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Celebrating women

Celebrating women

Celebrating women in Hastings

Saturday 23 June was a glorious summer day. Anyone walking over the West Hill that morning might have been taken aback at the sight of Edwardian suffragettes, complete with placards, making their way towards Warrior Square Gardens. But it was no dream: these suffragettes were just a few of more than 300 local women of all ages, who dressed as suffragists and suffragettes, wore flowered hats and white, purple and green sashes and marched along the seafront to celebrate one hundred years since women won the vote in Britain. HOT’s Zelly Restorick asked Ann Kramer of Women’s Voice to report on the event. (Photos by Jake Burnett and Rosanna.)

“We’ve been planning this for about a year. Women’s Voice wanted to do something really special to mark the centenary of women winning the vote and to celebrate the incredible spirit and determination of those women who fought so hard to achieve it. Being a local women’s group, we were particularly keen to celebrate the many wonderful women of Hastings and St Leonards who were part of that campaign.

“We chose the 23 June because in June 1908 – literally 110 years ago – a contingent of local suffragists and suffragettes from here took special excursion trains up to London where they joined two huge women’s suffrage demonstrations there. They even made a banner especially for the occasion.

Celebrating a centenary

Celebrating a centenary

“We decided therefore to recreate the procession and to produce a banner. Local women, co-ordinated by local artist, Lorna Vahey, embroidered 157 squares, each bearing a woman’s name, to make a huge banner for the march. Others, working with artist, Emily Johns produced striking posters, which were turned into placards as well as being enlarged and displayed along the seafront. Musical director, Debbie Warren worked with women to create an astounding massed women’s choir for the event.

“We invited local performer, Anna Graebe to choreograph the procession, which was absolutely spectacular. Warrior Square was packed with more than 300 women, as well as some male supporters and children. Having sung a rousing version of Rise Up Women, the procession moved off at 11am. Our huge banner was at the front, while more banners, placards and posters waved in the sunshine, including the Jerwood women’s banner, which came along for the occasion. En route the procession passed living statues of Barbara Bodichon, Elsie Bowerman, Muriel Matters and Sophie Deepal Singh, key activists in the local and national suffrage campaign. Hastings’ famous trolleybus, decorated for the occasion and carrying suffragette passengers brought up the rear.

Reverberations of the past

Reverberations of the past

“Having stopped to sing near the pier, the procession then made its way into St Mary in the Castle for an afternoon of events. Hastings Women’s Voice massed women’s choir – consisting of 100 voices for 100 years – conducted by Debbie Warren, sang songs of suffrage, including March of the Women, the suffragette anthem composed by Ethel Smyth in 1911. Suzy Harvey sang a solo accompanying herself on ukulele, and professional actors, Eleanor Stourton and Sabina Arthur performed Phenomenal Women, a devised piece celebrating inspirational women of the last 100 years, including Maya Angelou, Emmeline Pankhurst, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Malala Yousafzai and Mary Beard.

“Students from Bexhill College performed a powerful piece about women’s continuing inequality; we showed a video of Hastings Buddy Refugee scheme – and the afternoon finished with local art students using spoken word and images to portray their visions of women.

Women en masse choir

Women en masse choir

“All in all the day was an amazing success and we are very grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make it happen, including our tireless project worker, Rossana. We have had some very positive feedback; many women who took part have told us how moving they found the experience and how it reminded them not just what women have achieved in the past but also how much still has to be done.

“With this in mind Women’s Voice is holding a follow-up event: ‘100 Years and What Have Women Got?’ at which artists will be visualising issues still facing women today. The exhibition starts on 3 September at Hastings Arts Forum until 16 September. There will also be workshops, films and speakers.

The Women’s Voice Banner created for the procession will be on display at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.

The events on 23 June were hosted by Women’s Voice and funded by Heritage Lottery.

Ann Kramer: Trustee of Women’s Voice; author of Turbulent Spinsters: Women’s Fight for the Vote in Hastings and St Leonards(Circaidy Gregory Press, 2018) and many other publications.

10 Women sandwichmen

Posted 15:25 Wednesday, Jul 4, 2018 In: Hastings People


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