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Women

The women, from outwardly feisty to quietly mutinous, who made the Edwardian era so colorful.

Guest Post: Suffragette Style by Lucy Adlington

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“You can always tell Suffragists by the way they are dressed,” pontificated an anonymous gentleman in 1913. “There’s that Mrs Chew, for instance – her hat’s never on straight!”

Stalwart suffrage campaigner Ada Nield Chew felt she had far more important concerns than a tidy appearance. Years later Ada’s daughter Doris commented, “How much easier it would have been today when she would not have needed to wear a hat!”

The truth is, hats, gloves, hemlines and handbags were all vital indicators of social status in the Edwardian era. Correct dress represented respectability. Women who stepped out of an acceptable female role were almost automatically branded unladylike, and satirised as unattractive.

Suffragette satire

If we view style of one hundred years ago, we find the fashions of 1914 quite alarming in their weight and constraints. The silhouette is long and sheath-like, moulded around form-fitting steel-structured stays and all-encompassing underwear. By contrast, the ideal of feminine beauty is dainty, delicate and generally pastel-shaded – hardly an icon of education, capability, or political power.

The 1914 female ideal

Some commentators did acknowledge the constraints of contemporary female fashion. “A man knows that if for a year he were to submit himself to the restraints which a woman puts upon herself, he would mentally, morally, and physically degenerate,” wrote a journalist in April 1914.

One Edwardian woman who certainly didn’t let fashion hobble her was martial arts expert Edith Garrud. Her ju-jitsu skills made a mockery of would-be muggers and over-assertive policemen alike. She kept wooden clubs in her hand-warming muff. If she sweetly dropped her handkerchief in the street it was as a prelude to a devastating bit of self-defence.

Edith Garrud in action

Undaunted by the contrast between the demands of appearance and the demand for political representation, both militant and non-violent suffragists learned to use their clothes as part of a series of battle tactics. For example, women who were dressed impeccably could pass without suspicion into public spaces or political meetings. Once in place they could whip chalk from their purses to scrawl slogans on pavements; they could pull chains from their handbags to secure themselves to railings, in order to have their say while someone searched for bolt-cutters. ‘Slasher’ Mary Richardson even concealed a small axe in her blouse sleeve, ready to attack Velasquez’s painting, the Rokeby Venus, at the National Gallery.

1914 suffragette damage to rokeby venus

More generally, the tactic of adopting all-white ensembles in mass public rallies was hugely dramatic and it gave women a tremendous sense of solidarity. The militant Women’s Social Political Union went one step further and promoted specific WSPU colours. White was for purity, purple represented loyalty to the King, and green was for hope.

Militant suffragettes used clothes creatively to disguise themselves. Emily Wilding Davison made a fetching telegram ‘boy’ attempting to gain access to Parliament. Lady Constance Lytton took on the disguise of a working-class seamstress in order to highlight the prejudiced treatment of lower-class women in prison. On one glorious occasion, several WSPU suffragettes disguised themselves as their leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, in order to foil an attempt to arrest her.

Once women behaved in unladylike ways, chivalry from men was forgotten. The gloves came off on both sides. There were many reports of violence against suffragettes, from the minor outrage of torn clothes–or clothes stained with rotten eggs–to serious cases of sexual assault during suffrage rallies. Edith Garrud was employed to lead a team of bodyguards to protect WSPU speakers.

If arrested, female protesters were subjected to the further humiliation of having their respectable carapace of clothes quite literally stripped away and replaced with deliberately de-feminising prison garb.

By 1914 the green ‘hope’ of the WSPU banner was very much mingled with bitterness. Cat and mouse games between police and protesters, parliament and petitioners had reached an angry impasse. Militant terrorism was becoming increasingly shocking; peaceful petitions were still limited in success. With the declaration of war in August 1914 women found themselves facing different enemies, and poised on the brink of a veritable social and sartorial revolution. Their wardrobes would never be the same again.

To find out more on this subject Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe by Lucy Adlington is available online and in bookstores. Pre-Order on Amazon US or Buy from Amazon UK.

Follow Lucy on twitter @historywardrobe or on the History Wardrobe facebook page. Visit http://www.historywardrobe.com for details of costume-in-context presentations, or http://www.greatwarfashion.com & http://www.ljadlington.com.

The Life of Frances Guest, Lady Chelmsford

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In September 1957, Lady Chelmsford died at Westminster in London, aged 88. She had outlived her husband, three of her children and lived through the reigns of six separate monarchs. During her life, she did what was expected of her as an upper class woman. She mixed with upper class society, married a suitable man and participated in a variety of social works. She also lived a life of travel and lived in England, Australia and India at different stages in her life. She is a perfect study to get a snapshot of upper-class life during this period and what it meant to be a lady during this time.

Beginnings

Lady Chelmsford was born Frances Charlotte Guest on the 22nd of March 1869 at London. She was the eldest daughter of Ivor Guest and Lady Cornelia Henrietta Maria Churchill-Spencer and she would be the first of nine children. Ivor Guest’s father had made his money in the mines in London and so Ivor had the stain of having gained his money from business, instead of being born to wealth like his wife. The match was not seen as a good one for Lady Cornelia and Ivor was seen as making the match to rise socially.  Frances is listed as being a guest in 1883 at the Atholl gathering, a Celtic festival where Scottish highlander culture is celebrated and Highlander games are played and on the 2nd of May 1888, her mother held a ball for her coming out into society. In January 1890, she rode with a royal procession to open a park her father had donated the land for. Everyone had gathered from the town of Poole to see the opening of the People’s Park and for a chance to glimpse royalty. France’s mother actually rode with Prince George, while Frances rode in another carriage with her family and guests.

