A starring role for the Suffragette collection

By beverley cook on 2 Jul 2014

Daisy Dugdale and fellow suffragettes c1908

As curator of the museum’s wonderful Suffragette collection I often welcome ‘important’ visitors to the archive, captivated by the story of the women who endured imprisonment, hunger-strike and even force-feeding in their battle to win the vote. 

The collection has starred in a number of television programmes including a BBC documentary presented by the actress Sheila Hancock and a South African daily talk show where I was interviewed by the athlete Dame Kelly Holmes during the London 2012 Olympics.

Whilst it is wonderful for the collection to be featured in the media, its prime significance is as a unique resource for those studying the enduringly fascinating subject of the militant suffragette movement. Alongside academic researchers we have welcomed novelists including Tracy Chevalier when researching her book Falling Angels and the playwright Rachel Lenkiewicz whose Suffragette play Her Naked Skin was performed at the National Theatre in 2008.

WSPU typist office 2

Over the past year the collection has also received a number of visits from the production team of a new feature film entitled Suffragette, due for general release in January 2015. Anxious to ensure accuracy and authenticity, the team, including the set designers and Director Sarah Gavron, have spent many hours in the Museum of London studying images and the personal accounts of Suffragette militants. The cast includes Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst as well as actress Carey Mulligan in the lead role, who recently starred in The Great Gatsby. Just before filming Carey visited the collection, keen to gain a greater understanding of the role she was to play as a young ‘foot-soldier’ in the militant Suffragette campaign.

WSPU typist's office

Suffragette was filmed in London between February and April 2014 and I was fortunate to be invited along to the film set twice. During these visits I was fascinated to see images from our collections being brought to life in scenes set in Holloway prison and the headquarters of the Women’s Social and Political union. For this scene I was even enrolled as an extra! Dressed as a Suffragette and seated at a typist’s desk accurately reconstructed from an image in our collections was a surreal experience, but also a proud moment, as I witnessed first-hand the inspirational role the museum’s collections have played in the production of this film.

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