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Making History: The Suffrage Movement in Spare Rib Magazine from 1972 to 1978

Julie Sauvage
p. 135-157


Parmi les nombreux périodiques féministes créés dans les années 1970 Spare Rib fut le magazine le plus important. Dès sa création, l’équipe éditoriale montra un intérêt marqué pour l’histoire du mouvement féministe au travers de divers articles et rubriques portant sur les campagnes des suffragettes et certaines figures féministes. L’équipe éditoriale dans sa tentative d’écriture de l’histoire dans une perspective féministe entendait ainsi élargir son lectorat et jeter des ponts entre le passé et le présent. Rejetant toute forme de hiérarchie et d’autorité, l’équipe éditoriale de Spare Rib, qui avait adopté le fonctionnement d’un collectif, se sentait en désaccord avec les organisations très hiérarchisées et centralisatrices du mouvement suffragiste mais n’en revendiquait pas moins le passé réformiste de la première vague féministe. Cet article entend examiner ces contradictions fondamentales au sein du magazine et les stratégies pour les dépasser, notamment par le biais d’articles sur les dernières suffragettes alors en vie, des femmes appartenant souvent à la classe populaire qui devaient témoigner de leur expérience politique et personnelle. Il s’agissait de souligner la dimension collective de la première vague de féminisme et de renforcer une communauté d’affects intergénérationnelle. Créant ainsi une continuité entre passé et présent, le collectif éditorial de Spare Rib s’appuyait en outre sur la nature même du périodique et son mode de publication pour proposer une conception féministe de la temporalité et de l’histoire.

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1The early twentieth-century suffrage campaigns left the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s with a massive, if not awkward feminist legacy. The suffragists’ reformist aims and demands for equal political representation, their hierarchical organisations with famous figureheads, not to mention their tendency to memorialise and commemorate their own history (Kean 2005) were difficult to reconcile with the grass-root, quite libertarian aspects of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Wandor 141).

  • 1 Laurel Forster offers a good overview of 1970s feminist print culture, with a closer analysis of th (...)
  • 2 Selina Todd was the first to study the contradictions between Spare Rib’s feminist aims and its com (...)

2One of the points in common between the two periods in feminist thought and activism, however, was the important role the press played in popularising the cause and attracting new supporters, since both saw a dramatic rise in the number of feminist publications available. Pitting themselves against the booming mainstream women’s magazines and working with methods used in the 1960s’ underground press, the feminist periodicals of the WLM ranged from irregular publications with a “home-made” feel, like Shrew or Red Rag, to monthly magazines such as Spare Rib, which was the longest-running and most widely distributed of these periodicals. Published from 1972 to 1992, Spare Rib reached a peak circulation of 20,000 copies (Smith 11), which was quite an achievement for a feminist magazine.1 In spite of its commercial format, however, Spare Rib opted for a rather radical internal organisation.2 It started with a classic, hierarchised editorial board but, in 1973, switched to an editorial collective (Smith 15) where functions and attributions would vary from one issue to the next, if not every week.

  • 3 1978 can be considered a cornerstone for reasons not pertaining to the Spare Rib editorial board or (...)

3Focusing on the first six years of the magazine, from its inception in 1972 to, roughly, the anniversary of women’s suffrage in 1978,3 this article examines how and why Spare Rib engages with history and provides a space for the feminists of the 1970s to discuss the suffrage movement, its memory, inheritance and relevance to the future.

4The importance of this question has already drawn the attention of Krista Cowman, who has published an extensive study of the treatment of history in Spare Rib over the same period, in which she concludes:

The coverage of suffrage in Spare Rib attempted to move beyond existing knowledge to create a feminist narrative of a key first-wave campaign. The ensuing analysis, it was hoped, would recover forgotten suffragettes as active historical subjects and retrieve their priorities and experiences. The intention was to provide lessons or models for contemporary activists to imitate. This led to an understandable focus on individuals, but simultaneously detracted from any sustained attempt to offer a feminist analysis of suffrage as a political movement. (Cowman 206)

Of course, writing history, especially for a broader public, entails political choices, and what was at stake in Spare Rib was not only the WLM’s relationship to its famous predecessor. It was also the impact of this feminist past and its representations on the Movement itself, as it gathered momentum, or conversely, threatened to splinter into groups or trends disagreeing over means, if not ends. Exploring Spare Rib’s fraught relationship to the suffrage movement, which reflected the WLM’s ambivalent attitude to its feminist legacy, while paying attention to the material presentation of the magazine will lead to a different understanding of how and why it opened its pages to plural, alternative versions of feminist history, foregrounding overlooked or unconventional figures. This article will argue that the diversity of experiences voiced in the magazine, though it contributed to a “recovery” of forgotten or threatened feminist history, as Cowman has shown (Cowman 200), did not really aim to provide Women’s Liberation Movement’s activists with “lessons” or historical “models”. Rather, it allowed the magazine to attempt far-reaching transformations of the way its readers experienced time and thought of history, in order to elaborate an alternative, female version of transmission between the suffrage movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Ultimately, this leads us to reconsider how the periodical as a medium may interact with the writing of history.

  • 4 A facsimile of the manifesto is now available online, on the British Library’s website: https://www (...)

5Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, together with other dissatisfied women journalists, decided to create their own magazine, Spare Rib, in 1972, after working for a variety of underground publications in the 1960s. Marsha Rowe had previously worked on the Australian Vogue before participating in the publication of Oz and Ink in London. Rosie Boycott edited the women’s special issue that Frendz, a magazine usually coordinated by male staff, devoted to the WLM in 1971 (Smith 2017, 13; Green 1998, 412-417). It is unclear how much either of them knew, then, about the feminist press of the suffrage movement but, from the inception of the magazine, it is obvious they were mostly preoccupied with the future: Spare Rib came with a manifesto that never looked to the past but resolutely set out to change the present and shape a new era to come (Pavard 2019).4 Over the first six years of Spare Rib, representing about 74 issues, only eight feature articles were devoted to the suffrage movement and its activists.

  • 5 Please note this study relies on the Spare Rib collection digitised by Jisc and freely accessible o (...)
  • 6 The BBC TV series Shoulder to Shoulder, chronicling the militant life of the Pankhurst family, seem (...)

6Yet, shorter articles and allusions were more frequent (24 references over 74 issues representing at least 2 to 4 mentions and a full article a year).5 Some of them can be found in the objections and even rebuffs expressed by readers in their letters, which were published in a section of the magazine that allowed for diverging opinions to be voiced. Other references to the suffrage movement appeared in the reviews of recent books, TV programs or theatre plays published by the periodical.6 Spare Rib also occasionally saluted the last remaining suffrage activists, who were growing quite old at the time, either with feature-length interviews or special obituaries.

  • 7 1976 seems to be the exception but 1975 holds a record, with 3 feature articles.
  • 8 Sadly, this article is not available online. It may be noted, however that this issue of Spare Rib (...)
  • 9 The “Fawcett Library” began as “The Library of the London Society for Women’s Service”, in a conver (...)

7Moreover, hardly a year went by without a feature-length article on the topic,7 which even made the cover of Spare Rib at least three times. In May 1974, eighty-year old former suffragist Gwen Coleman became the magazine’s “cover girl”, thus playfully subverting the visual codes of mainstream women’s magazines. In November 1975, the cover picture was a reproduction of a suffrage poster, linked to an article by Paula Harper on the imagery of the suffrage movement.8 In May 1978, a suffragette made the cover again, in the form of an illustration “drawn by H.M. Paget and reproduced by courtesy of the Fawcett Library”.9 The issue also featured a 1910 short story by Evelyn Sharp, “Shaking hands with the Middle-Ages”, describing how a quiet woman had become a militant suffragette.

8The magazine’s engagement with this feminist past, regular or constant though it may be, seems full of contradictions that can be traced back to its very first issue, where they clearly appear in the presentation of the article entitled “What Emily did: Antonia Raeburn looks at the suffragette movement and disproves the myth that those involved were merely a bunch of hysterical women”. In spite of the space it was given, this four-page feature article, complete with pictures from the Fawcett Library collections, did not make the headlines. It was also relegated to page 12, after the readers’ letters, the editorial, an article on romance novels and the “News” section. However, its title was the first thing the readers could see on opening the magazine, as it came first in the table of contents, at the top of page 3, preceding even the cover lines and other feature articles.

  • 10 The end of the second paragraph in the editorial reprises, as a quote, the derogatory male-chauvini (...)
  • 11 Edith Alice Mary Hepburn, a.k.a Anna Wickham published a collection of poems entitled Songs with th (...)

9Furthermore, the title of this article, devoted to Emily Davison, the suffragette who threw herself in front of King George’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, and eventually died a martyr to the cause, ironically alludes to Susan Coolidge’s What Katy did, published in 1872. It also seems discreetly to echo the Women’s Social and Political Union’s famous motto, “Deeds, not words”. Similar allusions recur on the next page, in the editorial,10 as well as in a poem by Anna Wickham, who may not be the most obvious choice of poet to open the first issue of a magazine11. But the first and last lines in her text directly echo the title “What Emily did”, as well as the “Deeds, not words” motto:

  • 12 The poem entitled “The Woman and Her Initiative” can be found in Selected Poems. Anna Wickham, Lond (...)

Give me a deed and I will give a quality.
Compel this colloide with your crystalline.
Show clear the difference between you and me.
By some clear symmetry, some clear stated line.
These bubblings, these half-actions, my revolt form unity.
Give me a deed and I will show my quality.

10Just like the editorial, her poem thematises the relationship between individual and collective, unity and heterogeneity (like “crystalline” structures), and questions the nature of the glue (“colloide”) that might either hold different elements together or prevent their free expression. This could be said to define what Spare Rib set out to do – explain and show differences and diversity while maintaining some kind of unity.

  • 13 See The Mirror, which reproduced some of the most famous covers of Spare Rib among which the one wi (...)
  • 14 These cover lines also play on the famous, cunning 1970s Virginia Slims cigarettes’ slogan, “You’ve (...)
  • 15 The Matchgirls’ strike started at the Bryant and May match factory in London, where a great majorit (...)

