No Woman Left Behind: Remembering the Stories of the East End Suffragettes

Hello, my name is Jessica, I am one of two students who have been doing research into “Feminist History in the East End - A Walk”.

In the course of this placement I was struck by the sheer number of women who are mentioned on this walking tour. The pamphlet for this tour, which was recently re-discovered in the Heisler Collection at Senate House Library, outlines an eight-mile walk around the East End with fifty stops, some of which have multiple points of interest in one stop. And yet, all of the amazing stories that are being told still barely fit into this walk.

As an American student who travelled to London to study history, I am familiar with the most famous women of the Suffragette movement, as I think most people are. It is nearly impossible to speak of the history of early twentieth century London without mentioning the name Sylvia Pankhurst, but how many of us have heard of Clara Grant or Stella Browne? There are so many fascinating stories and lives that have affected the course of history and the way our society works today that are not being told but are vital to our understanding of history and how we should be living in the current day.

Take for example Zelie Emerson. She was an American woman from Michigan, who was involved in the labour movement in Chicago.

After meeting Sylvia Pankhurst, she decided to up and move to London. Not only is she someone that I had never heard of before starting this project, but I think Zelie Emerson is an example of a kind of fighting, fearless spirit that is an example of what we should all strive towards. This woman left her home and her family, long before she could benefit from the ease of communication we now enjoy, to follow a woman who inspired her and to fight for what she believed in. Zelie worked for the East London Suffragette Federation, (ELFS) and was arrested multiple times for the sake of her cause, even being knocked unconscious and having her skull fractured in the middle of a riot on Roman Road. During one of her incarcerations there was even talk of deporting her under the authority of the Aliens Act. I think that it takes incredible bravery to fight this hard for a cause, and even more so to do that thousands of miles away from your home with the risk of being deported, or realistically even killed.

Beyond the women who are mentioned in the text of the pamphlet for this walk, I was also really excited to learn about the women who created it. Clare Manifold, who was the main writer and researcher for this walk, amassed a huge amount of material and used that knowledge to continue the very fight that she was learning about. I am looking forward to learning more about Clare when Lara and I interview her and Vanessa Hall-Smith, another of the original organizers of the walking tour, in the next few weeks.