A SHETLAND based author and women’s rights campaigner has been involved in a project to help reveal the hidden history of Scottish suffragettes, including women from the isles who all played valuable roles in ultimately securing the right to vote.
Marsali Taylor, from Aith, who is perhaps best known for her Shetland-based crime novels, has been acting as an adviser to the Protest & Suffragettes group to help to highlight the lesser known stories of women’s rights activists in Scotland.
The Glasgow-based group has now produced a deck of Scottish suffragettes trump cards that will be supplied along with an education pack to 100 schools across the country, including Whalsay School in Symbister, and Aith Junior High School.
Taylor, who has been researching the history women’s suffrage in Shetland for many years and has written a 300-page study of the whole movement, nominated a number of local women and those with connections to the islands to be included in the project.
Taylor said Shetland’s first president of the Shetland Women’s Suffrage Society marched with Emmeline Pankhurst, the organiser of the UK suffragette movement.
“The two main activists I recommended for Shetland were [co-founder of the Shetland Women’s Suffrage Society] Christina Jamieson and [one of the society’s first convener] Harriet Atherton Leisk,” she said.
“I also recommended a lady from Dornoch who had strong Shetland connections, the exotic figure ‘Amaryllis’ Edith Hacon. She was married to Llewellyn Hacon, a lawyer.
“She was also instrumental in building the Catholic Church here (…) and she worked for fisher girls here and eventually created a house for them which can still be seen in old photos, and was where the power station now stands. It was a social place for the fisher girls to go to and rest.”
Meanwhile Christina Jamieson was the first woman in Shetland who served on a public committee.
“Another one I had recommended with strong Shetland links because they had visited here was Dr Elsie Inglis who was the founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospital, which was the first of the women’s field hospitals, and she served in France, Serbia and Russia during the First World War,” Taylor said.
“She visited Shetland in 1913 and made a great impression, it seems, because ever after that the Lerwick women supported her.”
She added that suffrage was much more than just fighting for the vote.
“One of the first thing suffrage women fought for was for women who had been deserted by their husbands, or abused by them, to keep their children, because it was assumed that the man was the natural guardian,” Taylor said.
“They also fought for first basic education, then university education.”
Dr T S Beall, founder and lead artist of Protest & Suffragettes, said the group has been focusing on “Glasgow’s herstories” for a number of years.
“During lockdown we started meeting digitally and thinking about the women across Scotland who fought for our right to vote,” she said.
“We realised that most of the histories that we were aware of — and most of the history taught in Scotland – focuses on events in England (for example, around the Pankhursts).
“We wondered how many Scottish suffrage activists there were and where they were based in Scotland…it turns out they were everywhere.
“It’s been an absolute joy and a privilege to work with Marsali as we’ve been working to celebrate Scotland’s Suffrage histories. We’re committed to sharing these inspiring stories with young people across Scotland.”
The pack of cards is also available for sale via the organisation’s website here.
Meanwhile, Taylor will be signing copies of her latest crime novel The Shetland Sea Murders at the Shetland Times bookshop on Friday.
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