It is a petition addressed to The Right Honourable Benjamin Disraeli, M.P. thanking him for previous support and again asking him to give his ‘support and influence as leader of the Conservative Party, to the measure to be proposed by Mr Jacob Bright in the House of Commons for removing the Electoral Disabilities of Women.’ The petition (undated) was probably penned c1870 and contains the signatures of many prominent female activists, – Ursula Bright, Lydia Becker, Margaret Lucas, the Ashworth sisters, Florence Nightingale no less, – many of whom came from non-conformist backgrounds.From a local perspective, Eliza Sturge, also a signatory, was born in Birmingham into a prominent Quaker family. She was an active speaker for the suffrage movement and secretary of the Birmingham Society For Women’s Suffrage in the 1870s. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Birmingham School Board in 1873. It is interesting to reflect that the women’s suffrage movement had its roots in political lobbying and debate well before the time we traditionally think of the movement taking a militant stance in the early 1900s. International Women’s Day, now globally observed on 8 March each year, was born out of political and social unrest. Women began to be acutely aware of the oppression and inequality experienced in their lives, the long working hours, the lower pay rates, the lack of voting rights. They were spurred on to become more vocal and militant, giving rise to women’s movements. After 15,000 women marched through New York in 1908, the first national women’s day was declared in the United States in 1909 and the ‘Women’s Day’ ideal was swiftly adopted across Europe. Russian women famously staged their strike for ‘bread and peace’ in February 1917, resulting in the February revolution and the abdication of the Czar. After the Soviet Revolution in October 1917, the ‘Women’s Day’ concept was adopted in socialist and communist countries and, in the West, International Women’s Day became a popular event after 1977.
If you feel inspired by the above and are moved to don the purple, white and green, why not come along to a talk by Sian Roberts, Tuesday 12 March at 1.00pm in the Library Theatre. ‘An appeal to the hearts of Friends’: Women activists in Birmingham and beyond. The talk explores the significant roles that a number of Birmingham Quaker women played in the area of humanitarian aid during the First World War, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.