Born into the last days of slavery, Ida B. Wells was raised to fight. The daughter of two politically active entrepreneurs, she wanted to raise herself and her siblings into the middle class. But while emancipation may have passed into law, new structural barriers emerged to keep women like Wells out – out of the economy, out of the political system, and out of first class train carriages. When a conductor tried to force Wells into the smoking car on a ride from Memphis to Nashville, Wells took a stand. The event launched a writing and activist career that would see her tackle some of the greatest injustices of her age – and ours. Her reports, Southern Horrors and The Red Record, laid bare the horror of lynchings in the South and she would go on to found a number of Civil Rights organisations – some of which survive today. She was also a suffragist unafraid to call out the movement for its lack of black representation – an intersectional feminist well before her time!
By the turn of the twentieth century, the fight for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom had already been raging for nearly forty years. Suffragists everywhere had been calling for changes that would allow women the right to become part of the political life of the nation, but their pleas had persistently been denied. Frustrated and angered, a new generation of activist women rose up, and the suffragette was born. With the motto ‘deeds, not words’, these fierce women were through asking nicely and, turning to militant tactics, they literally put their lives on the line to demand change. Among them was a woman who rarely escaped attention. With her modified tricycle for mobility, Rosa May Billinghurst threw herself into the fray alongside her sisters, suffering at the hands of mobs of angry men and a cruel and ruthless legal system. Ultimately they would be successful, but in a world where so many rights are still for the few rather than for all, their struggle for equality resonates as deeply today as it did over a hundred years ago.
So get ready to take to the streets (not literally! Stay home! Stay safe!) and join us as we venture into the protest marches and picket lines of suffragette city!