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  • Hello lovely people,

  • Due to UK government advice as an at risk person I’m isolating myself in my house

  • for 12 weeks, so

  • [slurp sfx]

  • I don’t want to talk about coronavirus too much because I think if youve clicked on

  • this video youre probably looking to think about ANYTHING ELSE

  • but I hope youre all doing well, whether youre in isolation or keeping on keeping

  • on. If youre one of the wonderful people working to help the rest of us stay alive

  • then you have my utmost respect. Whether youre a front line medical worker or a driver delivering

  • food and essentials to those who can’t leave the house, youre making this very difficult

  • time more bearable for us all so thank you.

  • - also, I’m really hoping that if youre watching this in a few months time that the

  • corona pandemic feels like a weird, shared nightmare and that everything is now back

  • to normal. Leave me a comment if that’s the case. I look forward to the day when the

  • majority of comments are justeverything is fine now’.

  • To cheer us on I thought we should have a little history session and learn about someone

  • inspirational, who had to get through tough times and kept fighting for what she believed

  • in: Rosa May Billinghurst, a rule-breaking disabled suffragette.

  • If youre interested in learning more about amazing disabled or queer people from history

  • then I suggest you check out my Historical Profiles playlist, where you can learn the

  • history you SHOULD have been taught in school.

  • Subscribe if you like history and queerness and…. disabledness? Or if you need some

  • videos that are kind of calm but slightly amusing.

  • If youve seen my videoWhy Not All Disabled People Want To Be Seen As An Inspiration

  • (link in the description and card above), youll know that I don’t use the term

  • inspirationlightly and I certainly would not use it about someone purely because

  • they had a disability but kept on living their life.

  • - because just being disabled isn’t, in itself, inspirational. It’s justlife.

  • However, should said disabled person have an attitude that inspires others to make positive

  • change in the world THEN they areinspirational’. And Rosa was certainly that.

  • Rosa May Billinghurst was born on the 31 May 1875, to banker Henry Farncombe Billinghurst

  • and his wife Rosa Ann (Brinsmead) Billinghurst, in Lewisham, London. She was the second of

  • nine children in a well-educated, middle-class family. As a small child she contracted polio,

  • much like President Roosevelt, who I talked about in my last Historical Profile. The illness

  • left her paralysed from the waist down and she wore leg irons, using crutches or a modified

  • tricycle to move around.

  • She spent the early years of her adult life working with the poor and teaching at a Sunday

  • school. Along with her sister, Alice, she volunteered to work with children in the Deptford

  • slums, local workhouse inmates and prostitutes. Exposure to injustice increased her interest

  • in politics and thus turned her towards the issue of women’s suffrage, ie. the right

  • to vote.

  • For many suffrage campaigners, having the vote was about the change they could affect

  • for others by taking part in politics. It was felt at the time that politicians, who

  • were obviously all maleand wealthydidn’t care for the plight of poor families

  • or unsupported women because these werewomen’s issues’.

  • - Even though they didn’t allow women into politics to deal with saidwomen’s issues

  • so: logic? They had none.

  • Well, to be fair, they just assumed that all women wereillogicalso they by default

  • had the logic.

  • They did not.

  • Rosa believed that women’s inferior position in society was impeding its progress and that

  • giving women the vote would help ALL people. Including the powerful men. If only they would

  • let her help them!

  • She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, known colloquially asThe

  • Suffragettesin 1907, at the age of 32. She was a dedicated member and three years

  • later founded the Greenwich Branch of the WSPU.

  • Founded in 1903 The Women's Social and Political Union was founded as an independent women's

  • movement by Emmeline Pankhurst along with her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, and

  • her husband, Richard. However, membership of the WSPU was open to women only and had

  • no party affiliation. They were described for the first time assuffragettesin

  • January 1906 by the Daily Mail, which supported women’s sufferage.

  • - yes. THAT Daily Mail.

  • Were not all proud of our grandchildren.

  • In 1905, the group convinced the Liberal MP Bamford Slack to introduce a women’s sufferage

  • bill, which spurred publicity and the rapid expansion of the group but was ultimately

  • talked out orfilibustered’. Following the failure of the bill, the WSPU changed

  • tracks and focused on attacking whichever political party was in government by campaigning

  • against any legislation which did not include enfranchisement for women.

  • - mmmm…. Not necessarily a good look since that translated into abandoning

  • other social reforms.

  • In 1906 an envoy of 300 women, representing over 125,000 suffragettes, argued for women's

  • suffrage with the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Who said

  • - wait for it

  • That he agreed with their argument but "was obliged to do nothing at all about it" and

  • so urged the women to "go on pestering" and to exercise "the virtue of patience"

  • - I know. A man told a woman to shut up and be patient. That ended really well for him

  • Some of the women Sir Henry foolishly advised to be patient had been working for women's

  • rights for as many as fifty years and they really took thego on pesteringadvice

  • to heart.

  • The WSPU membership then became known for civil disobedience and direct action. They

  • heckled politicians, held demonstrations and marches, broke windows in prominent buildings,

  • set fire to post boxes, committed night-time arson of unoccupied houses and churches and

  • broke the law to force arrests.

  • - how you feeling now, Sir Henry?

  • The Labour Party voted to support universal sufferage in 1907 (meaning the right to vote

  • for all adult citizens, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, ethnicity,

  • etc). Not all of the WSPU were keen on this however, as their leadership had always accepted

  • the property qualifications which already applied to women's participation in local

  • elections.

  • - wow. Privileged white ladies not helping those less fortunate than themselves

  • so strange (!)

  • I’m just saying: Suffragettes were great in many ways, and it’s right that we celebrate

  • them but their feminism wasn’t exactly intersectional

  • Under Christabel's direction, the group began to more explicitly organise exclusively among

  • middle-class women, and stated their opposition to all political parties. This led a small

  • group of prominent members to leave and form the Women's Freedom League.

  • It was around this time that Rosa May Billinghurst joined the WSPU

  • - that’s not me calling her out, I’m just saying.

  • Despite the difficulties of navigating life with a disability in the early 1900s, Rosa

  • was a dedicated WSPU member and became one of its best known militants. She organised

  • events and meetings, was a regular in processions AND took part in demonstrations.

  • She relied on what was referred to as aninvalid tricycle’: a very high tech wheelchair for

  • the time, it was modeled on a tricycle and propelled by hand controls.

  • One veteran of the suffrage movement wrote, “I remember hearing startling stories of

  • her running battles with the police. Her crutches were lodged on each side of her self propelling

  • invalid chair, and when a meeting was broken up or an arrest being made, she would charge

  • the aggressors at a rate of knots that carried all before her.”

  • Rosa’s presence at marches attracted a lot of attention. She dressed in white and wheeled

  • along with her machine decked out in coloured WSPU ribbons andVotes for Womenbanners.

  • Through this she became a recognizable public figure who drew attention to the movement,

  • often talked about in the mainstream newspapers asthe cripple suffragette.”

  • - side note: YES, physically disabled people ARE allowed to call ourselvescrippled

  • orcrip’. NO, that does not mean other people can unless stated.

  • Along with being a regular fixture at peaceful protests, Rosa was drawn to militant action

  • and in 1910, she participated in Black Friday (different to the stock market Black Friday

  • and the shopping Black Friday). The demonstration on the 18th November saw 300 women march to

  • the Houses of Parliament and earned its name from the violence meted out to the protestors

  • by the police and male bystanders, some of which was sexual. The women were attacked

  • for six hours that day before the police finally called things off. And two women later died

  • from their injuries. Police arrested 115 women and 4 men, although the following day all

  • charges were dropped.

  • - I couldn’t find any evidence of whether the 4 men who were arrested were ones who

  • had attacked the women or ones who supported them. It’s worth remembering that whilst

  • membership of the WSPU was restricted to women only there were many men who supported the

  • cause of women’s suffrage.

  • Rosa was taken from her tricycle by the police and thrown down a side street. They removed

  • the valves from her tyres and bent her arms painfully behind her back, forcing her fingers

  • into odd angles. She was left on the floor, surrounded by a “hooligan crowd”, she

  • later reported, completely at the mercy of those around her. Not easily deterred, Rosa

  • was back a few days later for the next protest and this time used her tricycle as a battering

  • ram to get through police lines, now with new, stronger valves. Her belief in the cause

  • was much stronger than any thoughts of personal safety despite the willingness of the police

  • to exploit her physical disability.

  • The violence of Black Friday led to a change in approach as the WSPU were unwilling to

  • risk similar violence again so resumed their previous forms of direct action such as stone-throwing

  • and window-breaking, which gave them time to escape.

  • Between 1910 and 1912 Parliament considered various bills to give some women the vote,

  • but ultimately none of them passed. In response, the WSPU organised a window smashing campaign

  • in March 1912, leading to 220 arrests.

  • Rosa’s first arrest was for obstructing police but she soon moved to smashing windows

  • and in March 1912 she was sent to Holloway Prison (renowned for being an awful women’s

  • prison). She had been working with another suffragette, Janie Allan, to cause property

  • damage with Rosa hiding a supply of stone under the rug that covered her knees. She

  • was sentenced to one month's hard labour but the prison authorities were confused about

  • what that actually meant for someone who couldn't walk so gave her no extra work.

  • She received another eight month sentence for her role in the December 1912 attacks

  • on pillar boxes but this time she took part in the hunger strikes.

  • Please skip to the time seen on screen if youre triggered by food.

  • In opposition to the continuing and repeated imprisonment of many of their members, the

  • Suffragettes began the practice of hunger striking. Once imprisoned the members would

  • refuse all food, forcing their release. Authorities attempted to combat this with force feeding,

  • which I really won’t explain because it’s awful and likely to be triggering for a lot

  • of you even though I did tell people to skip this.

  • These brutal measures won the women great sympathy with the public, which didn’t

  • go down well with the government. In response they passed the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge

  • for Ill Health) Act 1913, more commonly known as the "Cat and Mouse Act", which allowed

  • the release of suffragettes who were close to death due to malnourishment. Officers,

  • however, could re-imprison them again once they were healthy.

  • It's the same way cats play with mice

  • They let them go and they catch them, they let them go and they catch them,

  • but really they have the power the whole time.

  • Rosa was released after just two weeks following brutal force feeding sessions that left her

  • incredibly ill and with broken teeth. She wrote and protested force feeding once she

  • was released, publishing graphic accounts of her experience in suffrage journals, inspiring

  • sympathetic MPs to raise the atrocities of force feeding in parliament. She was later

  • given a Hunger Strike Medalfor valour’.

  • This, of course, didn’t slow her down and she carried on campaigning by chaining herself

  • to the railings of Buckingham Palace. She spoke in public meetings and despite the police

  • tipping her out of her wheelchair on a number of occasions, nothing could hold Rosa back.

  • On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Christabel Pankhurst, then head of the

  • organisation, declared over the objections of others that the WSPU should suspend its

  • campaigns in favour of nationalism and supporting the British government in the war effort.

  • This was a move Rosa supported although it led to the WSPU fading from public attention

  • and being dissolved in 1917 when Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurt founded the Women’s

  • Party, a political party that advocated for a number of feminist policies. These included:

  • maternity and infant care, equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality

  • of parental rights (bear in mind at this point women and children were essentially still

  • the property of the husband) and raising the age of consent.

  • Christabel said that the Women’s Party stoodfirst for the defence of our frontiers,

  • and then reforms inside our frontiers, to make life worth living and fighting for’.

  • Which sounds great until you know that meant shaming men who didn’t want to fight in

  • the army, abolishing the trade unions, preventing people with German parentage from gaining

  • British nationality and smacking people in the face with colonialism by bringing natural

  • resources from around the British Empire under British control. Oh and obviously they were

  • still only interested in giving wealthy middle-class women the vote, not those darn poor ones.

  • - Again: ‘Suffragettes: Great. Still Problematic Though.’ [on screen like a movie title]

  • The Women’s Party was launched at a time of growing domestic support for the left-wing

  • Labour Party and the rise of Bolshevism in Russia. Which rather endered it to the right

  • wing government.

  • Finally in 1918, at the tailend of the First World War, Parliament passed an act granting

  • the vote to all men and women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of

  • householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5,

  • (which as a lot) and graduates of British

  • About 8.4 million women gained the vote.

  • We all owe the Suffragettes a great debt for getting the ball rolling when it came to universal

  • suffrage.

  • In the years after the suffrage era, Rosa remained committed to the cause, joining the

  • Suffragette Fellowship and supporting Christabel Pankhurst’s ultimately unsuccessful election

  • campaign for The Women’s Party in 1918 (although it was very close).

  • Rosa is an inspiring example of someone who fought for what she believed in, no matter

  • the personal cost, or the hurdles she had to surmount. As an active participant in the

  • battle for women’s emancipation she showed that suffrage was universal and that people

  • of all types just want their voices to be heard.

  • I feel really weird about the number of articles I read about Rosa that mention how sheovercame

  • her disability to become a suffragette and my personal opinion is that she no moreovercame

  • her disability than sheovercamebeing a woman. Both were aspects of her that she

  • celebrated and fought to have recognised as being no lesser than anyone else and it does

  • her a disservice to say otherwise.

  • It’s worth noting that she wasn’t the only disabled suffragette: Adelaide Knight

  • was another activist with mobility issues who campaigned whilst using crutches and a

  • stick. Knight was a key figure in the East End women’s movement and also chained herself

  • to the railings outside Buckingham Palace.

  • Apparently, a common pastime.

  • She was similarly arrested and served a prison sentence. And I’m sure there were many more,

  • even if not recorded.

  • They show us that we can still fight for what we believe in, that we can be disabled but

  • also have the space to take on other issues, that we don’t just have to be one thing.

  • Rosa May Billinghurst is listed, with her name and picture, alongside those of 58 other

  • women’s suffrage supporters on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament

  • Square in London, which was unveiled in 2018, 100 years after she won the vote.

  • Whatever it is you believe in, whatever goal you want to achieve, don’t let anyone tell

  • you that you can’t at least try, that you aren’t as important or as valid or as noticeable

  • as anyone else. You have your voice and you have your rights and if you don’t… well

  • then smash your wheelchair into some policeman’s ankles and see what happens!

  • - by which I meanmaybe start with peaceful protest first and see what happens’!

  • Thank you so much for watching, if youve enjoyed this video please subscribe, have

  • a browse of my merch shelf below the video and I’ll see you next time.

  • Stay safe!