Category Archives: Suffragettes

Suffragette Toys: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective


A card game – similar to ‘Old Maid’

When I was growing up, I wanted science-based toys and books, and I was very lucky to have supportive parents who gave me a chemistry set and a bug catcher (among other outstanding gifts) for my birthday and Christmas presents. Dolls didn’t appeal to me, as I preferred living creatures like babies, puppies, and kittens – I ended up studying zoology at university to obtain a Bachelor of Science. I often wonder if there were girls from earlier era felt the same way. This got me to thinking about suffragettes.

Suffragettes were a social  and political phenomenon existing for over a century. Doll and toy makers would have to be tempted to capture the likeness of suffragettes in their items. Just a quick investigation turned up quite a few games and such. The suffragettes made a few dolls and games to sell at rallies to raise funds. Others were made by those politically against women’s suffrage, and were often less than flattering, if not downright scary (like the Jill-in-the-Box).

However, if I had been around in that era, I would have been purchasing suffragette toys for my daughters.  Because you can aspire to be someone you know nothing about. What I like about these toys is that they show the women active and involved, not passive. Even if they hadn’t seen representing suffragettes, they showed women with agency.


Althof Bergmann suffragette drummer toy


George Brown hoop toy

Mechanical toy of suffragette.PNG

Mechanical tin suffragette selling pamphlets.

Suffragette Kewpie Doll.PNG

Suffragette Kewpie doll


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Filed under History, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective


Suffragette Chain Link Jewellery at its finest, as it also incorporates the three colours of the Suffragette Movement: Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes).

It is a well known fact that suffragettes were targeted by their governments as troublemakers, and often spent time in jail, and they were subjected to some awful treatment. They were meant to be humiliated and silenced by this strategy. Instead, suffragettes saw jail time as a victory, that they were considered dangerous enough to incarcerate.


Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, while in jail.

In previous blog articles, I have mentioned suffragette jewellery. Some people argue that the suffragettes were vocal, and would never stoop to subterfuge by wearing symbolic jewellery. I have to agree with this viewpoint. I believe suffragette jewellery was worn with pride, to support the cause, and I believe some suffragette jewellery supports this hypothesis: the Holloway Prison Pin, Chain Link Jewellery, and Edith Garrud’s Boadicea Brooch.


The Holloway Prison Pin, also known as the Holloway Brooch.

The Holloway Prison Pin  – designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst – was presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had suffered imprisonment. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU on the 29th of April, 1909. The broad arrow – the symbol of the convict – was enamelled in purple, white and green, the colours of the suffragette movement. Some of the brooches were marked with dates of imprisonment. The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue published on the 16th of April, 1909, where it was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’.

The Jail Pin

Jail Door Pin

The Hunger Strike Medal.jpg

The Hunger Strike Medal

After the Holloway Prison pin, the suffragettes were inspired to issue pins and medals for other indignities suffered by the women when they were imprisoned for wanting equal rights. To my mind, it is the Hunger Strike Medal that represents the greatest sacrifices made by those imprisoned; hunger strikers were often force fed. Some of the women were also sent to mental asylums, because being vocal about wanting the vote is a sure sign of madness.


Image from the textbook – Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History Study

Chain brooches didn’t just symbolise imprisonment. It also stood for the chains that held the women back in society. The chains that held them back from education and legal rights, as well as the right to vote. Mind you, the government was happy to tax women, but not so thrilled to give them a voice in parliament.

Chain brooches came in many shapes and forms. Some were more decorative than others, but even the most simple chain brooch was layered with meaning.


Of course, the suffragette movement was big on pins and brooches. They could be sold to raise funds, worn to show support, or awarded for outstanding sacrifices. It is a form of wearing your heart on your sleeve.



Edith Garrud’s Boudica brooch was also described as the Suffragette’s Victoria Cross.


A Woman in Chains

Chains are often part of a Steampunk cosplay outfit. Never was there a better reason to wear them than to celebrate the Suffragettes.


Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Caricature versus Stereotype: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

A Stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

A Caricature: a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

From Google Definitions

Caricatures of attendees at an Australian suffragette meeting.

Caricatures of the attendees at an Australian suffragette meeting.

Anti-suffragette cartoons

The stereotype versus the caricature.

own worst enemy

anti-suffragist choir.jpg


The Stereotype of a Suffragette from the viewpoint of those against the suffragette movement.

what I would do with...

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Filed under Caricature, Characterization, Feminism, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

Voteless is Voiceless: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective of Pro-Suffragette Propaganda



Voteless is Voiceless


Above is a small selection of pro-suffragette cartoons, showing the suffragettes had a sense of humour even in the most dire circumstances. It always amuses me when women are accused of having no sense of humour. This comment is usually made by someone who just made a very misogynistic joke or hasn’t understood the humour of a woman’s joke. It argues that women do have a sense of humour … but it is those making the accusation that aren’t getting the joke.