11In August 1978, the cover of the issue supposed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom still showed similar preoccupations. The headlines were split above and below a matchbox, branded “Lucifer”, and complete with a “Made by sweated labour” label.13 The coverlines read: “90 YEARS AGO… / Matchgirls Strike / 50 YEARS AGO… Women Vote///… BUT HOW FAR /HAVE WE COME…”.14 The parallel between the 1888 Matchgirls’ Strike and the 1928 enfranchisement of women includes the suffrage campaigns within a broader political and social history,15 an idea which the cover also seems visually to convey. The matchbox in the centre of the page takes on various symbolic values. It may be seen as containing the products of the twin evils that had continually plagued women since at least the Matchgirls’ strike, namely patriarchy and capitalism. It might also symbolize the very injustice that could unite women, and suggested that the seemingly insignificant matches could ignite a revolution. Lucifer did, after all, rebel against his father.

12As its cover suggests, the issue aimed at showing that the vote was not enough, that it never was enough, even in the eyes of the original suffragists. The editors thus highlighted the links between the enfranchisement of women, and other social, and even sexual rights, which they considered to have been ignored, scorned or denied by political institutions since the vote was secured, sometimes under the very pretext that political equality had already been achieved and should suffice.

  • 16 For an extensive study of the suffrage press, see Delap (2011). Further enquiry is needed to unders (...)

13The Spare Rib collective thus seized the opportunity afforded by the commemoration of women’s enfranchisement to examine their magazine’s suffragist forerunners “to see if they concentrated mainly on the vote or (like Spare Rib) went far beyond concern with civil rights” (Spare Rib collective 1978, 3). Their editorial provided the readers with a good overview of the main titles of the suffragist press. It included a few masthead reproductions (Shafts, Votes for Women, The Suffragette and Women’s Franchise) as well as brief presentations of several periodicals, summarising their positions on problems other than the question of women’s suffrage. The Common Cause (1910), The Shield (1870), The English Woman’s Journal (1868), Women’s Suffrage Journal (1870), Shafts (1892), Victoria Magazine (1863), Women at Work, Link (1888), Votes for Women (1907), The Freewoman (1911), Woman’s Dreadnought (1914) and The Vote (launched in 1909 and which, they noted, “despite its name was anything but a single-issue paper”) were thus mentioned, in this non-chronological order.16 After quoting both Florence Nightingale (“There are evils that press more hardly on women than the want of suffrage”) and Susan Anthony (“By itself, the ballot is not even a crust, a crumb”), the editors then proceeded to praise the Women’s Freedom League, who “set an absolute value on grass-root democracy” and “would have agreed with us that ‘no woman speaks for the movement, each speaks for herself’”. The editorial ended on the open letter that WLM demonstrators handed out to the elderly suffrage activists attending the Department of Environment’s commemoration ceremony on June 2nd 1978, that is, on a resolutely defiant note: “We want to make it clear that no feminist 50 years ago thought that getting the vote was the end of the struggle. We haven’t won – we’ve only just begun!”

  • 17 Janice Winship offers a compelling analysis of these oppositions in the WLM, and more specifically (...)

14Here, Spare Rib seems to aim at reconciling the past and present of the feminist movement by including both the individual and the collective dimensions of feminism, or as Janice Winship has it, its two “strands” (Winship 1987, 142).17 The implication is that these two dimensions cannot be separated, and that the suffrage movement’s original, authentic intentions were, at bottom, the same as the WLM’s. In that respect, the enfranchisement of women was envisaged as a mere tactical gain, which may even have backfired in some respects, but was always part of a wider, still relevant feminist strategy. This had serious consequences on the way the magazine presented feminist historiography.

15Indeed the magazine thus seems systematically to counter the master narratives of the suffrage movement’s previous historiography, which tended to present the vote as an end. It also tries to oppose the idolization of a few major figures that characterised both the official narratives and the suffrage movement itself, in the eyes of the WLM. That may be why Spare Rib opened its pages to a variety of opinions and points of view, and acknowledged, or even fostered, a plurality, and sometimes a dissonance, of feminist narratives and voices.

16In 1978, the anniversary issue thus included a small article, playfully entitled “50 years on” (with a very visible proof mark adding the letter “c”), where Carole Spedding related how she was part of the “seventy-odd” demonstrators who disrupted the official celebrations. Very explicit banners, one of them reading: “Don’t Vote”, were displayed at the foot of Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue, as shown in a photograph illustrating the article. The journalist noted that snide remarks by Tory MP Sally Oppenheim about the Suffragettes being “noted for their dignity” (as opposed to the demonstrators she was then addressing) sounded “silly considering that in her audience Connie Lewcock (now aged 85) … had once organised the bombing of a railway station.” The piece ended on a snippet of conversation with 96-year-old Jessie Stephens, remembering how she was once pelted with dried mackerels during a demonstration, before exclaiming that she knew Spare Rib because her grand-daughter read it, and that she was glad they were “all carrying on the struggle” (Spedding 11). This short, quite ironical article encapsulates Spare Rib’s attitude over the years. Attacking some traditionally idolised figures, Spare Rib challenged conventional versions and presented alternative visions of their history in order to claim the suffrage movement’s radical legacy for the WLM, presented as its rightful heir.

  • 18 Sheila Rowbotham (born 1943) was influential in the development of women’s history from the 1960s o (...)

17In the magazine’s editorial policy, this could first translate as “anyone but the Pankhursts”—if the phrase may be ventured. In the first six years of the magazine, not a single article was devoted to any member of the family, who were mostly referred to in reviews. Christabel’s re-edited memoirs, reviewed by Amanda Sebestyen in 1977, thus had to share the same book review as David Mitchell’s critical biography, Queen Christabel. Sheila Rowbotham’s page-long review of the BBC TV series Shoulder to Shoulder, published in the June 1974 issue, and unambiguously entitled “Great individuals are always easier to contain than a political and social movement” (Rowbotham 1974, 16), allowed for some discussion of the Pankhursts’ role. But Rowbotham also argued that they had attracted far too much attention.18 Admitting that she was only able to see one episode out of six, due to the copy date of Spare Rib, the historian seizes this opportunity to provide more biographical information about Sylvia Pankhurst, who tends to be overlooked in comparison with her mother and sisters, and in the eye of Rowbotham, seems to be partly redeemed by her exclusion from the WSPU and later work with the socialist movement. Yet, as the author ultimately puts it: “There are hints of the Pankhursts even in Sylvia” which are perceptible in the way she “remained very external to the women of the East End”, where she eventually set up a crèche and was “caught awkwardly between radical social work and community action” (Rowbotham, 1974, 16), not to mention her conflicts with Lenin in 1920, when the Communist party was created. However, if Rowbotham confirms that she is grateful to see the actions of women taken seriously on TV, “for once”, and elaborates on one of the Pankhurst sisters’ biography, she nevertheless remains very critical, not just of the Pankhursts themselves, but also of the approach chosen by the BBC. The Spare Rib collective might have whole-heartedly endorsed her criticism:

However, the title of Shoulder to Shoulder is misleading. The outline follows the pattern established by the major histories. It concentrates on the Pankhursts and the big names. There is little hint … of the kind of women who were the local rank-and-file, their relations to other radical groups, the continuity and discontinuity of their commitment, or the particular problems they faced organizing as women – especially working-class women.
Nor can the struggle be seen growing out of the more general and far-reaching feminist consciousness which was already questioning not just exclusion from parliament but also demanding equal pay—and in the case of the bus conductoresses winning it in 1918—and thinking about free, communal ways of rearing children, and even birth control and sexuality. (Rowbotham 1974, 16)

18In accordance with this analysis, Spare Rib deliberately ignored the Pankhursts and compensated for their obvious absence by paying attention to unconventional figures or lesser known individuals, and even rank-and-file women to evoke the suffrage movement.

  • 19 Jill Liddington emphasizes this aspect of Kenney’s biography, focussing on her formative years in O (...)

19Annie Kenney, the only NWSUP leading figure with a working-class background,19 and Emily Davison, whose death sets her apart among suffragettes, are the only traditional first-wave icons to be granted the honour of a feature article in the magazine. That Davison’s biography features prominently in the first issue of Spare Rib should not, however, obscure the fact that the author of this article, Antonia Reaburn, was repeatedly taken to task in the magazine. For instance, in a reader’s letter, Maggie Pearse not only pointed out a few historical inaccuracies in her account, but also complemented it with some information aiming to prove that, contrary to what Reaburn wrote, it was very unlikely any dockers could have been paid by the police to manhandle suffragettes during demonstrations, due to the “overwhelming support” the latter received from the working-class in the East End. Pearse also denounced the absence of Sylvia Pankhurst in Reaburn’s account of the suffrage movement. Her criticism, however, paled in comparison to Sally Alexander’s scathing review of Antonia Raeburn’s book, The Militant Suffragettes, in July 1973: “Sadly, Antonia Reaburn is not a feminist… She does not attempt to dispel the conventional image of the suffragette as a middle-class rebel, who absurdly and temporarily adopted extreme and misguided tactics in the pursuit of her limited end” (Alexander 42).

20Minor or less iconic figures are not as prone to such social stereotyping and do not spark similar debates. When suffragist and NUWSS member Gwen Coleman made the cover of the May 1974 issue of Spare Rib, she was allotted a three-page interview emphasizing the centralised hierarchy of the main suffrage organizations (both the Pankhursts’ WSPU and Millicent Fawcett’s NUWSS), as well as her post-war commitment as an anti-racist activist in Rhodesia (Sebesteyen). Similarly, in February 1975, Jessie Stephen, who started her political career at age twelve, selling The Labour Woman in Glasgow, before becoming a full-time fund-raiser for the WSPU, was also the subject of a four-page interview foregrounding her subsequent Labour and Trade Union commitments. This interview does not fail incidentally to mention “Sylvia [Pankhurst], who could charm when she liked but at the core, was inclined to be as autocratic as her mother and elder sister, Christabel”. It also ended on Jessie Stephen’s appreciation of the victory on female suffrage as “the beginning of the real fight” (Fleming and Gloden 12).

21As to rank-and-file women, they are given pride of place in the magazine’s version of history at least once, with “Lucy”, whose portrait took up a whole, unsigned, feature article in January 1975 and made the headlines as “Lucy: Jokes and our Freedom”. Opening on a framed classic photographic portrait of the subject as a defiant-looking young woman, wearing a formal outfit with a hat, it closed on a more recent picture of the smiling, elderly Lucy, casually sitting on the grass at a festival, with her hair down and showing her knees, which might be construed as demonstrating how social expectations had evolved over her lifespan, especially regarding women’s dress. Lucy, however, was no typical rank-and-file working class woman– she became Sylvia Pankhurst’s secretary, and she was not kind to her former employer.

