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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Reproduced with permission from The Keep

Reproduced with permission from The Keep

Turbulent Spinsters

Ann Kramer’s latest book, Turbulent Spinsters, is the story of local women who fought for the right to vote. Ann is a prolific writer and has joined forces with Kay Green at Earlyworks Press – both Hastings residents – to publish this book about local social history; a fascinating read for anyone who wants to know how local women contributed to this nationwide campaign and what happened to them on their journey. HOT’s Zelly Restorick asks Ann about Turbulent Spinsters and her passion for writing and research.

Turbulent Spinsters by Ann Kramer

Turbulent Spinsters by Ann Kramer

What is the theme of Turbulent Spinsters? 

Turbulent Spinsters tells the story of women’s fight for the vote here in Hastings and St Leonards. It traces events from Barbara Bodichon’s landmark petition in 1867 and what seems to have been the first local women’s suffrage meeting in 1871, when a woman called Mrs Ronninger came here to speak about votes for women, moving on through the setting up of different local suffrage groups, activists, meetings and demonstrations and ending in 1918 when more than 8 million won the right to vote. There’s a broad overview of the national campaign but my aim was to focus on what was happening locally.

What drew you to this subject at this time?

It’s a hundred years since some women won the right to vote and it was a very hard won victory. I know not all women gained the vote but it was a very significant landmark in women’s long fight for their rights. I wanted to make a contribution for this centenary, so I thought I would look into what was happening here and make a local contribution. I started ploughing through the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, which happily for me is now digitized, and to my great delight discovered that there was a vibrant and inspirational campaign going on here. The research was a joy: there were so many women down here who dedicated their time to fighting for the vote. They threw open their homes for meetings, hired public halls, invited speakers, marched, refused to pay taxes and campaigned in so many different ways for what they knew was their democratic right, namely the vote. I shouldn’t really have been surprised; Hastings seems to have a radical tradition; it’s not surprising that women here were just as involved, or maybe more so, than women elsewhere.

It sounds like Muriel Matters and Violet Tillard had a challenging time with their campaign. 

Actually I think all women involved in the fight for the vote had a fairly challenging time. Muriel Matters and Violet Tillard were both members of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), a very interesting women’s suffrage organization that broke away from the Pankhurst’s WSPU. The WFL decided to send a horse drawn caravan down to the south to spread the suffrage word and in July 1908, Muriel Matters and Violet Tillard, together with veteran campaigner, Lilian Hicks, arrived in Hastings. They held an open air meeting in Wellington Square in the evening, then the next evening made their way to the Fishmarket. The weather was dreadful and the women took cover in the fishmarket, where they were pelted with fish heads and entrails. For women like Muriel Matters confrontation was an everyday occurrence but they were determined and carried on. In fact Muriel Matters came back to Hastings and stood as a Labour candidate in 1924. She wasn’t elected but she got a lot of coverage in the paper and eventually made this her home.

Is it true that Mrs Pankhurst came to Hastings?

Yes it is. She spoke at two public meetings in the Royal Concert Hall in Warrior Square in March 1908 and again in November 1912. Before the November meeting local activists marched along Eversfield Place with placards and posters advertising the meeting, which was absolutely packed. All local suffragists and suffragettes attended the meeting and she was greeted with huge enthusiasm when she took the stage. The Hastings Pictorial Advertiser featured a photograph of the meeting, which shows Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst flanked by Mary Allen, the local WSPU organizer with Bexhill and Hastings banners in the background. Thanks be to The Keep; I was given permission to reproduce the photo and others of the various processions in my book.

Who designed the book and illustrated the front cover?

Turbulent Spinsters is very much a local women’s publication. Emily Johns produced the woodcut illustration or the front cover, which shows suffragettes on the seafront surrounded by fish, and Erica Smith designed the book. Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press and Earlyworks Press published it. They have done a wonderful job and I’m very grateful to them.

Ann Kramer

Ann Kramer

You’re connected to Women’s Voice, the local group for women. What are the aims of the group?

Women’s Voice is a non-profit charitable organization run by women for women. Our aims are to empower local women, challenge sexism and misogyny, to identify local women’s needs and work to meet them and to organize women-focused events. We are particularly keen to reach out to more marginalized and disadvantaged women who are suffering badly from years of austerity. We’ve been hosting events for International Women’s Day for eleven years now and have set up all sorts of other events from global cooking through to fitness and well-being classes and workshops and debates around sexualisation of women and employment.

At the moment though we’re organizing events to celebrate votes for women. We’re aiming to recreate a huge suffragette and suffragist march on 23 June and are running free banner and poster making workshops, singing workshops and hat and sash decorating workshops for the march. We’ve also hired St Marys in the Castle for Saturday 23 June and there will be all sorts of activities including massed women’s choirs singing songs of suffrage. Anyone who’s interested in knowing more can email us on: hastingswomensvoice@yahoo.com or look at our Facebook page: Hastings Women’s Voice.

What other subjects do you feel drawn to write about?

I’ve a few ideas knocking about in my head. I’d like to do more in-depth research into the local suffrage campaign; it would be fascinating to find out something about working-class women’s involvement. I would also like to do something on women of my age, born just after the Second World War and I’d like to document our personal memories and experiences of the years since then. And for years now I’ve been thinking about writing something about pioneer motorist, Dorothy Levitt. She was such a fascinating individual.

Suffragettes' poster parade Reproduced with permission from The Keep

Suffragettes’ poster parade Reproduced with permission from The Keep

Turbulent Spinsters is on sale at Bookbuster; Printed Matter Bookshop; and Waterstones. It’s also available via the CircaidyGregory website.  Price: £8.99.

Ann Kramer is a historian and non-fiction writer. Working from her home in Hastings, she has written more than 60 books for children and adults on subjects ranging from women spies and conscientious objectors through to suffragettes, human rights and women’s experiences of the two world wars. She is passionate about history, particularly women’s history and has been active in a local women’s group for several years. Originally from London, Ann has lived in Hastings since the early 1970s.

Posted 04:20 Wednesday, Apr 4, 2018 In: Literature


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