EVENT REVIEW: Inside the Archives: The Changing Role of Women and the Struggle for the Vote

Posted by

6th October, 2018

Palace Green Library

Review by Tabitha Peverley

Surrounded by a selection of documents soon to be looked at and touched by members of the public, the anticipation in the room was palpable. Our guide through this history lesson, Jennie Aspinall, was delightful. Her passion for the subject of women and suffrage shone through her 20–minute introduction; telling us a brief overview of each document and pointing out her favourites as she went, she made everyone even more excited about the whole experience.

The documents themselves were remarkable. They included excerpts from books of the Victorian age outlining the ideal woman, as well as copies of the women’s magazine Home Notes from 1894 (including an article entitled ‘Why are there so few women geniuses?’) A personal favourite was a letter written on white paper with a green heading, written in purple ink. White, green, and purple: the chosen colours of the suffragettes. It didn’t matter what the actual letter said; the subtlety this person had used to express their political opinion was beautiful, especially when taking into consideration the amount of money that one letter would have cost to write. Anyone who enjoys studying the suffragettes will appreciate this letter.

To have seen these documents in person was an honour. It’s not often you get an opportunity to interact with actual documents from history. Even the most mundane, seemingly ordinary letter or book or picture are important in our understanding of the past. It was a very unique experience, enhanced only by the ‘try and decipher the 19th century handwriting’ game we used in order to help Jennie get complete transcriptions of the letters on display. The sense of achievement when you work out a word written in beautiful (albeit difficult) writing is addictive. It also enhances and increases the passion each and every one of us in that room had for history.

If there is ever a chance for you to have a look inside the archives at Palace Green Library and see their artefacts and documents up close, grab it with both hands. You will not be disappointed. 

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.