22In her carnivalesque, iconoclastic account of the few months she worked with Sylvia, Lucy insisted on her “weak bladder”, which forced her to keep a pot under her desk and caused her to dismiss her employees brutally several times a day. The “little Italian bloke … who used to lurk in the rhododendrons and the blackberry bushes”, and assumed to be her son’s father, was part of the many comic touches in the picture Lucy painted. A cantankerous old woman and upper-class snob, Sylvia Pankhurst was also presented as harsh to other women and deferential to power figures like “her friend the King of Ethiopia”, which made her a hypocrite, to boot. This warranted Lucy’s scathing comment: “It made me puke” (unsigned, Jan. 1975, 10), which suggested those flaws were unforgivable in such a prominent feminist figure.

23The harsh criticism or deliberate exclusion of historical figureheads like the Pankhursts, and the attention paid to minor figures, who may even deliberately set out to overturn traditional suffragist idols, are complemented by the valorization of group initiatives, like The Actresses Franchise League’s.

  • 20 Jule Holledge later became Professor of drama at Flinders University, Australia, and published a mo (...)

24In this respect, the feature article by Jule Holledge,20 entitled “The Lost Theater” and published in January 1977 with the help of Jane Comfort, a former member of the troupe and Madeleine Lucette and H.R. Riley’s niece, clearly shows that Spare Rib favoured collective feminist endeavours. The suffragist actresses were thus described as “acting real women [sic] rather than the simpering debutantes and stereotyped matrons of the West End stage” (Holledge 1977, 33). They were said to perform plays that combat class stereotypes “by what can be roughly described as the ‘sisterhood is powerful’ theme” (Holledge 1977, 35).

  • 21 Krista Cowman also emphasizes this connection: “First and second-wave feminist histories shared com (...)
  • 22 Some suffrage plays seemed to enjoy a revival in the 1970s. In February 1979, for instance, Spare R (...)

25This is hardly surprising, since their motivations for creating A Pageant of Great Women, the first major suffragist play by Cecily Hamilton, for instance, in 1908, can be said to parallel those of the Spare Rib collective when they published stories about the past and the suffrage movement. As Eleanor Stewart notices in her contribution to this volume of Caliban, the playwright and the troupe aimed at creating a feminist historiography by appropriating unconventional historical female figures. She adds that they emphasised both the theatricality inherent in the suffrage movement and its collective aspect. They also reconnected their Edwardian audience with a (lost) female, heritage,21 claiming it for the feminist cause and making it present through their performances, actualizing it on stage.22

26Very much in keeping with the historiography of the 1970s, Spare Rib’s articles about history thus tend to revise, if not upend the conventional historical narratives of the previous decades, by minimising the role of iconic personalities and foregrounding minor figures whose relevance to the present is stressed and reinforced through their emotional connection to the readers.

27The criticism Spare Rib levels at prominent suffrage personalities and the way it presents the point of view of common people suggest a socialist or communist approach. If it envisages the suffrage movement and the WLM as part of one and the same struggle, it does not, however, incorporate them both into yet another master narrative, in which they could neatly fit as successive phases in a process leading to the liberation of women or humankind. If the magazine’s approach to the suffrage movement may, at times, promote such a teleological vision of history, it is not the only one it offers, so that on the whole, Spare Rib’s plural versions of feminist history could be said to add up to a rejection of linear, temporal succession. By emphasizing the current relevance of the suffrage movement via emotion and empathy, they arguably create what Johannes Fabian terms “coevalness”, in order to redefine not only transmission, but also history and temporality itself in a feminist fashion.

28Johannes Fabian coins the phrase “denial of coevalness” to describe the anthropologists’ tendency to represent the Others they study as belonging to a different time, as if they were not doing field work with them. He also distinguishes between “synchronicity” (co-occurrence of events in the same physical time), “contemporaneity” (co-occurrence in “typological” time, which involves periodization) and “coevalness”, which implies mutual cooperation and time-sharing. Coevalness is inter-subjective, it is a prerequisite to communication: “for human communication to occur, coevalness has to be created. Communication is, ultimately, about creating shared Time” (Fabian 1983, 30-31). Taking his argument further, Victoria Browne interestingly deduces that, if coevalness is necessary to communication, then it must be necessary to history and historiographic discourse as well:

If we accept that historical time is generated through intersubjective temporalizations of history, then it follows that coevalness, as a “mode of temporal relations,” is a necessary condition for historical time itself. In other words, there would be no historical time without temporal relations, without the practice of sharing time, even indirectly or diachronically “through” or “across” time. This is essentially a reversal of the idea that being “in” a homogenous historical time is what makes the sharing of time possible. Instead, sharing time, or forging temporal connections, is what makes the idea of historical time itself possible. (Browne 2014, 39-40)

29The previously detailed tactics applied in Spare Rib thus arguably contributed to the creation of coevalness, or rather “complex coevalness”, as Browne calls the multi-directional time shared by people who live in different temporalities that may intersect without constituting a totalizing whole (Browne 2014, 41-43). Avoiding or attacking iconic personalities while paying attention to lesser-known women, meant focusing on more correlated figures and eliciting stronger emotional responses in the readers. The magazine thus reinforced the readers’ emotional connection with the feminist past it presented, and tried to invent a mode of transmission between feminists, or between women, that dismissed succession, verticality and hierarchy in order to promote coevalness, horizontality and empathy.

