The image for the conference poster was taken from an illustrated book of suffrage poems published by the Artists’ Suffrage League (London, 1909). The book, titled Beware! A Warning to Suffragists, was written by actress and writer Cicely Hamilton and illustrated by a number of hands. The image that we have used for our poster was drawn by a little known illustrator called C. Hedley Charlton, of whose suffrage art a few examples still survive. It depicts a suffragette in the Holloway Prison uniform (notable for the broad arrows iconography) entwined in chains and shackled to a barred window. She seems unperturbed and returns the viewer’s gaze. This is an ironically humorous representation fit for a book of satirical rhymes. Hamilton’s verse accompanying this illustration reads:
Take warning by Her awful end, And don't to poli- Tics attend. Don't earn your living— If you can, Have it earned for you By a man, Then sit at home From morn till night, And cook and cook With all your might. It may be slow— But you can say, "It's just as slow In Holloway."
The header image for this blog is cropped and modified from a photograph titled “Inside Holloway Prison” by Kurt Hutton and originally published in Picture Post on 13th September, 1947. It depicts women prisoners sewing mailbags. Built in 1852, Holloway became a female-only prison in 1903. More than 300 suffragettes were incarcerated there during the early twentieth century. See here for a brief history of the prison and its symbolic importance in the women’s liberation movement.
While thinking about visual design that would match our conference’s theme, we were inspired by suffragette print culture and its recurrent references to this notorious institution. At the same time, we are conscious of the racial exclusionism practiced by Anglo-American suffragettes and the way histories of women’s movements tend to write women of color out of the narrative. In this light, C. Hedley Charlton’s illustration of a white woman in shackles becomes significant for its unselfconscious omissions. The image serves as suggestive evidence of the historical and present difficulties involved in feminist work — that is, even the most earnest calls for liberation may entrench existing inequalities. We hope the conference poster will prompt some thought about the extent to which our own discourses of liberty are double-sided.
As they struggled to win political liberty for women like themselves, the suffragettes deployed images of unfreedom that resonate differently if we shift our perspective. This 1912 poem by Kathleen Emerson addressing Holloway Prison, for instance, uses figurative language reminiscent of slave memoirs and Black abolitionism:
Oh, Holloway, grim Holloway, With Grey, forbidding towers! Stern are thy walls, but sterner still Is woman’s free, unconquered will. And though to-day and yesterday Brought long and lonely hours, Those hours spent in captivity Are stepping-stones to liberty.
Liberty, such as it is, is realized through prison bars. The spirit of this deeply human paradox — reiterated variously across history and exceeding the politics of the suffragettes — is what we have tried to capture in our conference theme.