5 Fascinating Facts from The Story of Women and Power

The Story of Women and Power

Recently I was able to preview The Story of Women and Power, a three part documentary on the history of women and the struggle for their rights, especially voting rights, in England. This BBC documentary focuses on the women who fought so long and hard for equality, often at great personal sacrifice. The North American DVD debut will be on November 3, 2015 from Athena. It is also available on Acorn TV, a streaming service. The program was originally broadcast on the UK’s BBC Two back in February 2015.

Over the course of three hours, Historian Amanda Vickery leads the viewer through the history of the Women’s Rights movement in the UK. All the key players in this battle are explored and historians offer their special insight on the history and trials endured by the women fighting for their rights. Vickery also visits many of the historical sites and document archival locations to visually set the stage and delve into the original records stored there.

First Woman to Sit as a Member of Parliament

Astor and Markievicz - The Story of Women and Power

The first woman elected to Parliament was the Countess de Markievicz in 1918 who ironically was not even involved in the Women’s Rights movement. She was a member of Sinn Fein, and thus she did not ever take her seat. Sinn Fein, based in Ireland, sits in Parliament in abstention to protest the fact they do not see Parliament as a legitimate government entity. Sinn Fein’s Members of Parliament work for their constituents, and only use the facilities to meet with government ministers.

Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor also known as the Viscountess Astor was thus the first female to sit as a Member of Parliament. I find it very interesting that she was an American-born divorcee whose second marriage was to Waldorf Astor. Waldorf was a member of the House of Commons when his father died and he succeeded to the peerage. This meant that he then entered the House of Lords, leaving his seat vacant. Nancy took the opportunity and ran for the vacant seat, winning it in 1919. She then became the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.

Forced Feedings

Force Feeding - The Story of Women and Power

Rallies and protests led to the inevitable arrests of female activists. In some cases, these women staged hunger strikes in protest. Because they were so resolute in their beliefs and strength of will, even tempting them with delicious and exotic food did not work. In response, the government began force feeding the prisoners. While this may not seem so terrible, reading some of the accounts is horrifying.

Reading through the accounts of the techniques used brings to mind torture scenes from TV dramas. The woman was typically strapped down or restrained by multiple people. Either a stomach or nostril tube was inserted and liquid poured into the tube. Not only was it painful, but it also damaged the circulatory system, digestive system and nervous system in the short term, and cause long term damage to the mental and physical health of the person being force fed.

Black Friday

Black Friday - The Story of Women and Power
For those of us living in the US, Black Friday means bargain prices and crazy shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. But in England, the term takes on a different connotation when considering the history of the women’s rights movement.

In November of 1910, a bill was going to be brought before the House of Commons that would allow voting rights for women. When approximately 300 suffragettes assembled outside Parliament, they were met with savage force by police and men in general. Women were assaulted, raped, and other wise brutalized. Two of the protesters died from injuries received that night.

Model for the Image of Justice

Caroline Norton - The Story of Women and Power

Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton was a feminist in the early 1800s. When Caroline left her husband in 1836, her husband wrongly slandered her name. This led to her being unable to obtain a divorce and she lost access to her three young sons. Because of this she worked tirelessly for the rights of mothers. Her hard work paid off in the passage of the Custody of Infants Act in 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870. Sadly, she never did see her sons because her husband sent them to Scotland which was beyond the scope of the laws.

Because of her dedication to her work and the fact that many saw her as a victim of a horrible injustice, when artist Daniel Maclise was painting a new fresco in the House of Lords, he asked Caroline to be the model for Lady Justice.

The Power of Shopping

sugar notice - The Story of Women and Power

We all know today that a shopping boycott is a very powerful tool consumers can wield to influence corporations and national politics. Making use of the power of the pocketbook, abolitionists in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s organized successful boycotts of sugar grown in the West Indies where it was harvested by slave labor.

In the 1820s, these boycotts were primarily organized by the women’s anti-slavery associations. They worked tirelessly distributing pamphlets in a door-to-door campaign. Not only did they target the product, but they also encouraged shoppers to not shop at stores that carried products from the West Indies. This prompted businesses to use notices to inform shoppers that their sugar was produced in a slavery free environment.


Are you interested in the history of the women’s rights movement? If so, I strongly encourage you to watch The Story of Women and Power – it is fascinating to say the least! Be sure to share your thoughts about this program if you see it or have seen it! I love reading your comments.