With over 15 posters, from A3 to giant publicity posters, the collection, which has recently been rediscovered, includes some of the most important artwork of the women’s suffrage movement.
In 2016, Emily Dourish, Deputy Head of Rare Books, opened the private world of the Cambridge University Library stacks to historians Lucy Delap and Ben Griffin, to see a women’s suffrage poster collection that has been recently rediscovered after being filed away in the tower for over a century. With over 15 posters, from A3 to giant publicity posters, the collection includes some of the most important artwork of the women’s suffrage movement. It includes works produced by the Suffrage Atelier, founded in 1909 as ‘an arts and crafts society working for the enfranchisement of women’, and others from the Artists’ Suffrage League, which worked to support the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1907. Some of the posters were hand-tinted in colour, and this may have been done locally by student supporters of women’s suffrage. Some posters were for national use; others must have been taken from the Cambridge campaign, and invited local law-abiding women and men to ‘come and sign the voters’ petition’, at St Luke’s School, Victoria Road. The posters will be amongst the topics at a conference to celebrate the centenary of the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918, to be held 3 Feb 2018 at Murray Edwards College.
Why did the University Library hold these posters? When bringing them up for a first look, the discovery of the postal wrapper which had been used for at least some of the posters was crucial evidence. They had been sent by Dr Marion Phillips, secretary of the Women’s Labour League – the women’s section of the early Labour Party. Marion Phillips was also a prominent suffrage supporter within the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and went on to become MP for Sunderland in 1929. Why she sent the posters to the University Library remains a mystery – they were simply addressed to ‘The Librarian’, and no covering letter has survived. But their presence allows us to understand better the kind of rich visual resources that were so important to the women’s suffrage campaign, and to see some previously unknown designs.
The posters will be on display at the University Library from Feb 3rd 2018. Suffrage scholar Elizabeth Crawford will give a public lecture on posters and suffrage at 6.30pm on the opening night of the exhibition, to which all are warmly invited: