In Haunt

Manchester is a city packed with stories of strong and inspirational women – histories not always given the recognition they deserve. Now a brand new book First in the Fight, written by Helen Antrobus and Andrew Simcock, complete with 20 individual illustrations from the Women in Print project, is due to launch on Thursday 14 November 2019 (tickets are available here) at the People’s History Museum (PHM) – celebrating the story of the female fight for equality and change.

First in The Fight

From the women who marched to St Peter’s Field in 1819 to the start of the Suffragette movement and the first entrepreneurs, this is a wide-ranging book exploring the histories of 20 inspirational women who once lived or worked in the city. These stories are each accompanied by their own special illustration, with a different female artist behind each one. 20 women’s stories, 20 women artists.

First in the Fight will be published by iNostalgia, a local independent publishing company that seeks to make social history engaging to all, with the publication supported by Metrolink and Weightmans solicitors.

Historian Helen Antrobus is one of the inspiring co-authors who has compiled the fascinating stories into this much-anticipated book, following on from a public campaign that led to the creation of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square in Manchester.  This was the Womanchester Campaign, set up in 2014 by the book’s other co-author, local councillor Andrew Simcock. Now their joint effort has been brought together in full-length volume format, with a cover designed by Jane Bowyer – her artwork taking inspiration from the Manchester suffragette banner, itself housed in the People’s History Museum where the launch will take place.

First in the Fight seems like a fitting title, testament to the forward-thinking and assertive attitude of women over the centuries in this city. Manchester is after all where the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) first began – founded by the local Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 (and first meeting at her home on Manchester's Nelson Street, new the Pankhurst Centre) – campaigning for the female vote. Emmeline, along with her daughters Sylvia and Christabel, as well as a growing body of supporters, went onto engage in activism and protests that would see them gain the title ‘suffragettes’. Their hard work and sacrifice was key in raising awareness, paving the way towards the 1918 Representation of the People Act – an act that gave some voting power to women over 30. There went onto be further political gains too, again inspired by the hard work of women.

So what about the stories of these women? The stories featured in First in the Fight are those of Margaret Ashton, Lydia Becker, Louise Da-Cocodia, Margaret Downes, Elizabeth Gaskell, Annie Horniman, Sunny Lowry, Kathleen Ollerenshaw, Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst, Mary Quaile, Elizabeth Raffald, Esther Roper, Enriqueta Rylands, Olive Shapley, Shena Simon, Marie Stopes, Ellen Wilkinson and Emily Williamson. (Pictured below: Sylvia Pankhurst by Halah El-Kholy - one of the illustrations in the book)

Sylvia Pankhurst By Halah El-Kholy

The book will give audiences an insightful perspective on each individual story – and what is clear is that these are varied, rich and inspirational lives. Whilst Lydia Becker was the co-founder of Women's Suffrage Journal in 1870 (and an amateur scientist in her own right), author of The Experienced English Housekeeper Elizabeth Raffald is the rumoured inventor of the Eccles cake and Emily Williamson the co-founder of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in 1891. These are just some examples from 20 under-discussed stories –  fascinating contributions to culture and society that you may not have heard about before.

In turn, 20 individual designs depicting the First in the Fight women have been created by the illustrators and artists who make up Women in Print: a project founded by Jane Bowyer, aiming to shine a light on women's history. The artists involved are Laura Boast, Laura Bohill, Emma Bowen, Emily Dayson, Halah El-Kholy, Nicola Fernandes, Alex Francis, Tomekah George, Deanna Halsall, Joyce Lee, Anna Mullin, Helen Musselwhite, Amy Rochester, Nell Smith, Maisy Summer, Ellie Thomas, Chelsea Waites, Eve Warren, Sarah Wilson and Wendy Wong.

Artist Chelsea Waites reflects:

 “I think that my favourite part about working on First in the Fight was doing the research on Esther Roper, learning about how many causes she fought for; the vote for women, a trade union for textile workers and the freedom to question and explore gender and sexuality. Learning so much about her and what she had achieved in her life, I knew I had to include as much as I could in the illustration.”

Ellen Wilkinson, another featured figure in First in the Fight, made enormous political achievements in her lifetime. Born in 1891 in Manchester, she went onto be a Labour Party politician, which included a time as the MP for Jarrow early in her career – courageously getting involved in the 1936 Jarrow March, marching with the town’s unemployed to London to campaign for the right to work. She later served as Minister of Education from July 1945, making gains for women’s suffrage, equal pay for women civil servants and raising awareness for working class communities; to name just a few. (Pictured below: Ellen Wilkison by Deanna Halsall - one of the illustrations in the book)

By Deanna Halsall

Her bold story is matched in the book by the bold work of artist Deanna Halsall. Deanna says:

“My piece was inspired by Ellen’s nickname ‘Red Ellen’ derived from her distinctive fiery locks and her uncompromising approach to politics.  She was short in stature but not in strength and I wanted to depict her leading the men of the 1936 Jarrow March.  I kept the colour palette muted to evoke the era, with just the red of her hair representing her fierce personality and bravery in a male dominated political setting.”

Tickets for the First in the Fight book launch can be booked via Eventbrite.  This free event starts from 6.00pm on Thursday 14 November and is part of People’s History Museum’s Radical Late programme of events (these take place on the second Thursday of each month).  The book will be available to purchase on the evening at the PHM shop at a special preview price of £14.99 (RRP £19.99), with signings taking place.

Find out more about the book via the website www.firstinthefight.co.uk. 

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