Humour is a great weapon in the political arena. It makes a pointed comment, without using a real spear. Of course, pro-suffragette/pro-suffragist propaganda was a mere drop in the flood of anti-suffragist discourse. Because most of the media was run by men, and most of those men wanted to support the status quo.

what I would do with...

In the pro-propaganda, the suffragettes and suffragists are portrayed by normal-looking women. In the anti-propaganda, they were always made to either look like harridans or dismissed as fluffy followers of fashion – with wanting equal rights the equivalent of wanting a new hat. The men (and the children) are always depicted as victims of their wives’ aspirations, henpecked or abandoned.


Because only mad, ugly spinsters want the vote…

suffragette madonna

Suffragette Madonna – I’ve never been able to figure out if this was meant in an ironical sense.

I've suffered

Want to bet that two minutes earlier, he had flicked his cigar ashes all over her newly cleaned carpet?

The real issue behind both sorts of propaganda was about giving voice to – or suppressing –   women’s politics and attitudes. The majority of women wanted to be taken seriously and given representation in the political and legal spheres of public life. The domestic sphere was a cage or a jail.




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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

A Discussion of the Depiction of Fictional Women Scientists – Part Two


For fictional scientists, I do believe this to be the case … every character I have posted about over the past three blogs has her character defined by her femininity in some way. This may seem obvious because they are women, but male scientists are generally not defined by their masculinity, but by their job. This underlines the (often unconscious) bias that people have towards an expectation of a character; people associate science, maths, engineering and technology with men. When personal computers first became available for home use, they were marketed towards men and boys even though just as many women and girls were purchasing them.

The best example of this phenomena would be to contrast the two scientists from the same show, such as Amy and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory … or Bernadette and Howard. As I discussed Amy last blog, let’s run with this second couple.

Bernadette the Pocket Rocket marries her Howie.

When we first encounter Bernadette, she is working with Penny at the Cheesecake Factory, while studying microbiology. She is better friends with the non-scientist Penny than with Amy, even though they are both scientists with doctorates in the biological sciences; I see nothing odd about this, as she was friends with Penny first. She breaks the stereotype of being a ‘dumb’ blonde, and is pretty, buxom and short; however, she is also strong-willed and knows her own mind. I suspect she loves Howard partly because she can dominate him both emotionally and intellectually, even though he is an aerospace engineer and an astronaut, and partly because he is basically tender-hearted and loyal and he sings her songs he had written himself.


Howard loves Bernadette because she is beautiful and sexy and smart, and she got on with his mother. He was a Mummy’s Boy. He met Bernadette through Penny, and the start of their relationship was quite rocky, mainly due to Howard’s inability to understand women while thinking he knows all about them. Since marrying Bernadette, his ‘creep’ factor has been dialled down. Bernadette finds Howard’s friendship with Raj a little wearying, but she still manages to accept most of their strange behaviour when together. Bernadette started off as a comedic foil for Howard, but her role has been expanded.

Raj – the co-dependant best friend

Both Bernadette and Howard have managed to cause major accidents at work, and survived with careers intact. Bernadette makes more than Howard, but Howard has been an astronaut and helped run Mars missions. You might consider their careers on par, even though Bernadette has a doctorate and Howard has a Master’s degree (which is a sore point with him, but he never seems to be doing anything to gain a PhD).

However, when the three women interact, they generally talk about their men, even though two of them are scientists in the same field. When the male characters interact, they talk about their pop culture obsessions, their work, and their women. See the difference? Howard has been given a whole range of interests outside his work – music, comics, movies, and his magic tricks. Bernadette seems to have no hobbies worth mentioning, and seems to spend her free time gossiping with Penny & Amy or doing girly activities with them like clubbing.

The shared bedroom – with little evidence of Bernadette’s personality.

And this is the root of the problem. Bernadette is written to be just an ordinary girl … with an extraordinary mind. In a very real way, Bernadette has been stereotyped not as a scientist but as a woman. Her gender is more important to her characterization than her intellect or career. Characterization shouldn’t work that way.

The domestication of an extraordinary scientist

Look at Brennan from Bones. Her character started off with many personal quirks that related directly back to her career and personality. I suspect it was to be inferred that Brennan was a little weird, possibly she had Asperger’s, because everyone knows that too much knowledge melts your brain (looking at you, Sheldon). As time has passed, she has been normalized as a wife and mother, with a reduction of her awkwardness and those strange little gaps in her knowledge, and a reduction in her enthusiasm for risks.

