Monday, 26 November 2012

Women's History Event

On Friday evening we were thrilled to invite Louise Raw and Emelyne Godfrey to our shop for a discussion of women in Victorian society.

Louise had been to the shop before, last Christmas, to talk about her book, Striking A Light and was pleased to see our new capacity to hold in store events – between the 2 events, the audience grew from around 8 people to almost 50!

Louise made an impassioned speech for the women who, in 1888, led the first strike of unskilled female workers which actually achieved something, and influenced other, more famous strikes such as the Dock Strike of the following year. Louise talked about the dangers of them working in the factory (such as losing fingers and then being sacked because without 10 fingers, you couldn’t make matches) and the horrific phossy jaw, caused by the white phosphorus they were forced to work with (even though safer alternatives existed). The accepted story was always that the higher class Annie Besant had led the strike, but Raw argues that although the article Besant wrote for ‘The Link’ magazine entitled ‘White Slavery in London’, was possibly a catalyst for what followed, it would have been odd for an upper class woman to convince hundreds of working women, of Irish descent to strike without pay. Striking A Light gives the power and credit of one of the earliest moves for unionisation back to the women who benefited.

Emelyne Godfrey, speaking at her first bookshop event, talked about the challenges women faced in London to keep themselves safe, as she writes about in her new book, Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian literature and Society. Much like the match workers who fought for safer working conditions, the Suffragettes and other women’s groups fought for their safety. With the introduction of the Cat and Mouse Act, it was necessary for the Suffragettes to be able to protect themselves from being arrested, so they learnt ju-jitsu to physically fight off the policemen sent to bring them in. She also talked about H.G. Wells’s controversial novel, Ann Veronica. Emelyne examined this book as a testament to the growth in women’s sports and read an extract where Ann manages to fight off unwanted advances from a man.

The event finished with some really insightful questions from the audience, who were obviously very interested in the topics being discussed. We also got lots of positive feedback from the audience, so I'm sure this won't be the only event of its kind we put on in Blackwell's.

There was quite a queue of people waiting to get books signed and talk to the authors!

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