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The Vote Road Trip: Day 4 Wells and Bristol

7/30 On the way to our next in-the-footsteps of suffragettes stop—Bristol—we spen

t time in Wells, “the smallest city in England.” The 12th century Wells Cathedral entranced us with its scissor arches, medieval stained glass, and a 14th century astronomical clock that

still rings on the quarter hour. There are several action figures beside and above the clock:  a man who hits a bell with a hammer in his hand and kicks two bells with his heels, and two jousting knights that chase each other. It is a delighful show, every 15 minutes in the cathedral.

We stayed in a harborside hotel in Bristol that required driving over a one-way bridge, labelled “weak bridge,” just one of the many driving challenges of our trip. The car rental company did not have the car we ordered and we reluctantly ended up with a mini-SUV, a too big vehicle with poor visibility for narrow city streets and one-lane country roads. I did the driving, while Linda managed the tempermental GPS and spotted landmarks. In Bristol, we visited two blue plaques. (Attached to a building, a blue plaque notes a person, event, or a former building on the site. The system dates back to 1866.) One, bedecked with a

rose bush, was on a house where Annie Kenney lived when she organized a WSPU branch  in Bristol.  A working class suffragette, Kenney, along with Christabel Pankhurst, was the first suffragette to go to jail. At the age of 10, she worked part time in the mill and went to school. At 13, she worked full time and had a finger pulled off by a spinning bobbin. A slip of a woman with brilliant blue eyes, Annie Kenney held leadership positions in the militant WSPU. The connection with the US fight is with working class American women such as Maud Malone and Annie Arneil whom I wrote about in The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight.

The other blue plaque we found in Bristol marked the house where Florence Davenport Hill founded the Bristol and West of England Society for Women’s Suffrage on January 24, 1868.  The text reads: “One of the earliest groups to campaign for votes for women.

They continued to work for women’s suffrage until the vote was won.” The date is interesting because it predates the formation in 1869 of the first two suffrage organizations in America, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and the American Woman Suffrage Association, formed by Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell.

International connections is one of the themes in The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight.  For example, news of the 1850 National Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, MA, published in the international edition of the New York Tribune, motivated a group of women in Sheffield, England, to petition the House of Lords for the right to vote. At the 1851 convention, a letter was read from two French feminists, Jeanne Deroin and Pauline Roland, who were imprisoned for their activism in Saint Lazare in Paris. “DEAR SISTERS,” they wrote to the convention delegates, “Your courageous declaration of Woman’s Rights has resounded even in our prison . . . from the depths of the jail which still imprisons our bodies without reaching our hearts, we cry to you, Faith, Love, Hope, and send to you our sisterly salutations.”

I am not a big breakfast eater but I could not resist ordering (at a fast food type place) a “poached egg pot” with mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado on a bed of spinach! Heavenly!  We are off to Birmingham. I am acutely aware that Bristol and Birmingham were the main British ports for the Transatlantic slave trade and that many women and men who fought to enfranchise women were abolitionists. The issue of race is another theme in my forthcoming book The Vote.

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