Suitors

Frances’ younger sister actually married before her, leading to speculation that France’s was choosy with her suitors and that she wanted a love match.

Coat_of_Arms-Sebright_Baronets

 Sir Egbert Sebright

The baronetage of England by John Debrett, Published 1840

On the 29th of January, 1894, it was announced that Frances was to marry Sir Egbert Sebright of Hereforshire. He was born in 1871, to John Sebright and Olivia Fitzpatrick, and was described as being handsome and from a good family. He would later die unmarried in Java, Batavia, while on a worldwide tour for health reasons in 1897. On the 17th of Feburary 1894, it was announced that the marriage would not be taking place and not long after, a new suitor was announced.

Lord and Lady Chelmsford at Government House Brisbane 1905
Lord and Lady Chelmsford at Government House, Brisbane, 1905. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Frederic Thesiger

Frances was next announced to be engaged to Frederic Thesiger. Frederic was a cricket and sport lover and had graduated from Oxford to become a lawyer. On the 28th of July, 1894, they were married and the bride was described as wearing white, with silver embroidery and a diamond star brooch, which had been a gift from the groom. They then proceeded to a honeymoon in Branksome Dene, so Frances could be close to her father.

Travel

Frances  followed her husband to Australia when he became the governor of Queensland and involved herself in the social and moral issues of her adopted home. She was especially interested in issues involving women and children and was involved with committees which centered around hospitals, kindergartens and education of young women. Her husband was governor from 1909 until 1913 and then they returned to England.

Frances Chelmsford wife of the Queensland Governor Lord Chelmsford
Frances Chelmsford, wife of the Queensland Governor, Lord Chelmsford. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

In 1916 her Frederic was made Viceroy of India and she continued to take an active role in the causes she believed in, by raising money for the Red Cross in India and making sure the troops in India were well-supplied and comfortable.

Quotes

  • “girls should develop each side of their nature-the physical, mental and spiritual, otherwise their faculties would be cramped and useless.”
  • “…care should be exercised in regard to young girls dress, and she particularly warned the girls against the “pneumonia blouse” in cold weather. That is one of the difficulties of Sydney, owing to the sudden changes of temperature- a condition that will be understood by Tasmanian ladies. It  is not only in winter that it is dangerous to wear thin clothing After very hot days, during which the garments worn are as thin as possible, and the “pneumonia blouse’ is a matter of course, we have the cool and sometimes cold, southerlies, and very soon the ladies got a fit of shivering, which indicates an incipient cold.”
  • “that husband and wife owed each other courtesy, and that the home was the place of peace.”

Further Reading

Canford Village history
The Atholl Gathering
The Peerage
British Newspaper Archive
Trove – National Library of Australia

Fascinating Women: Guilhermina Suggia

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Guilhermina Suggia (1885 – 1950) was a Portuguese cellist of international renown. She studied with some of the best cellist and musicians of the time, and her legacy has helped many young cellists, myself included. But before even speaking about her life, we need to put it into some context.

In the nineteenth century few were the women who played instruments professionally. There were pianists, violinists, flutists, that either played solo or with an orchestra. But cellists? Oh no. The cello was seen as a very masculine instrument, and some people found it was very improper for a lady to play an instrument in such a position. Futhermore, the cello really isn’t the easiest instrument to play while wearing a dress, since you would have to hold it in place with both legs (and I speak from experience).

She was lucky enough to grow up in a very favourable environment. Her father, also a cellist, was always very supportive of Guilhermina and her sister, a pianist, and Oporto had many opportunities for musicians. At the turn of the millennium, the city was home to an energetic community of classical musicians.

Guilhermina was one of the pioneers in turning the cello into an acceptable instrument for women. Her father taught her how to play when she was only five years old. She became the main cellist in Oporto’s orchestra at thirteen. Two years later, and with the support of the Portuguese Queen, she left the country to go study with Julius Klengel in Germany.

“I can say with no doubt that there hasn’t been a cellist with the merit like that of the artist I’ve been teaching. She has nothing to fear with comparisons to her male colleagues. Mademoiselle Suggia, with high musical intelligence and a complete knowledge of the technique, has the right to be considered, in the world of the Arts, a celebrity.” Julius Klengel (1902)

In 1903, only 17 years of age, she played as a soloist with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, one of the best German orchestras. Never had someone so young played with them before, and surely not a woman.

Unfortunately, even with the support of Queen Maria Amelia, living in Germany was too expensive for her. After that famous concert, she went back to Portugal, where she was welcomed as a star. By that time she had the attention of many great musicians, and she was fortunate enough to become a student of Pablo Casals, considered to be the best cellist of the first half of the century.

She lived with Pablo Casals many years, as a student and as his lover. Their romantic affair was famous and they even had a concert for two cellos dedicated to them by the composer Emánuel Moór. However, in 1913 the affair came to an end and they parted ways.

It was after that that she moved to London, and where she created the greatest part of what would become her legacy. She played with the best orchestras and received the best acclaimed critiques. After she died, she left two of her cellos to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and with that money they created The Suggia Gift, a scholarship that would help many young cellists (for example Jacqueline du Pré, another female cellist).

In 1930s she decided to go back home, to Portugal. After some years she stopped playing in public, but never stopped supporting the growth of music in her country. She came back for a final concert in 1950, but died soon afterwards.

She was an inspiration to many female musicians, and she always defended that women could do the same things men could. It was her, actually, that introduced the common use of the end pin in cellos, so it would be easier for women to play with a dress. Guilhermina made a place in History for herself, and her influence is still seen today.

I leave you with one of the few recordings left of this wonderful musician playing. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIGR6OJji04%5D