Back in January, Northgate’s School Council received an exciting message from Mayor, Hilary Bushell. She wanted to meet us to talk about a special event she had planned for Dereham. It was to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was signed, allowing the first British women the right to vote. The bill was passed on 6th February 2018 and so 100 years on, it was important to mark such an event from history. Northgate were invited to attend!
The Mayor met with Mr MacDonald, Miss Theobald, Mrs Culley and some members of the School Council. She explained a bit of the background of 100 years of the vote, important points which led up to this, what some of the women and suffragettes went through to help women get the vote and in particular about suffragette Kate Parry Frye. Between 1911 and 1914 she spent time in Norfolk when organising the New Constitutional Society for Women Suffrage’s campaign, in particular, being based in Dereham. The aim of the event was to highlight 100 years of the first women having the vote and hand out leaflets outlining the Act.
So, the plans were underway. 20 School Council members were asked to be involved and represent Northgate. Placards were made, rosettes and sashes in the suffragette colours were also produced, ready for Friday 9th February. Despite the cold and very wet weather on the morning, this did not deter the students, Mr MacDonald, Miss Theobald and Mrs Galley who all marched into town holding placards aloft. It certainly gained the attention of members of the public who asked what we were all doing. Mayor Hilary was delighted to see us all turn out, it certainly was an interesting sight with herself and former Lady Mayors dressed in clothes appropriate for the time 100 years ago. There was also a police officer present in period dress.
Whilst in the town centre there were photos for the press, some students handed out leaflets whilst others were interviewed for That’s TV Norfolk, giving their thoughts and opinions on the Act. It gave them the chance to learn a little more about the courageous acts of the suffragettes and the long history around the movement. They were joined by Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman who gave them an insight into voting, what it was like in the House of Commons and also about his great aunt, Mabel Philipson, who was one of the first female MPs elected to Parliament. Students also talked about whether they thought votes at 16 would be a good idea.
Whilst this event focussed on the past, it also highlights to our students and the new generation, how far we have come in such a short space of time. It’s important to recognise that there is still a long way to go with regards to gender equality, particularly in some countries around the world. At Northgate, we will continue to educate our students on matters affecting those in other countries including hardship and their continued fights for equal rights.
Ryan and Rhys who attended said that they learnt that despite the change in the law in Britain, there are still countries where women are not treated as equals and do not have the right to vote. They said they learnt that women who were suffragists were more peaceful in their protests than those who were suffragettes, who were sometimes aggressive and violent in their action and approach. Adam felt the occasion gave a sense of appreciation of what some of the women went through in order to get their voices heard.
Overall, it was a very positive experience for all involved, certainly highlighting to our students such an important event which happened just 100 years ago. We thank the Mayor for inviting us to be a part of her special day.