Jewish Museum London is operating as a museum without walls, as we work towards a new permanent home. In the meantime you can find us in a range of places, both in person and online.

Exercising my democratic right

by Roz Currie, Curator of Blackguards in Bonnets

Today,
as I voted for my candidate to lead the country, I had to thank those
suffragettes who threw themselves into the fight for votes for women. Imagine
being Dora Montefiore who in 1900 found her tax paying for a war that she had
no say in and couldn’t do a thing about. Or Leonora Cohen whose widowed mother
took on all the responsibilities of a householder without the right for her
voice to be heard. 

Through the 19th century, as different representation acts
were passed and more and more groups, including Jewish men, were enfranchised,
still women and working class men had no vote. By the time the Women’s Social
and Political Union was formed in 1903 it’s understandable that they had become
frustrated with the politicians of the day. 

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Israel Zangwill (above, at a suffragettes rally) probably expressed
the question with the right level of anger, “How do they justify their
monstrous proposition that one half of the human race shall have no political
rights?” (From ‘One and One Are Two’ a speech given in 1907). 

Within
the Jewish community there were others who felt equally strongly. Nina Salaman (below) and Lily Montagu, two of the great women of British Jewry, were clear that
including women and giving them a voice could only make the community stronger. 

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Our exhibition, Blackguards in Bonnets, explores just a
few of the stories of the women and men who fought for enfranchisement.
Rebuffed time and again, they were remarkable in keeping their eye on the final
prize. This was despite the horrors of alleged police brutality, imprisonment,
force feeding and hunger strikes (see Gertrude Lowy’s hunger strike medal below).

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Only with full adult suffrage
can each of us be truly considered citizens and take on the responsibility that
entails. And so I’m very glad that I have the power to vote and make a difference today.

Find out more about the incredible individuals who fought for votes for women in our suffragettes exhibition, Blackguards in Bonnets, running until Friday 22 May 2015.

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