Book reviews

Talks PosterVanishing for the vote

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'Liddington has a gift for innovation in history. Her best-know work, One Hand Tied Behind Us: the rise of the women's suffrage movement (1978, 2000), …describes how working women in Lancashire cotton towns made progress in women's suffrage by concentrating on grassroots issues… In keeping with this approach, Liddington here examines how suffrage history has …played down acts of civil disobedience that were less dramatic than painting-slashing and fire-setting. She redresses the balance to show… "elusive figures slipping along darkened streets of the night [who] proved daunting to pin down for enumerators then ~ and for suffrage historians now".'
Jad Adams, Times Literary Supplement.

'Liddington tells the story of the taking of the 1911 census, …and suffragette opposition to it, with great verve... The depiction of…the ingenuity suffragettes used to avoid enumeration, including setting up "safe houses", spending Census Night walking the streets, or even roller skating at the Aldwych, is a fascinating read…

Vanishing for the Vote is an extremely valuable addition to both the history of women's rights and the developing role of census-taking in Britain. Based on meticulous archival research, and with a broad vision, the book reinforces the view that the census is as much a great political event as an administrative process.'
Professor Edward Higgs, Family and Community History.

'Although a number of previous texts have made reference to the 1911 census boycott, none has considered it in the detail that Jill Liddington's highly readable book does… Liddington has weighed a host of new data about the boycott, thanks in large part to the decision of the National Archives to make the schedules of the 1911 census available to the public online…

The rich data discussed in Vanishing for the Vote are key to this fascinating work… The stories of the probable 3,000-4,000 boycotters… vividly evoke the spirit of the age.'
Professor June Purvis, Times Higher Education.

'A fascinating story, ingeniously told, meticulously researched, so as to illuminate both the women's suffrage movement and the social history of the period'.
Professor Linda Gordon, New York University.

'We thought we knew all about the dramatic campaigns of women for the vote. Until the original schedules became available of the 1911 census, carried out at the height of the suffragette hunger strikes. These reveals how many women resisted this official attempt to count them as full citizens. Jill Liddington has mined the census records to bring vividly to life this long-hidden, brave challenge to an anti-suffrage government.'
Professor Pat Thane, Kings College, London.

Rebel Girls Rebel Girls (Virago 2006).

'The many people who fail to vote in both local and national elections might mend their ways if they settled down for a few hours with a copy of Rebel Girls: the fight for the vote… An excellently-researched, highly readable book'.
Mike Priestley, Bradford Telegraph & Argus.

Right: Click to enlarge Rebel Girls poster

'Yorkshire mill girl Dora Thewlis was sent to jail aged 16 for storming Parliament to demand votes for women. Her story was forgotten for 99 years. Now we can reveal the secret of "Baby Suffragette"….New research by Jill Liddington has given an insight into the campaigners who fought to improve the lives of generations of women… Suddenly new-found photographs, documents and census records have brought these fiercely determined women back to life.'
Julie McCaffrey, The Daily Mirror.

'The "rebel girls" were a group of women united by their youth and impatience with the slowness of political change, who were prepared to risk family wrath, their livelihoods and the prospect of marriage to fight for votes for women… Chief among these "rebel girls" is Adela Pankhurst. All of these women have been largely airbrushed out of history by the dominant voice of Emmeline Pankhurst and her two daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Adela, the third Pankhurst sister, has been largely erased from suffrage histories and so forgotten. Her story, and that of her northern sisters, is told in compelling fashion in Rebel Girls by historian Jill Liddington'.
Comment, The Times.

'New research by Jill Liddington has uncovered how Huddersfield's Dora Thewlis and other poor, unschooled Yorkshirewomen are the forgotten heroines of the long struggle for the vote…. Edith Key's fastidious, handwritten minutes book of the Huddersfield Women's Social and Political Union [WSPU] have provided substantial evidence about the heroines, whose stories appear in a new book by Liddington, Rebel Girls.'
Ian Herbert, The Independent.

'Like their feminist forebears, suffrage historians have tended to take sides, for or against militancy. Jill Liddington's influential first book, One Hand Tied behind Us, written with Jill Norris, and published in 1978, offered a corrective to "virtually all the books on the subject" which told the suffrage story "in terms of middle-class London-based leaders". Liddington and Norris uncovered a new group of women whom they called the "radical suffragists" and who lived and worked in the North of England, the cradle of the movement. Like the remarkable Selina Cooper, a Lancashire mill girl from "Red" Nelson… One Hand Tied behind Us was "people's history" of the most effective and original kind. In retrieving the lives of those who had disappeared from the historical record, it transformed our idea of the suffrage movement and made the histories that had concentrated on Westminster look parochial.

Now, Rebel Girls wants to counter "celebrity suffrage" by finding out more about local suffragettes across Yorkshire…This is perhaps the first book to recognise that an entire generation of young women, born between 1881 and 1891, grew up with "Votes for Women" ringing in their ears.'
Alison Light, London Review of Books.

Rebel Girls reviews