In which case, why are so many women present? The guest list shows plenty of Mrs and Misses. Well, the sad fact is that they too wanted to prevent women’s suffrage. It is the Anti-Suffrage Garden Party, attended by the upper ranks of Devon Society at Killerton House, including several Colonels, Drs, Revs, and a Sir and a Lady. The Acland family, who owned Killerton and were hosting the party, had a curious mix of opinions on in their ranks. A earlier member of the family, Thomas Dyke Acland, had already expressed his views on why he opposed admitting women to universities: ‘Girls are different from boys, their brains are too light, their foreheads too small, their reasoning powers too defective.’ And within the current family members, although the male side was against the idea of votes for women - you can see part of Sir Charles Thomas Acland's garden party speech in the photo below - the women were divided. While Aunt Gertrude was a staunch anti-suffrage supporter, her niece Eleanor was fiercely pro-suffrage.
Killerton House is today owned by the National Trust, and this split in the female side of the family has given an incentive for a great exhibition about the suffragette movement, and the campaign to give women the vote. You can wander round the house and see suffragette memorabilia. But what made more impact on me was the weight of anti-suffrage propaganda – board games mocking suffragettes, cruel jibes, denigration of women’s worth in society. Sometimes the pictures say it all: there’s a panel of pictures of suffragettes, which are in fact surveillance photos taken in 1914 by the security services of the day and included on the Criminal Register.
The final shocker is a map of the world, showing where and women have been given the vote. A surprising number of countries didn’t allow women to vote until the 1940s or 1960s – or even, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, until 2015. Some countries still remain blank, but maybe in many of them there is no chance to vote at all. So, fellow women, let’s be proud to use our vote if we have it, and be thankful we no longer have to fight that particular battle to take an equal place in society.
The exhibition at Killerton runs until Nov 4th, 2018.