From Liberal to Labour with Women's Suffrage: The Story of Catharine Marshall

By Vellacott, Jo | Resources for Feminist Research, Spring/Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

From Liberal to Labour with Women's Suffrage: The Story of Catharine Marshall


Vellacott, Jo, Resources for Feminist Research


Jo Vellacott's book examines the significance of the nonmilitant women's suffrage movement in pre-war Britain, a significance that has been questioned because the true indicator of the suffrage movement's influence--the General Election scheduled for 1915--never materialized with the onset of the First World War. Vellacott effectively presents a case that the suffragists did play a significant role in gaining the vote and while the beginning of the war clouded their efforts, it could not nullify them.

Vellacott's research stems from the archival collection of Catharine Marshall's papers and evolves as a biography focusing on Marshall's life and contributions to the suffrage cause, particularly her affiliation with the National Union of Women's Suffragist Societies. Much of the source material Vellacott uses includes personal accounts and perceptions from suffragist Catharine Marshall's diaries, speeches she wrote, notes scribbled at meetings and letter correspondence. As well, many of the newspaper articles reflecting on the movement's activities had been written by Marshall or National Union (NU) members.

In her preface Vellacott indicates her own extensive knowledge of the Marshall Collection. In 1969, when Vellacott was in Britain to research another project, she came across the Marshall papers then being stored at the Cumberland Record Office. Vellacott was the first scholar to examine the papers, and when she realized their value to both feminist and political history, she made arrangements to sort them herself.

Also in her preface Vellacott admits to having a fantasy surrounding this book: she imagines that Catharine Marshall decided to save the valuable material that made up the collection so that a history could be written, a history of the women's suffrage movement as she saw it and which included her selfless contribution to it. This fantasy materializes as Vellacott brings Marshall to life as one of the great organizers and lobbyists of the nonmilitant suffrage movement from 1907 to the books conclusion in 1914. …

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