East End Suffragettes: the photographs of Norah Smyth

02 November 2018 - 10:00
  • Exhibition at Four Corners Gallery
  • 121 Roman Road, London E2 0QN
  • 2 November 2018 - 9 February 2019
  • Tues-Sat: 10.00-6.00

Admission free

A never-before seen exhibition of photographs by suffragette Norah Smyth - East End Suffragettes: the photographs of Norah Smyth - opens at Four Corners Gallery this autumn.  These remarkable photographs, taken 100 years ago, reveal the little-known story of the radical, ‘breakaway’ East London suffragettes. 

Norah Smyth was a central member of Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes, which broke from the main suffragette movement and fought for working women’s rights throughout the First World War.  Faced by the increasing war poverty in East London, they set up cost price restaurants, babies’ milk clinics, nurseries and a cooperative toy factory, run largely by and for local women.  Alongside the vote they called for profound social changes: equal pay, a living wage and better housing.  The Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow was the ELFS headquarters from 1914-1924, and the home of Smyth and Pankhurst.

East End Suffragettes: the photographs of Norah Smyth includes over 100 original photographs, generously loaned by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, alongside other unseen archival material.  An accompanying programme of talks and walks will explore the history and local area where Sylvia Pankhurst, Norah Smyth and the East London Suffragettes lived and worked.  The exhibition and talks are all free of charge.

Norah Smyth (1874-1963) was born into a wealthy family and became a close collaborator of Sylvia Pankhurst’s, living and working with her in Bow.  A talented artist and organiser, Smyth used her photographic skills to provide images for the East London Federation of Suffragette’s newspaper, The Woman’s Dreadnought, alongside promotional postcards and catalogues, focusing in particular on local women and children living in poverty. Her images provide an intimate record of Sylvia Pankhurst and the ELFS’ activities in 1914-18, an extraordinary moment in women’s social history.  

Carla Mitchell, Development Director at Four Corners, says:
“The East London Federation of the Suffragettes were a remarkable group of women whose story is little-known.  We are delighted to exhibit Norah Smyth’s original photographs in East London close to where they were taken.  We are very grateful to the International Institute of Social History for the loan of part of Sylvia Pankhurst’s personal archive.  As the centenary of women’s right to vote is celebrated nationally we aim to help East End communities discover the amazing suffrage stories on their doorstep.”

About women’s suffrage
In February 1918 the Representation of the People Act enfranchised women over 30, subject to a small property qualification, extending the right to vote to 8.4 million women in the UK. However, this only represented around 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK. The Act extended the right to vote to men aged 21 and over, whether or not they owned property.  The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 was passed in November 1918, allowing women to be elected to Parliament.  Women first voted on 14 December 1918.  In July 1928 the Equal Franchise Act finally gave equal voting rights to women and men at the age of 21.

East London Federation of Suffragettes
Sylvia Pankhurst broke with the main suffragette party led by her mother and sister, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) in 1913, to concentrate her efforts on supporting the extreme poverty of women and children in London’s East End.  Her new organisation, the East London Federation of Suffragettes, campaigned for radical social changes for women as well as the vote.  At the outbreak of World War One the WSPU ceased their campaigning in favour of the war effort.  By contrast, the ELFS continued to promote the cause throughout the war.

The Women’s Hall project
The exhibition forms part of The Women's Hall, a Heritage Lottery Fund project that celebrates the history of the East London Federation of Suffragettes 100 years after women in the UK first gained the vote.  It is a partnership between Four Corners, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, East End Women’s Museum and Women’s History Month in East London run by Alternative Arts.  https://eastendwomensmuseum.org/the-womens-hall/

A range of activities explore and celebrate the heritage of the East London suffragettes in 2018:

  • A new ‘Suffrage in the East End’ Education Pack will be created, and newly digitized archive materials will be made available at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives.
  • The Modern Suffragette - a Photography workshop for mothers will run at Four Corners in autumn 2018, leading to a final exhibition.

About the project partners

Four Corners is a creative centre for film and photography, committed to promoting community-wide participation for over 40 years.  Its programme seeks to support projects that engage with social and cultural themes, and open up perspectives for audiences, particularly in East London. http://www.fourcornersfilm.co.uk

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives covers the area of the present-day London borough of Tower Hamlets - the original East End of London which, until 1965, comprised of the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. http://www.ideastore.co.uk/local-history

East End Women’s Museum is a public history project aiming to record, share, and celebrate women’s stories and voices from east London’s history. The project was established in 2015 in response to the 'Jack the Ripper Museum', as a positive, sustainable protest. www.eastendwomensmuseum.org

Women’s History Month in East London – runs in March each year.  Women’s History Month 2018 celebrated women artists, activists, writers and performers, the Suffragette movement and winning the right to vote for some women in 1918 and all women in 1928 with exhibitions and events across East London. www.alternativearts.co.uk

Pankhurst painting at the newly opened suffragette headquarters in Bow.