River in action outfit

Professor River Song from Doctor Who – a doctorate in Archaeology

Now, who is an exception to this need to domesticate the extraordinary into the ordinary? Professor River Song of Doctor Who. She has a PhD in Archaeology, but her characterization has grown to show her to be a free-thinker, a vigilante, a risk-taker and problem-solver, who is scary enough that a Dalek will beg for mercy. She embraces her femininity and at the same time is a gun-toting adventurer with a sassy attitude. No one tells her what to do – not even the love of her life, the Doctor. Nor does she settle into being a domesticated wife and mother after they marry; they lead independent lives, coming together when needs be. Instead, her personal growth is about becoming more responsible and caring for other people, so that her ethics improve if not her morals. River breaks all expectations and stereotypes.

Another exception is Doctor Julia Ogden from Murdoch Mysteries. Not only has Julia not given up her career upon marriage – because the expectation was that a woman’s real job should be to look after her husband and home – but she hasn’t given up on her enthusiasm for the suffragette movement. This pleases me immensely, that the Steampunk-inspired television show has broken all the Edwardian-eras expectations of conforming behaviour. Even after marriage, Julia is still fey, flirtatious, and prepared to try new things. I am yet to see her character show any signs of her extraordinary personality and intellect being made to change with marriage.

Tomorrow, I will be pondering further into the implications of the depiction of fictional women of science.

For those who are interested, I have two pages on Facebook:


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Filed under Characterization, Doctor Who, Pop Culture, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Stereotypes, Suffragettes, Uncategorized, Women in Science

‘A Faithful Verity’ – Emily Faithfull: a Steampunk Feminist’s Persective

“….True marriage is the crown and glory of a woman’s life; but it must be founded on love, and not on the desire of a home or of support, while nothing can be more deplorable, debasing, and corrupting than the loveless marriages brought about in our upper society by a craving ambition and a longing for a good settlement.  Loveless marriages and a different standard of morality for men and women are the curses of modern society….”  – Emily Faithfull

Emily Faithfull was English women’s rights activist, but she was not associated with the suffragists or suffragettes. From a feminist writer’s viewpoint, her importance to history is as a publisher who employed women, the founder of the all female Victoria Press, and a writer and lecturer campaigning for women’s rights issues. However, Miss Faithfull was plagued by more than the intense opposition to a woman attempting to enter the boys’ club of publishing; she also had a part to play in one of the a major divorce scandals of the Victorian era.

Emily the Publisher:

Emily Faithfull’s was concerned by the lack of opportunity for women to acquire a trade or profession.  Her involvement in women’s employment grew out of her membership of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and her membership of the committee of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. She could see the need for women to have a voice in society.

She was inspired by one of her friends to gain instruction in composing, with the aim of investigating this as a career for women. A compositor is a person who sets and corrects type, and generally assembles text and illustrations for printing. She obviously found a passion for the field of printing, because she set up in London a printing establishment in 1860.The Victoria Press was run and printed by women. From 1860 until 1866, the Victoria Press published the feminist English Woman’s Journal. Both Faithfull and her press obtained a reputation for excellent work, and Faithfull was appointed ‘printer and publisher in ordinary’ to Queen Victoria. Alas, Faithfull had to abandon printing the Journal when she became embroiled in the Codringon Divorce, as she wanted the reputation of the journal left untouched by the taint of scandal. However, she remained involved in the Press, which had a solid reputation for its working conditions.

There was plenty of light and air, a staff kitchen and lunch breaks, some profit sharing and even housing assistance. There were high stools provided for the compositors, so that they didn’t have to stand for their entire twelve hour work day. Women were paid the same wages as men doing the same job in other presses. Faithfull took on at least 16 female apprentices when the press first opened. However, the London Printer’s Union refused to accept the membership of these women, claiming that women lacked the intelligence and physical skill to be compositors, even when the women were actually doing the job.

In 1863, she began the publication of a monthly organ, The Victoria Magazine, in which Faithfull continuously and earnestly advocated the claims of women to gain paid employment. Her press published the first annual report of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society and she went on to publish other works on behalf of this society. She wrote and published a novel, Change Upon Change: a Love Story, known as A Reed Shaken with the Wind in America, and a book about her lecture tours of America called Three Visits To America.

Emily the Women’s Rights Campaigner:

Emily Faithfull on a lecture tour in America

Faithfull lectured widely and successfully both in England and the United States. Of course, she was lecturing on her favourite topic, on women being self sufficient for their own support. She also spoke on women’s suffrage, though she had no official ties to the suffragist movement. It is a indication of her reputation that even the Codrington Divorce scandal did little to effect her popularity as a speaker, in an era where even the hint of scandal could turn you into a pariah.

The Codrington Divorce Scandal:

Rear Admiral Henry Codrington – doesn’t he look kind and mild in this portrait? 

