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WOMEN, SUFFRAGE AND POLITICS

The Papers of Sylvia Pankhurst, 1882-1960

From the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam

Part 1: Inventory Numbers 1-224

Part 2: Inventory Numbers 225-362

Introduction to the Archive

The collection was given to the IISH by Dr Richard K P Pankhurst, through the intermediary of Dr Julius Braunthal.  The bulk of it arrived in Amsterdam in 1961, a smaller addition was sent in 1976.  It measures four running metres.

It is a rich collection, covering roughly one-hundred years and consisting of a wide variety of documents: the papers of Sylvia Pankhurst, documents of her relatives, of the Workers’ Suffrage Federation, newspaper cuttings and other printed material.  Quantitatively, it contains little correspondence and hardly any family letters; most of the letters are concerned with women’s suffrage: from those Lydia Becker wrote to Dr Richard M Pankhurst, via those Ursula (Mrs Jacob) Bright addressed to Emmeline Pankhurst, to those written to Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy to Sylvia to inform her about the early women’s movement, when she was writing The Suffragette (1911).  Traces of correspondence are to be found also in notebooks that form the bulk of the archive; they are drafts or maybe copies of letters, interspersed with note for and drafts of articles of books.  Another category that is amply represented are typescripts of books and articles.  For the period when Sylvia Pankhurst did not run a periodical of her own (from about 1924 to 1936) it is very difficult to ascertain whether or not these writings were published.  The fact that the typescripts of The Suffragette Movement and The Home Front have not been preserved seems to justify the assumption that the typescripts in the archive were not published in the form they have here.  The best known and most frequently used part of the collection are the minutebooks of the East London Federation/Workers’ Suffrage Federation  from the end of 1913 to 1924.  They present an interesting picture of the running of the movement – not only members’ meetings, but also the finance committee, the general committee – and the way in which was apportioned to various members.

Originally the collection contained a large number of photographs and some other items of pictorial nature, but these have been incorporated in the IISH audio-visual department and classified according to the subjects dealt with: suffragette activities, social circumstances in the London’s East End and Sylvia’s activities there, women in men’s jobs during the First World War, portraits of persons, etc.  A list of this material is appended to the inventory.  The collection also contains a certain amount of printed documents: a number of proofs for annual reports of the East End movement, especially because of the large number of manuscript additions in the margin; a large collection of newspaper clippings about Manchester and political and social events from about 1865 to 1897, clearly originating from Sylvia’s father; a variety of printed sources, probably used for articles about subjects as Ireland, Soviet Russia, women’s work, aspects of fascism.

When the arranging of the collection was begun by a first assessment, it appeared to have no consistent inner classification, though some bunches of material had been kept together.  Quite often, however, heterogeneous items turned up among them: for example a few letter from an early period among typescripts from the 1930s.  In consequence, it was decided to change the order to make it more consistent.  Material of Sylvia’s relatives was grouped together.  Separate categories were made for Sylvia’s personal documents and correspondence, sketches, writings and political activities.  The activities were grouped chronologically under four headings: the suffragette movement, World War I, Socialism, Anti-fascism and Ethiopia.  For the group of notebooks and typescripts an attempt was made to put them in a chronological order, in addition to a classification by subject matter and form.  The latter was impossible for the notebooks, as a result of Sylvia’s habit of jotting down ideas whenever they occurred, so that draft poems are inserted among notes about health care in women, while a draft play about suffragette activities is interrupted by notes on a  different subject.  The fact that more often than not the notebooks were used in two directions: front to back for one thing, back to front for another, both often interrupted by notes about something completely different, made classification a difficult job.  The most important subjects have been listed in the index (page 42).

There are no restrictions to consultation of the archive.

Select Bibliography of E S Pankhurst:

The Suffragette.  The history of the women’s militant suffrage movement (London 1911) ; Soviet Russia as I saw it (London 1921) ; India and the earthly Paradise (Bombay 1926); Delphos, or the future of international language (London 1928) ; Save the Mothers ….. (London 1930) ; The Suffragette Movement (London 1931), reprint London 1917) ; The Home Front (London 1932) ; The Life of Emmeline Pankhurst (London 1935) ; Eritrea on the eve (Woodford Green 1952) ; Ethiopia and Eritrea: the last phase of the reunion struggle (Woodford Green 1953) ; Ethiopia: a cultural history (Woodford  Green 1955).

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