Forgotten photographs of East London suffragettes go on display

Suffragettes on carriage Pic: Norah Smyth

Photographs revealing the forgotten story of the East London Federation of the Suffragettes  are to go on display for the first time ever in Bethnal Green.

East End Suffragettes: The Photographs of Norah Smyth will exhibit over 100 original photographs, letters and documents from Norah Smyth, taken between 1913 and 1917.

The photographs have been loaned by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, and will be displayed at Four Corners Gallery on Roman Road.

The exhibit will document an extraordinary moment in women’s social history, including the little-known role that East End women played as they fought in the campaign for universal suffrage led by Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.

ELFS demonstration Pic: Norah Smyth

Carla Mitchell, development director at Four Corners, said: “It is very exciting to exhibit Norah Smyth’s original photographs as they return to the East End for the first time. These photos document a very particular history of the Suffragettes that is not so well-known in mainstream history.”

Norah Smyth (1874-1963), a self-taught photographer, was a central figure in Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. Living alongside Pankhurst in Bow, Smyth documented the lives of ordinary women as they struggled for better rights.

Smyth also used her talents to provide images for the Federation’s newspaper, Woman’s Dreadnought, documenting the condition of women living in poverty.

Although the Federation helped to support profound social change from their headquarters in Bow, their story has largely been written out of history.

Speaking of this injustice, Mitchell said: “It’s to do with the fact that Sylvia Pankhurst was more radical and socialist and this aspect of [Pankhurst’s activities] has been left out of the official version of history.”

Women selling dreadnaught newspaper Pic: Norah Smyth

Helen Pankhurst, 54, granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst and herself an activist for woman’s rights, said: “These unique photographs celebrate the spirit of East End women, unknown activists who worked alongside Sylvia for social change. Their actions truly represented the suffragette slogan ‘Deeds not words’.”

The exhibit is part of The Women’s Hall, a £100,000 Heritage Lottery Fund Project that celebrates the history of the ELFS in the centenary year of women getting the vote.

Four corners have partnered with Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, The East End Women’s Museum and Alternative Arts to develop the year-long project.

The exhibition is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm until February 9, 2019. Admission is free.

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