Extending Women’s Suffrage studies beyond the concepts of “Male” vs “Female”
Volunteering with Llandudno Museum has been a wonderful experience. As a student with a passion for history and heritage, I have appreciated this opportunity to develop my research, professional, and academic skills. My undergraduate history dissertation focused on women during the Penrhyn Quarry Strike. My passion is the history of North Walian working-class women, but the subject is under-researched. I first became aware of this lack of research whilst studying the Suffrage Movement during my GCSEs. Llandudno was mentioned as the birthplace of The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in Wales, but no more was said on the matter. Dr DeAnn Bell and I decided that there was a lot of research potential in this area including identifying members by their full name, why Llandudno’s community was ripe for the creation of the first NUWSS branch in Wales, and how to help a contemporary audience connect with this research.
Addressing contemporary issues on the subject became important to my research. For example, how do we encompass the wider community who might no longer gender identify and demonstrate that the Suffrage Movement was not only a movement for middle-class women but a movement for personal freedom? I decided to present this research and the contemporary context which will include a teacher’s guide in the form of a handbook for GCSE and A-Level students. It is hoped to develop the handbook into an interactive workshop for classrooms.
Besides the more prominent aspects of the suffrage movement in Llandudno, such as the Cocoa House, the research aims to encompass the involvement of lesser-known women and men who worked towards making the suffrage movement successful. It also examines the trends of the suffrage movement in Wales and how the Welsh suffrage movement was characteristically more peaceful. It links the Nonconformity and the Temperance Movement and how many working-class Welsh-speaking women politically expressed themselves through Temperance rather than the Suffrage Movement.
Although associated with feminism, the Suffrage Movement and the subsequent Representation of the People Acts also gave many working-class men the right to vote. I wanted to recognise this in my research. Ideas of gender and femininity are important as they have historically been used to exclude various groups from politics. This exclusion based on personal identity extends beyond ideas of being ‘male’ and ‘female’ and extends into class and religion which helps contemporary students to understand how and why society reacted to the movement in negative ways. It also poses the question of how the movement is currently taught and how much work in terms of equality there is still left to do. I want students to think about these questions and understand that ideas of what is culturally right and what is culturally wrong are evolving constantly.
The skills I have developed and the experience I’ve had with the museum so far have been invaluable. DeAnn is so supportive and helpful (and not just with museum work!) We have even discussed turning my undergraduate dissertation into a talk for a zoom event, which I am so honoured to be a part of. I’ve also had the opportunity to research for the Llandudno Women’s Walk, focusing on the history of women in Llandudno. It is so rewarding knowing that my research is appreciated and is bringing light to some of Llandudno’s history. I hope to continue volunteering with the museum after the completion of this project. The heritage of Llandudno is so important to me and I admire the work of the museum. I hope to pursue a career in the heritage sector or academia in the future.