The Women's Hall: Celebrating the East London Federation of the Suffragettes
The Women’s Hall project, developed in partnership by Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, Four Corners, Alternative Arts, the East End Women's Museum, and Numbi Arts will explore some lesser-known suffrage stories from east London through two major exhibitions, a series of events, and a participatory photography project.
The East London Federation of the Suffragettes were a radical group who split from the WSPU in 1914 and fought for working women’s rights throughout the First World War. The Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow was their headquarters from 1914-1924, a women’s social centre, and the home of their leader, Sylvia Pankhurst. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Women's Hall exhibition and events
Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 30 May - 20 October 2018
This free exhibition and accompanying events explore the ELFS campaign for the vote, their split from the WSPU and their wartime projects, which included a co-operative toy factory, a health clinic, and a nursery in a former pub.
Thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition hall at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4DQ will be transformed into a unique space evoking the headquarters of the ELFS, a former Baptist mission hall on Old Ford Road in Bow which the suffragettes named ‘The Women’s Hall’. The building no longer stands.
Cost Price Restaurant
The exhibition includes a recreation of the ELFS Cost Price Restaurant, which will serve refreshments for visitors on a 'pay-what-you-can' basis using redistributed food from Fare Share. See below for opening times. There will also be a donation point for Bow Food Bank.
Visitors will learn about little known local working class suffragettes like Melvina Walker and Daisy Parsons, and the venues in Bow and Poplar which were taken over by the ELFS for use in their projects.
Objects and archive materials on display include a rare ‘Ealontoys’ teddy bear made in the toy factory started by the ELFS just behind Roman Road; and the handwritten diary of suffragette Gertrude Setchfield which describes her trips to the East End in 1914 to attend ELFS rallies, on loan from the LSE Women’s Library.
Our project volunteers have also produced a newspaper inspired by the ELFS own weekly newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnought, full of event listings, articles drawn from their research, plus extracts from the original Dreadnought and even the ELFS minute books. Pick up your free copy of The Women's Hall Dreadnought when you visit!
Events and workshops at The Women's Hall
Local Somali cultural organisation Numbi Arts will stage a takeover of the space in August, presenting Repair and Rebellion - a strand of free events linked to Numbi’s new mobile museum exploring histories of women of the East African diaspora, their links with London’s East End, and anti-imperialism - a cause to which Sylvia Pankhurst was dedicated.
Workshop: Sew an ELFS Posy with Sarah Richards
Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes were known to use their creativity to highlight their campaigns. Come along to our free drop-in workshop at The Women’s Hall led by Sarah Richards (www.oliveroad.london) and learn how to make a posy in ELFS colours using upcycled fabrics. No sewing experience necessary and all materials provided.
Thursday 28 June, 6:00 - 7:30, drop-in
Talk: From East End Suffragettes to World Revolutionaries: The Radical Lives of May O’Callaghan and the Cohen sisters, with Maurice Casey
In 1916, a Scotland Yard detective informed his superiors that three members of the East London Federation of Suffragettes had moved into a flat together: May O’Callaghan, an Irish intellectual, Nellie Cohen, Sylvia Pankhurst’s secretary and the daughter of Jewish refugees from Poland, and her sister Rose. The detective had unwittingly documented the beginning of a friendship that reflected the vibrant world of the East End, where an Irish and Jewish migrant community came together to fight for the causes of the day; votes for all, revolutionary socialism and an end to the war then raging across Europe. These three women maintained a remarkable friendship across decades and places, from the tumult of East London during the suffrage struggle, through the experimental society of revolutionary Moscow and beyond. Using documents from attics and archives in the US, UK and Russia, this talk reveals the untold story of these women and their shared journey through personal and political revolutions.
Thursday 5 July, 6:30 - 7:30pm
Walk: Battling Belles of Bow with Rachel Kolsky
Led by Sylvia Pankhurst who chose east London as the starting point for her campaign for women’s suffrage, East End women were key to the success of the Suffragette movement. Seeing the plight of the working women and mothers, she also established a nursery, a series of restaurants and a toy factory in Bow. Join Rachel Kolsky, prizewinning tour guide and author of Women’s London and follow in Sylvia’s footsteps.
Booking essential - please email email@example.com
Saturday 7 July, 2:30 - 4:30
Poetry reading and talk: Writ on Cold Slate - Sylvia Pankhurst’s Holloway Prison Poems, with Chris Searle
Join poet and author Chris Searle to discover another side of Sylvia Pankhurst: her poems. Chris will read from Writ on Cold Slate, a document of life inside Holloway prison during the period of suffragette militancy, and place them within the wider struggles she was involved in.
Thursday 12 July, 6:30 - 7:30pm
Workshop: Suffragette Sources at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
Discover some of the suffragette sources from the collections at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. Read the real Woman’s Dreadnought, see our first edition copy of The Suffragette signed by its author Sylvia Pankhurst, and browse our unique collection of pamphlets, news cuttings and photographs. With an introduction from Robert Jones, Heritage Officer (Library), and then a chance to explore the material.
Saturday 21 July, 11:00am - 1:00pm, drop-in
Workshop: East End History Club Suffragette Special
A special edition of Tower Hamlets Archives regular East End History Club, exploring women’s lives in Tower Hamlets throughout the twentieth century. These sessions are ideal for those who are curious about local history and want to find out more. There’s no need to book, just drop in. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.
Saturday 21 July, 2:00 - 4:00, drop-in
Talk: Indian Suffragettes, Female Identities and Transnational Networks, with Sumita Mukherje
Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote in Asia, Europe, USA, Britain and other parts of the British Empire, and how they had an impact on campaigns in the Indian subcontinent.
In the context of her new book, she discusses the experiences of the Indian suffragettes who travelled around the world to lobby the British parliament, attend international women’s conferences, and conduct speaking tours to gather support for Indian women. Dr Mukherjee will demonstrate the ways in which the suffrage movement was a truly global enterprise, not solely confined to Britain or America, that involved and affected women from a range of diverse backgrounds.
Thursday 13 September, 6.30pm - 7.30pm
Guided tours of the exhibition
First Saturday of every month, 1:00 - 1:30pm
Tower Hamlets Archives are also offering booked tours for community groups. If you would like to book one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other upcoming activities throughout the year include:
East End Suffragettes: the photography of Norah Smyth (Four Corners Gallery, 26 October-26 January 2019), a unique exhibition of Norah Smyth’s photographs which provide an intimate documentation of the ELFS’ activities, accompanied by gallery talks and local history walks that explore Norah’s story and the work of the East End suffragettes in more depth.
A new ‘Suffrage in the East End’ Education Pack will be created for all Tower Hamlets schools, and newly digitized archive materials will be made available to the public at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives.
A photography workshop for mothers will run at Four Corners in Summer 2018, leading to a final exhibition in autumn 2018.