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Unseen Suffragette photos to go on show in Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 18:00 30 October 2018 | UPDATED: 19:33 30 October 2018

Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes cost-price cafe for the poor. Picture: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social History

Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes cost-price cafe for the poor. Picture: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social History

Norah Smyth

Rare photographs that suffragette Norah Smyth took more than 100 years ago go which have never been exhibited in the UK go on public show in Bethnal Green from Friday to mark the centenary of women’s votes.

Norah Smyth photographer and leading suffragette. Picture: Four Corners Gallery//Collection International Institute of Social HistoryNorah Smyth photographer and leading suffragette. Picture: Four Corners Gallery//Collection International Institute of Social History

They are being displayed at Four Corners Gallery in the Roman Road, just a stone’s throw from where they were taken and where Sylvia Pankhurst set up her East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1912.

Norah, who died in 1963 aged 89, used her photographic skills for campaigns showing children in poverty and for the organisation’s own newspaper, creating compelling images of women’s social history and a record of the suffragettes in the East End during the First World War.

“Her original photographs are returning to the East End for the first time,” Four Corners’ director Carla Mitchell said.

Sylvia Pankhurst recovering from a hunger strike after release from prison. Pic: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social HistorySylvia Pankhurst recovering from a hunger strike after release from prison. Pic: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social History

“The East London Suffragettes were a remarkable group whose story is little-known. We aim to help East End communities discover the amazing stories on their doorstep.”

Pankhurst’s organisation was a breakaway from the Women’s Social and Political Union led by her mother Emmeline and sister and Christabel, which ceased campaigning for the vote when the 1914-18 War broke out. It threw its support behind the war effort instead.

But Sylvia continued fighting on and also campaigned for working class women’s rights who faced increasing wartime poverty in the East End while their menfolk were away at the front.

Toy factory co-operative set up in Bow c1915 by Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes. Picture: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social HistoryToy factory co-operative set up in Bow c1915 by Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes. Picture: Norah Smyth/Collection International Institute of Social History

She set up cost-price cafés, babies’ milk clinics, nurseries and a cooperative toy factory run by the women, all recorded on Norah Smyth’s camera.

Her federation campaigned for equal pay, a living wage and better housing from its Women’s Hall headquarters at 400 Old Ford Road.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter Helen Pankhurst said: “Their actions represented the suffragette slogan of ‘deeds not words’.

Suffragettes in the Roman Road c1915 selling their weekly newspaper The Woman's Dreadnaught. Picture: Norah Smyth//Collection International Institute of Social HistorySuffragettes in the Roman Road c1915 selling their weekly newspaper The Woman's Dreadnaught. Picture: Norah Smyth//Collection International Institute of Social History

“These photographs celebrate the spirit of East End women, the activists who worked for social change.”

The ‘East End Suffragettes’ exhibition at the Four Corners studios in Roman Road, Bethnal Green, includes 100 original photographs loaned by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, as well as letters, documents and memorabilia from Sylvia Pankhurst’s archive. It runs until February 9, Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm.

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