taken part in an arson attack on Lord Leverhulme’s bungalow on Rivington Pike, causing £20,000 worth of damage. It has been doubted whether she did this but in claiming responsibility she achieved more publicity for the cause.
Other actions included throwing a potato at Winston Churchill, and throwing black puddings at a Manchester MP. Most famously in Preston itself she organised her supporters to ‘tar and feather’ the statue of Lord Derby in Miller Park, the stains from which are still visible today.
You have to ask yourself whether you would have emulated Edith Rigby? Would you have been a freedom fighter? Would you have had the courage and fortitude to go to prison on seven occasions knowing that the horrors of force feeding awaited you?
We can see therefore that Edith Rigby definitely fits the bill as a famous historical figure from Preston. A strong argument is being made that in this centenary year of women getting the vote her city should honour her with a statue.
Read more: How Blog Preston helped the story of Edith Rigby to be told
In a country with 925 public statues only 25 are of historical ‘non royal’ women. That’s a bit of an indictment of our society. So if we as a city are start in a small way to rebalance that appalling statistic, who better to start with in this centenary year than Edith Rigby.
The campaign has started and is being headed by Preston’s Lady Mayoress Trisha Rollo. Meetings are taking place and with a bit of impetus and campaigning let’s hope the statue is erected in 2018. Other statues in Preston were paid for by public subscription, namely that of Sir Robert Peel and of Lord Derby (famously redecorated by Edith’s colleagues).
Our 21st century version of public subscription is crowdfunding and that is the proposed funding model for this statue. So no taxpayers money, just the contributions of anyone who wants a statue of this indomitable and heroic Prestonian here in her home city.
Will you be backing the campaign? What do you think of the idea? Let us know in the comments below
Michael Conlon is the chairman of Preston-based construction firm Conlon Construction.
No fundraising page is yet live for the Edith Rigby statue. We’ll post it when it is.