30Lucy’s account, for example, stands out as a first-person narrative, all the more so since it was part of a series of dialogues between mothers and daughters published in Spare Rib in 1974-1975. In this instance, the article was unsigned, a small introduction stated that Lucy was addressing her daughter but the daughter’s input and questions seemed to have been edited out, although they were still perceptible at the end of Lucy’s narrative, in the way she credited the WLM for liberating her when she must have been in her sixties: “Women’s Liberation was such a revelation to me. Let’s be free, be somebody in our own right, not just an adjunct to a man. That, to me, was marvelous”. We are also told that she “is in the same women’s group as her daughters, Joy and Liz”. The article closed on this enthusiastic elderly lady relating, with a wonderful sense of humour, how she read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in hospital and ended up recommending it to her (male) doctor (unsigned, 1975, 10). Provided with very little context, the readers were bound to adhere to her single, unique and subjective point of view. At the same time, they were urged to adopt the stance of Lucy’s addressee, that is, her daughter’s. This contributes to creating a strong emotional connection to Lucy, and further to blur the boundaries between the interviewer, the interviewee, the unnamed author and the readers, or between mothers and daughters.

  • 23 Spare Rib also stresses the continuity between generations of feminists by shedding light on period (...)

31Lucy’s carnivalesque inclination to subvert hierarchies, together with the sense of sisterhood and emotional connection she discovers, even with her own daughters, within the WLM, could exemplify the kind of relationship the magazine aimed to establish between generations of women and feminist activists. Spare Rib thus shows the WLM adopting the suffragists as their own sisters, and proceeds to assert that the discrepancies between the first and second waves are a myth. In their open letter to the suffragettes attending the official anniversary of women’s enfranchisement, they address them as “Dear Sisters”. Praised for their tenacity (“you were systematically attacked and worn down by the establishment”), they are said to participate in the same, ongoing struggle as younger women (Spare Rib collective 1978, 4).23 Neither worshipped as heroines nor even revered as mothers, suffragists are respected as sisters whose relevance to the present is constantly stressed.

  • 24 Regarding the role and value of objects in the suffrage movement see Barbara Green, Feminist Period (...)

32Specific objects, perceived as remaining traces of the past in the present can also crystallise the emotional and political connections with the feminist past.24 The handkerchief found in a Sussex village jumble sale, with the embroidered signatures of about fifty suffragette prisoners in Holloway is a case in point. In August 1977, it had a whole feature article entitled “Smashing Handkerchief”. Recapitulating the facts about the suffragettes’ 1912 window-smashing campaign, it related the enquiries that the author (presented, in the editor’s introduction, as “a feminist, Barbara Miller”) started in order to identify the signatures, and retraced the lives of the suffragettes who had been identified so far. Finally, the article appealed to the readers to participate in the quest, to seek and provide information about the forty other suffragettes, who also signed the handkerchief but whose lives had not been documented yet, ending with a list of their names.

  • 25 For an extensive study of the history of embroidery and how it has been linked to definitions of fe (...)

33The intimacy suggested by the handkerchief, an object meant to dry tears and a traditional token of love, reinforces the impact of embroidery. Seen as a traditional female art, embroidery was the topic of a few articles in Spare Rib over the same period. They highlighted its artistic dimension, which used to be fully recognised before it was superseded by (male) painting, but also its domestic, intimate quality, which made it one of the few modes of artistic expression available to women confined to the private sphere.25 The fact that some patient, unknown woman took the time to embroider about fifty signatures of prisoner suffragettes, some of whom were being forcibly fed in Holloway prison, does make the handkerchief a moving remnant of the past. In an interview published in February 1978 and signed Ann Brackx, a contemporary, feminist embroiderer admitted to actually shedding tears when she read about this handkerchief in Spare Rib, thus stressing its impact on the present.

  • 26 The handkerchief may have stronger emotional impact than a “relic” like the “breakfast loaf” brough (...)
  • 27 Feminist thinkers of the 1970s were very much aware of the politics of historiography, and temporal (...)

34Empathy seems to be paramount in the connection Spare Rib strived to establish between its readers and a shared feminist past. The fact that such a personal object still remains several decades later, when it can exert its full emotional impact and ultimately lead to asking the readers actively to participate in a collective research process, urging them to help write hitherto overlooked history, is also quite telling. History, then, is not supposed to be just written by specialists, from information gathered in official archives, and handed down to the next generation. It becomes a combination of narratives derived from the seemingly most insignificant, personal trace and, ideally, generated thanks to the personal, emotional involvement of a plurality of women.26 To the Spare Rib editorial collective, the historical was political because it was, indeed, personal. Such a conception showed how feminist generations are ultimately supposed to relate to each other by making and sharing a common time that is both lived and narrated. History thus becomes a poly-temporal, collective experience, in which generations can be conceived as overlapping spaces, rather than successive eras.27

  • 28 Krista Cowman sees this article on the handkerchief as a failure in feminist transmission: “In 1960 (...)

35As archive material bearing signatures, the handkerchief can be seen as a trace of the past in several respects. According to Browne, elaborating on Paul Ricœur’s considerations about the ontology of the trace in Time and Narrative, it establishes a form of nonlinear “two-way temporality”: “Traces of the past ‘spill forward’ into the present”, she writes, “yet the historical past is also ‘constituted backwards’ when traces are taken up and configured within a historical narrative.” She suggests feminists should be “open to the surprise and strangeness of the past, allowing the present to be interrupted and transformed through the re-emergence of the past in the form of the trace” (Browne 2014, 51).28

  • 29 Victoria Browne derives this analysis of “generational time” from Irigaray’s conception of non-oedi (...)

36In such non-linear types of temporality, generations are no longer part of a neat succession. Consequently, non-linear time tends to preclude any claim to a lineage and allows to eschew the traditionally male, Oedipal mode of transmission, and replaces it with a different, female, type of transmission, resting on a different kind of kinship (Browne 2014, 119-142).29 Providing a space and time when and where different feminists, past and present, can become kin, coexist and actually fight “shoulder to shoulder” at last, may be what Spare Rib constantly strived for.

37The way Spare Rib treated the history of the suffrage movement shows the contradictions in the relationship between the WLM and its suffragist forebears. The magazine certainly resorted to the popularization of history in order to create a common, shared, feminist memory for its readers, and thus reinforce a sense of continuity and community. Rather than providing its readers with “models” from the past, as Krista Cowman suggested, it endeavoured to create a generational space where the kinship between the feminists of the WLM and the suffrage movement no longer rested on lineage and succession, but belonged to a non-linear temporality and relied on affinity, shared experiences and mutual listening, which might be, at bottom, the very definition of sisterhood.

  • 30 Deborah Withers provides an in-depth analysis of the politics of transmission between the suffrage (...)

38Arguably, in this endeavour, it was helped by the nature of periodicals. Periodicals developed dramatically in the Victorian era, when time and history were broadly seen as constant, linear and masculine, when scientific, social and economic change still brought about a “seemingly monolithic ideology of time … shaped and reinforced by a masculinist perspective” (Murphy 2001, 3-4). Periodicals can be seen as enforcing this conception of time in an imperialist way (Stam 2008, 301-302). However, they are also inherently poly-temporal, since they can be envisaged as cycles as well as linear successions. Providing each reader with the same reading material, they moreover allow for widely different types of reading – continuous or discrete, public or private, at very different and generally, non-linear paces. As such, periodicals provide the “coevalness” needed to imagine alternative conceptions of temporality and history, and lend themselves to the elaboration of their corollary, female, versions of transmission. Providing the ideal space to create effective propaganda, develop emotional connections and constantly rework history, they also inherently lend themselves to a philosophical calling into question, or even to a radical, anthropological, transformation of the way we commonly experience time. This could explain why periodicals have been weapons of choice for feminists, even in contexts as different as the suffrage movement and the WLM, and may help reassess the recent digitisations that have turned Spare Rib into a very complex, layered and poly-temporal, virtual and material archive.30

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Anon., “Spare Rib Manifesto”, 1972., last accessed June 15, 2019.

Anon., “Lucy: Interviewed by her daughter Liz”, Spare Rib 31, January 1975, 6-10.

Alexander, Sally, “The Militant Suffragettes, Antonia Raeburn, Michael Joseph”, Spare Rib 13, July 1973, 42.

Brackx, Annie, “Subverting Sweetness… The Patriarchy through a Needle Eye”, Spare Rib 67, February 1978, 42-43.

Binard, Florence, “The British Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s: Redefining the Personal and the Political”, Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, [online] XXII-Hors Série, 2017., last accessed April 30 2019.

Brake, Laurel, Print in Transition, 1850-1910, London: Palgrave, 2001.

Boycott, Rosie, A Nice Girl Like Me, London: Simon & Schuster, 1984.

Browne, Victoria, Feminism, Time and Nonlinear History: A Polytemporal Approach, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014.

Cowman, Krista, “Carrying on a Long Tradition: Second-Wave Presentations of First Wave Feminism in Spare Rib c. 1972-80, European Journal of Women’s Studies 17 (3), 2010, 193-210, last accessed June 15, 2019.

Delap, Lucy, Di Cenzo Maria, Ryan Leila, Feminist Media History: Suffrage Periodicals and the Public Sphere, London: Palgrave, 2011.

Fabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Fleming, Suzy, Gloden Dallas, “Jessie”, Spare Rib 32, February 1975, 12-13.

Forster, Laurel, “Spreading the Word: Feminist Print Cultures and the Women’s Liberation Movement”, Women’s History Review 25, 2016, 812-831.

Gieve, Catherine, “Shoulder to shoulder: A Documentary, by Midge McKenzie”, Review, Spare Rib 42, December 1975, 36.

Green, Barbara, Feminist Periodicals and Daily Life, New York: Palgrave, 2017.

Green, Jonathan, Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground 1961-1971, London: Pimlico-Random House, 1998.

Harper, Paula, “Suffrage Posters”, Spare Rib 41, November 1975, 9-13.

Hemmings, Susan, “How the Vote Was Won”, Spare Rib 79, February 1979, 38.

Holledge, Jule, “The Lost Theatre”, Spare Rib 55, January 1977, 33-36.

Holledge, Jule, Innocent Flowers: Women in Edwardian Theatre, London: Virago, 1981.

Irigaray, Luce, Sexes et parentés, Paris: Minuit, 1987.

Holledge, Jule, Sexes and Genealogies, Gillian C. GILL (trans.), New York: Chichester, 1993.

Kean, Hilda, “Public History and Popular Memory: Issues in the Commemoration of the British Militant Suffrage Campaign”, Women’s History Review vol. 14, n°3-4, 2005.

