Caitlin Davies, novelist, award-winning journalist and author of ‘Bad Girls – A History of Rebels and Renegades’, gave a talk at the Cat and Mouse Library and Finsbury Library about ‘Suffragettes at Holloway Prison’. Volunteer Susan writes about the event.
Caitlin opened her talk by discussing about her long-standing fascination with Holloway Prison and how she had always wondered about the women inside – who they were and why exactly they were there. Her description of ‘a quick uncomfortable glance from the bus’ resonated with the audience, many of whom had done exactly the same.
Caitlin then talked about some of Holloway Prison’s most vociferous prisoners – the suffragettes. These women had joined the Women’s Suffrage and Political Union (WSPU) and took part in its militant campaign for the vote between 1906-1914. Caitlin explored how they were portrayed in the press and popular culture of the time and compared that to actual events and what we know about those women who took part. While we often think of suffragettes as being middle-class single women, this was not so. They came from different backgrounds and not all chose to break the law or if in prison, to go on hunger strike.
Caitlin explored how suffragettes were portrayed in the press and popular culture of the time and compared that to actual events and what we know about those women who took part.
Holloway Prison where the majority of suffragettes served their sentence, was catapulted to national notoriety, even featuring in a 1910 series of anti-suffrage postcards. Caitlin discussed why so many women were sent to prison and the regime they encountered in a system set up for punishment rather than rehabilitation. However, once in prison, many suffragettes did not serve their sentences meekly. They campaigned to be treated differently – as political prisoners rather than second or third class prisoners and drew attention and publicity to the poor conditions experienced by all prisoners.
Caitlin concluded by talking about the suffragettes who attempted to blow up the prison’s perimeter wall in 1913. The perpetrators were never found and authorities quietly drew a curtain over the incident.