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Posted 08.01.19

Blue plaque to commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage

By Phillip Buchan

Foundation Diploma in Art & Design students with women's suffrage researcher Anne Corry and Councillor Margaret Corvid

Almost 100 years to the day since women voted in a General Election for the first time (14 December 1918), a new blue plaque highlighting the location of two venues linked to the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900s was unveiled outside the college.

It’s one of a number of new plaques set to be unveiled across Plymouth by the City Council and can be found on a custom-made concrete plinth outside our main entrance, on Tavistock Place.

In preparation for the unveiling of the new plaques, our Foundation Diploma in Art & Design students learned about the history of female politicians in Plymouth, focusing on the impact that Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat, had on the city. They were visited by Councillor Margaret Corvid to hear more about what it means to be a female politician in the city today and debate the importance of women being granted the vote.

“Being given the right to vote is something that affects us keenly. We were too young to vote in the Brexit referendum but we’re the ones that will live with the consequences, so we’re all eager to exercise our right to vote in future.”

Foundation Diploma in Art & Design student Jess

19-year-old Tigi Campbell-Combe said: “After finding out about the history of women in politics in Plymouth, we learned a lot from Councillor Margaret Corvid’s visit. She brings a new perspective, something most politicians don’t have, defying stereotypes. As a group we decided that we want to be role models for the next generation of young women, like Nancy Astor was, and not to stay quiet about the things we care about.”

The plaque commemorates the Maud Slater Shorthand and Typing School, which was situated at Clarence Chambers, 107 Tavistock Road from 1910-1918, and a former Suffragette Shop based at 8 Tavistock Road from 1913-1914.

Foundation Diploma in Art & Design students with Councillor Margaret Corvid

Tavistock Road no longer exists but could once be found at the bottom of where Charles Street and Drake Circus now are.

Maud Slater’s Shorthand and Typing School was a meeting place for local suffragists as well as a recruitment centre for women’s war work. Propaganda and suffrage literature were created and given out at the school. Meetings and fundraising activities were also held there.

From 1912 to 1914, Slater was joined in her suffrage work by the Reverend Hatty Baker, a pioneer female preacher who was a strong supporter of Votes for Women and who would go on to campaign for the ordination of women.

The Suffragette Shop was located across the road from the Typing School. As well as being a place where women could purchase literature, postcards and the tricolour ribbons the suffragettes came to be recognised for, it was also used a contact point for supporters of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst when she was arrested in Plymouth on 4 December 1913.

Pankhurst was returning from giving a lecture in the USA aboard an ocean liner, the RMS Majestic. Having been in and out of prison earlier that year, she had broken the terms of her release to travel to America and was due to be arrested when she docked in Plymouth.

Thousands of suffragettes arrived in Plymouth to show their support for her. The potential for rioting caused the Chief Constable to board the liner and arrest her before she reached dry land. She was then handed over to Scotland Yard detectives and transported back to prison.

Plymouth Deputy Leader, Councillor Peter Smith, said: “With the centenary of votes for women this year and the recent anniversary marking 100 years since women could stand as MPs this is a really timely plaque to unveil. Plymouth has a really interesting but often little-known story connecting it to the suffrage movement. We hope this, and some of the other plaques we’ll be unveiling before the end of the year, will highlight this and some of the key characters involved more.”

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