The scandal of the Codrington Divorce created a world-wide interest in the divorce proceedings. Mrs Codrington was accused of having a ‘close relationship’ with Faithfull, as well as having an affair with a Lieutenant Herbert Alexander St John Mildmay (who was out of the country at the time of divorce). However, the Rear Admirable was not the only injured party, as he had attempted to ‘press his affections’ upon Faithfull when she was caring for an ill Mrs Codrington. Faithfull refused to be questioned about this event in court; in fact, she remained reticent about the whole divorce. Since she was still in Britain, and Mildmay was not, you can’t help but wonder if she got the rough edge of the stick simply because she was available for accusation and wasn’t a conforming woman.

Codrington versus Codrington could have severely damaged Emily’s reputation, but she lived down the scandal. In 1886, Emily received a grant of £100 from the Royal Bounty fund and from then on received an annual civil-list pension of £50. This was awarded to her “in consideration of her services as a writer and worker on behalf of the emigration, education and employment of women”.

Page from 'The World of Sherlock Holmes' by Michael Harrison

The offending page from The World of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Harrison

I was inspired to write this article when reading The World of Sherlock Holmes, written by Michael Harrison. Harrison made a very sneering comment about the actions of “strident female would-be lawyers, doctors, ‘social workers’, ‘divines’ and printers, with their misdirected energy and their topsy-turvy sexuality” on behalf of Victorian-era ‘Women’s Lib (his term, not mine). He added a footnote about the printer reference, singling Faithfull out for a cruel jab at her sexual assault by Codrington. He calls her a ‘Man-hating Amazon’, and pretty much applauds Codrington for his attempt to rape Faithfull with a quip about the navy man’s virility. This curmudgeonly misogynist has passed away, or I’d be sending off a scathing letter to him, pointing out the hypocrisy of calling Faithfull a man-hater when he was so obviously a woman-hater.

Emily Faithfull

Emily Faithfull

I believe part of Emily Faithfull’s success was due to the fact she was good friends with men and women alike. She wasn’t trying to raise women up by pushing men down. Her efforts were rewarded by her government, recognising her selfless ambition to make paid employment available to women.


Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

The Aerated Bread Company and the A.B. C. Tea Shop: a short history from a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

At the start of the Victorian era, there were few public places a polite, decent, respectable woman could venture for refreshment or to meet with women friends. Taverns and pubs and other public spaces were very masculine spaces, and the women who frequented bars were considered less than respectable, while most feminine spaces were in domestic arena. This limited women to visiting other women’s homes.

Then, in 1861, the Aerated Bread Company opened its first Tea Shop in the courtyard of London’s Fenchurch Street Railway Station. The tearoom was a brilliant marketing ploy by the Aerated Bread Company. I’ve found two opposing reasons for why the tearoom was opened. The first one claims that the company was unable to sell its bread through normal retail outlets, so they decided to take it direct to the public.The second story claims the idea for opening the tearoom came from a London-based manageress of the Aerated Bread Company, who had been serving free tea and snacks to customers and saw an opportunity in profit creation and marketing. When there are two conflicting stories, I tend to feel it is probably a combination of both, because real life is never cut and dried. The main thing was that this first Tea Shop the first of many, such as the chain of shops opened by the Aerated Bread Company, and the chain opened as ‘Miss Cranston’s Tea Rooms’ in Scotland. By 1923, the A.B.C. tea shops would number 250, and were situated all over the world including Australia.

I believe the immediate popularity of the tea room was due to its acceptance as the respectable women’s venue, just as the various women’s rights movements were becoming active. Women wanted the freedom to go out sans a male escort. There were ladies toilet facilities on hand, something not available at bars and taverns until after WWII. It was a public space that welcomed women, and it was the patronage of women that made the Tea Shops so successful. The A.B.C. Tea Shops were recommended to delegates of the Congress of the International Council of Women held in London in 1899. As more women moved into the public spaces to socialise and work, the tea shops had an expanding pool of customers.

Many of the A.B.C. Tea Shops were quite elegant, and they were considered a fashionable refreshments during the Victorian era. By the 20th century, their were thousands of tearooms around Britain and the rest of the world, but A.B.C. Tea Shops survived even with all this competition. The chain remained in business until the 1980s, when the chain was taken over by, and then merged with, a much larger corporation.

An ABC Tea Shop in 1907.

An ABC Tea Shop in 1907.

It seems to me the Industrial Revolution provided many of the forces that worked towards increasing the freedoms available to women … and not just the vote. Tea rooms provided safe public spaces. The invention of the telephone, telegraph and typewriters all created job opportunities for women, as they were employed as staff for all these technologies; women with jobs can achieve financial independence. The bicycle gave women physical freedom. 

This taste of freedom seemed to inspire the suffragettes, suffragists and abolitionists of the Victorian Era. These were brave women prepared to die for their cause. When I write about suffragettes in my Steampunk novel, I always try to remember how dedicated and committed these women were to their ideology.


Filed under History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes