Arranged like the exhibition around the spaces with which women have been particularly associated in Parliament over the years, the Voice & Vote guidebook is both a fine souvenir and an excellent introduction to its subject.
The first section opens with 'the Ventilator', the extraordinary construction in the attic above the House of Commons, designed to take away the heat from the chamber, but which women – banned from watching proceedings from the main public gallery – used in order to get a glimpse of the heads of the leading politicians on the floor below. The second two sections cover 'the Cage' – the stifling special gallery constructed in the new House of Commons built by Sir Charles Barry in the mid-nineteenth century, where women were allowed to view debates, but only with difficulty through a brass grille, designed to keep them out of sight and mind. The third is built around 'the Tomb', the gloomy common room offered to the first women MPs. The last section covers 'the Chamber', and marks how women finally arrived in both Houses in decent numbers – though in still far from equal numbers to men.
The text charts, of course, the struggles of women in the late 19th and early 20th century to obtain the vote – the frustrating business of successive petitions and private members’ bills, of suffragists and suffragettes and of promises made and promises broken. But it also shows how women were highly active in the political arena well before this: as very visible canvassers in elections; as campaigners in causes, including the abolition of slavery; and as political hostesses and influencers. The guidebook charts the work of women in Parliament once they were, finally, able to both vote and to stand for election, highlighting remarkable MPs such as Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams, and many others. It describes the other battle to secure seats in the House of Lords for women too, only finally achieved in 1963. The illustrations include most of the items in the exhibition, as well as many contemporary photographs and other material.
The guidebook has been produced as a collaboration between the Voice and Vote exhibition project; the History of Parliament Trust and publishers St James’s House. Edited by the curators of the exhibition, Mari Takayanagi and Melanie Unwin, and by Paul Seaward from the History of Parliament Trust, with the text produced by a team of writers and academics who have published widely on the history of women in politics: Paula Bartley, Elaine Chalus, Krista Cowman, Emma Crewe, Amy Galvin-Elliott, Oonagh Gay, Elizabeth Hallam-Smith, Helen McCarthy, Simon Morgan, Emma Peplow, Louise Raw, Sarah Richardson, Kathryn Rix, Jane Robinson, Anne Stott, Duncan Sutherland and Jacqui Turner.
The Voice & Vote exhibition is open Monday to Saturday between 27 June and 6 October 2018 (closed 4, 6 and 27 August).