When I was asked if I’d like to join the blog tour for a book about a suffragette I thought I pretty much knew what to expect. When I received my copy and I read the blurb on the inside cover I was really excited. First of all she was a Northerner like me and even better, she threw a black pudding at an MP. That’s about as Northern as it gets. Everything we’re taught about the movement focuses on the Pankhurst’s and the rallies based in London. What this author does is reframe the movement to the North West, where Edith Rigby founded the Preston branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. In doing this, the author reminds us that this was a nationwide movement, but also introduces us to a fascinating woman who was ahead of her time.
This is a well written and well researched autobiography about a fascinating woman who wouldn’t be told what her place was. Born to a lower middle class family in Preston, Lancashire, they lived in a dual purpose house which was part home and part doctor’s surgery where her father was doctor to the local mill working community. I enjoyed learning about how Edith grew up, because it was possibly this stable and happy environment that influenced her thirst for knowledge, individuality and equality. She saw how gender, and particularly class, affected children’s future circumstances and because she was so caring she went out of her way to help – even saving up her pennies to give gifts to local children on Christmas morning. While her actions within the Suffragette movement were fascinating reading, I really found the other aspects of her life interesting too. She was the first woman in her area to ride a bicycle and persisted in riding it, despite being heckled and pelted with vegetables, and even preached against by the local vicar. She liked the freedom her own transport gave her. Luckily, she found a man who enjoyed her vivacious and free spirit because she set out her stall from the wedding day. She was also adamant she was keeping her Christian name, so that instead of being named Dr and Mrs Charles Rigby they became Dr Charles and Mrs Edith Rigby. Having kept my own surname when married I felt a kinship with Edith and I also share her love of North Wales. Her determination to live by her principles was inspiring and it’s clearly this that informed her work with the school for young women that she founded. It also inspired the lengths she went to for the suffragette cause including arson, planning a bombing in Liverpool and going on hunger strike in prison. I applaud the author for bringing this incredibly strong woman to our attention and I recommend the book highly.