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We're Not Finished! Ilford exhibition highlights more than a century of women's rights activism

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 March 2017

Workers at Whitefield'’s sweet factory, Tunmarsh Lane, Plaistow, c.1960. Picture: Eastside Community Heritage

Workers at Whitefield''s sweet factory, Tunmarsh Lane, Plaistow, c.1960. Picture: Eastside Community Heritage

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Close to 100 years ago, a landmark day in British history dawned. Years of protests, hunger strikes, prison spells, even war work, finally led to the moment thousands of women were waiting for, namely their entry into the political system.

A women's march against austerity. Picture: Eastside Community HeritageA women's march against austerity. Picture: Eastside Community Heritage

On June 19, 1917, the bill for the Representation of the People Act – opening up the franchise to women over 30 – was passed by 385 to 55 votes in the House of Commons.

The Lords followed suit and a succession of milestones ensued: women voted in their first election (1918), Constance Markievicz was elected but didn’t take up her seat (1918), Nancy Astor won a by-election and did enter the Commons (1919) and women over 21 were granted the vote (1928), extending the total number of eligible female voters to 15 million.

The courage and tenacity of the women who went before us paved the way for the many privileges we enjoy today, but the fight for equality in Britain is not yet over, with many issues still prevalent, including in the workplace.

In this light, Eastside Community Heritage (ECH) and the East End Women’s Museum have teamed up for We’re Not Finished! an exhibition at Redbridge Central Library celebrating Women’s History Month, which runs throughout March.

Judith Garfield MBE, executive director of ECH, told the Recorder: “We must remember that in 1918, not all women received the vote, only women over 30 years old, those that were married, a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a university constituency.

“This changed in 1928 and since then women have led and campaigned for better healthcare, more equality in education, affordable childcare, equal pay and same-sex relationships.

“We have come a long way, but we still need to continue to ensure that women’s voices are heard.”

The East End Women’s Museum emerged out of the furore in 2015 when the Jack the Ripper Museum was unveiled in Cable Street, to the surprise of residents, campaigners and academics alike, who had been expecting a site celebrating women’s history.

The British Ladies' Football Club hosted the first ever public women's football match in 1895, in Crouch End, played by its north and south divisions. Picture: Eastside Community HeritageThe British Ladies' Football Club hosted the first ever public women's football match in 1895, in Crouch End, played by its north and south divisions. Picture: Eastside Community Heritage

Since then, East End Women’s Museum founders Sara Huws and Sarah Jackson have been working hard with supporters to make the attraction a reality.

We’re Not Finished! records the stories of numerous campaigning women, and these have been archived for future generations.

Dr Lisa Mckenzie, a research fellow at the London School of Economics and a dedicated activist, who has campaigned against the Jack the Ripper Museum, told the project: “I think it’s our human right to protest. Working class communities are the sites of where we won our rights for better working conditions, but they weren’t won in Westminster they were won in our communities.”

The East End has traditionally played a vital role in women’s rights work. In 1914, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) split in two, a branch was re-established in Bow, named the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS).

Eastside Community Heritage's latest exhibition is We're Not Finished! exploring campaigning for women's rights since the late 19th century. Picture; Eastside Community HeritageEastside Community Heritage's latest exhibition is We're Not Finished! exploring campaigning for women's rights since the late 19th century. Picture; Eastside Community Heritage

Led by Sylvia Pankhurst – who later lived in Woodford Green for 30 years – and made up of mostly working class women, the ELFS campaigned on issues such as suffrage and food price controls, and opened an affordable day nursery, a toy factory where men and women were employed on equal terms and a relief programme supplying destitute children with milk.

We’re Not Finished! Campaigning for Women’s Rights Since 1883 is on display at Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, until March 31.

An associated talk will be held on Thursday at the library, from 6.30-8pm.

For more on Eastside Community Heritage, based at the Cardinal Heenan Centre, High Road, Ilford, visit hidden-histories.org.uk/wordpress.

A cartoon of the first public women's football game, held in 1895 in Crouch End. Picture: Eastside Community HeritageA cartoon of the first public women's football game, held in 1895 in Crouch End. Picture: Eastside Community Heritage

For updates on the East End Women’s Museum, go to eastendwomensmuseum.org.

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