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30th November 2018

Suffragette’s force-feeding letter goes on display in Manchester

A collection of objects giving insight into the Suffragette movement 100 years on will go on display in the People’s History Museum
Suffragette’s force-feeding letter goes on display in Manchester
Photo: Charlotte Marsh in Hyde Park @ People’s History Museum

A letter detailing the first known written account of suffragette force-feeding is to go on display at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

The account, written by Charlotte Marsh to fellow suffragette Selina Martin, details her experiences of being force-fed during the suffragette movement.

The handwritten letter penned by the suffragette will go on display as part of the Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition.

Written in November 1909, the document accounts the hunger strikes Charlotte Marsh undertook when in prison. Marsh talks about her daily struggles, writing to Martin about how she is scared to tell her own mother about how she is being treated: “Do you mind sending a picture to my mother, saying when you last saw me that I was happy and well. But do not mention how I am being fed.” Finishing the letter, she writes off, “No surrender!”

People’s History Museum’s Programme Officer and researcher Helen Antrobus came across the letter when examining various objects for the display, stumbling upon the piece on a title page torn from a book.

Antrobus, after examining the letter said: “The letter reveals the strain, both emotional and physical, that these women were enduring and how they looked to each other for the support and strength they needed.

“Their aim was to be treated as political offenders, and at this time they wouldn’t have known how historically notorious force-feeding was to become.

“Their sacrifice, determination, and united spirit is clear within the letter, which is extremely moving to read.”

As a part of the exhibition at the People’s History Museum, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, other pieces on display —  loaned by Phillip Sycamore, grandson of suffragette Selina Martin — will include letters, her Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) hunger strike medal, and a photo of Selina wearing her Holloway Prison brooch.

After Selina was imprisoned, her efforts and sacrifices made for the movement were honoured by the WSPU. Her story, along with many other heroic figures, aims to identify and honour those who have fought for representation a century on from when the Representation of the People Act of 1918 gave all men and some women the right to vote in Britain.

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections at the People’s History Museum, stated “It is wonderful that in creating an exhibition that tells the stories of those seeking representation we have been able to reveal previously unheard voices of those from the past who fought for equality.

“Hearing Charlotte’s story in her words brings alive the incredible spirit of those campaigning for women’s suffrage.”

“Selina Martin’s own story is that of a working-class suffragette from Ulverston, Manchester who found herself in prison three times, on each occasion refusing to eat to make her protest.  Whilst her family were told she was in good health and being treated well, her letters and diaries tell a very different story.

“During her imprisonment in Liverpool in the winter of 1909, Selina was beaten, force-fed, and left to freeze in her cell. The Governor of the gaol claimed she was being treated ‘as humanely and kindly as possible.’”

The free display at the People’s History Museum is open until February 3rd 2019.

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