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Oxford International Women’s Festival runs until 21st March.

Oxford International Women’s Festival: ‘Women on the March’

A walk through areas of the city centre that 100 years ago served as stages on which Oxonian women fought for equality
Guillermo Olaizola / Shutterstock, Inc

"The women’s suffrage movement would have joined the recent Women’s March"

Sam Bennett


20th January 2017. Donald Trump is sworn in as America’s President, and outside the US Embassy in London, 500 people join together in protest of the inauguration, with Lily Allen performing a live cover of Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Going To A Town’ – “I’m so tired of you, America,” she sings.

On the 21st, the streets of Washington DC play host to a march of 1 million people rallying for women’s rights, wanting to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights.” In New York, 200,000 march for the same cause, and in London 100,000. “They weren’t arguing anything,” Anne Widecombe would say of the marchers the following week, “they were shouting.”

The week after Widecombe’s assessment, I speak to Dr Katherine Bradley, a historian with an interest in the women’s suffrage movement spanning over 30 years. She’ll be bringing ‘Women on the March’ to Oxford International Women's Festival this month, a walk through areas of the city centre that 100 years ago served as stages on which Oxonian women fought for equality.

“You saw the march against Trump,” Katherine says to me, in answer to my question regarding any parallels between women’s rights today and early in the 20th century. She tells me she’s sure the women’s suffrage movement would have joined the recent Women’s March, and also goes on to state that “there’s a lot of inequality” in today’s world regarding women’s rights, “particularly in terms of employment and pay, and housing.”

About a century ago, “Oxford had a very large suffrage movement,” Katherine says, identifying the non-militant branch of the movement as having 500 subscription paying members in about 1912-13 – plus a load of other supporters.

“There was a small group of suffragettes” here that added a bit more drama, doing “very similar things to the suffragettes elsewhere.” At Carfax, in the city centre, black ink was thrown down the pillar box – other pillar boxes in the city were vandalised too. Further, Rough’s boatyard became the target of an arson attack that caused £3,000 worth of damage, and the words ‘votes for women’ were printed on the course at North Oxford Golf Club.

While some of the activities of the women in Oxford a century ago were not so, Katherine’s guided walk is described as “gentle”. A returning feature of the Women’s Festival, and one that’s been attended by a whole range of ages and nationalities previously, ‘Women on the March’ takes place 11th March, 2-4pm (starting outside the Town Hall). It is just one event in the festival that Dr Bradley says gives “a voice to a lot of different women’s organisations in Oxford”, another being the main event taking place in the Town Hall on International Women’s Day (8th March) – a celebration (2-3.30pm, with music from Peggy Seeger) of women in the arts, science, politics and education.


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