Political Animals

Someone ought to do a book about political animals. I don’t mean those people who are so keenly involved in politics that they can think of little else; I mean literally political animals. So far in my research on the history of Votes for Women I’ve come across several suffrage terriers; some cats, mice (working for the enemy, set loose to frighten imprisoned suffragettes), rats (thrown as missiles and very dead) and lots of horses.

When the journalist and suffragist Vera Chute Collum was commissioned by the Daily News to join the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage (see posts below) in the summer of 1913, she hit upon the idea of riding a horse to attract attention, give her a good vantage point for taking photographs, and save her legs. She kitted herself out in a khaki ‘knickerbocker suit’ – very daring – so that she could ride astride. Now all she needed was the horse. So she put an advertisement in the magazine ‘Common Cause’ and found the most beautiful and placid mare for the duration. She only got really frightened once (the mare, not Vera) when some anti-suffragists blew a cornet in her ears; otherwise she was a model of forbearance and dignity.

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She wasn’t the only four-legged pilgrim. Polly, Noah and Asquith drew the three caravans travelling from the north-west to London on the Watling Street route. Polly was a heroine who kept going for hours, up hill and down dale, when pursued by stone-throwers near Stoke-on-Trent. She never complained. Noah was also well-behaved but Asquith, we can imagine, rather less so.

Not only did the militant suffragette Hon. Evelina Haverfield take part in processions in London on horseback; she used her knowledge of her favourite animals as a weapon of defence. She was able to make police-horses sit down during demonstrations by tapping them smartly in a particular place on the hind legs, which must have been extremely gratifying, and was once arrested for physically – and incredibly bravely – trying to lead them out of police cordons and formations against their riders’ wishes.

When the journalist Henry Nevinson was asked to ride a horse at the head of a men’s suffrage parade in London in 1911, he was a little nervous at first. His job was to carry ‘an enormous flag attached to a large and heavy pole. Happily I was mounted on a wide and beautiful mare, who, though disturbed in mind by the shouts and cheering all the way from the Embankment, though St James’s and along the length of Piccadilly, entered into the spirit of the occasion and marched with decorum; except that every now and then she turned round to wonder at the banner, and once, while we were halted outside the Ritz Hotel, seeing within reach a little girl’s straw hat surrounded with life-like daisies festooned about the brim, she proceeded to bite at it for hay, costing me half-a-crown in compensation’ [Nevinson: Fire of Life, 1935].

 

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