The open bookcases of Preston’s historic Harris Library are not the only link that the county public lending system has with the past. The Lancashire Council Community Heritage Team has been researching the role Lancashire women played in the suffrage movement , and the documents they unearthed have been put on display at libraries across the county.
The people of Lancashire played a key role in political events during the Victorian period, particularly with respect to social reforms. Robert Livesey (1794 – 1884) was a champion of the Temperance movement, coining the word “Teetotal” and founding the world’s first Temperance hotel. The county was also very active in the suffrage movement, a fact that was celebrated on Friday 8th March when displays were opened at libraries throughout Lancashire, coinciding with the launch of International Women’s Month.
The popular image of a suffragette is of a respectable, middle-class woman who leaves the comfort of her Victorian balloon back dining chair at dead of night to attend political rallies, and in fact the word suffrage is derived from the Latin meaning to vote, or lend political support. However, the suffragette leaders of Lancashire fit well with the alternative derivation, to shout or make a din, since they were mainly working class women with plenty of experience of noisy, hot factories. They unfortunately left few records of their political achievements, unlike well-to-do radicals like Emmeline Pankhurst, who filled her London home with servants and fine Oriental furniture.
The antique chests and Victorian balloon backed dining chairs that a Preston antiques dealer sells connect local residents to the past in the same way as the suffrage exhibits at the Harris Library.
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