How the vote was won

28th November 1997 at 00:00
The suffragettes are not forgotten- the story of their struggle is being told to five-year-olds, reports Biddy Passmore.

Will girls soon be chaining themselves to the school railings? Might they throw themselves in front of a male classmate as he whizzes past on his bike? Could they even be force-fed by school dinner ladies?

Perhaps that would be taking action learning too far. But, using two handsome new resource packs from the Fawcett Library, children as young as five can now have a lively introduction to the great struggle waged by their female ancestors to win education, the vote and a fair wage for women.

"We thought there was a gap in the market for material like this," says Christine Wise of the Fawcett Library. "We hope the packs will excite children - that's what we want them to do."

The first pack, aimed at five to 11-year-olds, highlights leading figures of the women's movement, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her family, as well as suffrage newspapers, shops and postcards. It describes the great suffrage processions of 1908 and 1911, ("when turning corners, the inner man should mark time while the outer men are wheeling," said the inappropriately worded Practical Hints for Processionists).

The grislier bits are confined to the pack for 11 to 14-year-olds. This charts the move from constitutional to militant action and describes the official reaction to militancy, from the force-feeding of hunger-strikers in prison to the words of an outraged Queen Victoria. "Women's rights" were "a mad, wicked folly" she wrote; a noblewoman who had addressed a suffrage meeting "ought to get a good whipping".

There is a memorable definition of the difference between the two feminist camps. "The suffragette," according to the South London Press in 1908, "is the militant lady who attempts by forcible means to interview Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament... They prefer a short rest in one of His Majesty's "homes of seclusion" to the quiet domesticity of their own fireside... The suffragist is a much quieter lady. She does not believe in the tactics of her sister, the warlike suffragette, but is content to urge her claims for a vote simply by her own eloquence."

The pack ends with the final granting of the vote to women in 1918 - but only if they were over 30, a householder, married to one, or had a degree or some equivalent qualification. There was still some way to go and there still is.

Here, meanwhile, is a little prayer taken from the pack for younger children that should soothe 3B on a wet afternoon. It needs to be read aloud by a little girl with clasped hands, pigtails and a pious expression.

"I pray for all the grown-ups wherever they may be Wat's (sic) done one teeny weeny thing to get a vote for me When I am old I'll use it, I'm neither rich nor clever But I can give them lots of love forever and forever."

Growing up for suffrage by Ann Dingsdale, designed for Key Stages 1 and 2, and Dare to be free! by Jean Holder and Katharine Milcoy, designed for key stage 3, cost Pounds 9.95 each and can both be ordered from The Fawcett Library, Calcutta House, Old Castle Street, London E1 7NT or from the library's Home Page on the Internet,

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