Kristeva, Julia, “Le Temps des Femmes”, 34/44 Cahier de recherche de science des textes et des documents, 5, hiver 1979, 5-19.

Kristeva, Julia, “Women’s Time”, Jardine Alice (trans.), The Kristeva Reader, Toril Moi (ed.), New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Lenormand, Marc, “In-between Women’s Liberation and the Class Struggle: Linguistic and Visual Coding of the Uneasy Alliance of Feminism and Socialism in the International Socialist Women’s Periodical Women’s Voice (1972-1982)”, unpublished paper, ESPR-it 2018 conference, ‘Periodicals as In-between’, 27 June 2018, BNF-Inalco, Paris. Conference.

Liddington, Jill, “Who was Annie Kenney?”, Spare Rib 36, June 1975, 13-14.

Mckenzie, Midge, Shoulder to Shoulder, London: Penguin Books, 1975.

Maitland, Sara, “Radical feminism rears its Head”, Spare Rib 13, July 1973, 32.

Mayhall, Laura E. Nym, “Creating the “Suffragette Spirit”: British feminism and the historical imagination”, Women’s History Review 4:3, 1995, 319-344.

Miller, Barbara, “Smashing Handkerchief”, Spare Rib 61, August 1977, 10-13.

Mitchell, David, Queen Christabel, London: McDonald and Jane’s, 1977.

Modjeska, Drusilla, Rowbotham Sheila, “Dora Russell: Quest for Liberty and Love”, Spare Rib 54, December 1976, 32-35.

Murphy, Gillian, “The Women’s Library at 90’. Online post celebrating the Women’s Library anniversary”: 2016/06/15/the-womens-library-at-90/. Last accessed 15 June 2019.

Murphy, Patricia, Time is of the Essence: Temporality, Gender and the New Woman, New York: SUNY Press, 2001.

Pavard, Bibia, “Le magazine Spare Rib: un exemple de magazine féministe grand public (1972)”, Parlements, revue d’histoire politique (2019/1) 29, 171-182. Available online: Last accessed June 15 2019.

Parker, Roszika, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the making of the Feminine, London: I. B. Tauris, (1984) 2010.

Pearse, Maggie, “Letter, ‘Suffragette Saga’”, Spare Rib 4, August 1974, 15.

Raeburn, Antonia, “What Emily Did”, Spare Rib 1, May 1972, 3-5.

Raeburn, Antonia, Militant Suffragettes, London: Joseph, 1973.

Raw, Louise, Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History, London: Continuum, 2011.

Ricoeur, Paul, Time and Narrative vol. 1, Robert Czerny, Katherine Mclaughlin and David Pellauer (trans.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Rowbotham, Sheila, “Great individuals are always easier to contain than a political and social movement”, Spare Rib 24, June 1974, 16.

Rowbotham, Sheila, Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, London: Pelican, 1973.

Rowe, Marsha, Spare Rib Reader: 100 Issues of Women’s Liberation, London: Penguin, 1984.

Sebesteyen, Amanda, “67 years as a Feminist: Gwen Coleman talks to Amanda Sebesteyen”, Spare Rib 23, May 1974, 6-9.

Sebesteyen, Amanda, “The Suffragette Movement, by Sylvia Pankhurst, Queen Christabel, by David Mitchell”, book review, Spare Rib 67, February 1978, 38-39.

Smith, Angela, Re-reading Spare Rib, London: Palgrave McMillan, 2017.

Spare Rib Collective, “Editorial”, Spare Rib 73, August 1978, 3-4.

Stam, David, Stam Deirdre, “Bending Time: The Function of Periodicals in 19th Century Polar Naval Expeditions”, Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 4, Winter 2008, 301-322.

Stewart, Eleanor, “The Suffrage Pageant Play: Making and Performing Women’s History in Cicely Hamilton’s A Pageant of Great Women (1909) and Christopher St. John’s The First Actress (1911)”, Caliban 62, Winter 2020, 49-75.

Todd, Selena, “Models and Menstruations: Spare Rib Magazine, Feminism, Femininity and Pleasure”, Studies in Social and Political Thought 1, 1999, 18-34.

Wandor, Michelene (ed.), Once a Feminist: Stories of a Generation, London: Virago, 1990.

Winship, Janice, Inside Women’s Magazines, London: Pandora Press, 1987.

Withers, Deborah, Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

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1 Laurel Forster offers a good overview of 1970s feminist print culture, with a closer analysis of three representative periodicals, from the independent Shrew, to the more commercial Spare Rib, to the Socialist Workers Party-affiliated Women’s Voice (Forster 2016). For further study of the uneasy relationship between the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Socialist Workers Party, see Lenormand 2018.

2 Selina Todd was the first to study the contradictions between Spare Rib’s feminist aims and its commercial imperatives (Todd 1999).

3 1978 can be considered a cornerstone for reasons not pertaining to the Spare Rib editorial board or collective. It saw both the official commemorations of female suffrage in the United Kingdom and the last meeting in a series of eight yearly National Women’s Liberation Movement Conferences, in Birmingham, where disagreements became so heated that the meeting “ended in chaos and no one dared organise another after such an experience” (Binard 2017, 17).

4 A facsimile of the manifesto is now available online, on the British Library’s website:, last accessed June 15, 2019. Further enquiry into the way this text was circulated will be necessary. It was not part of the first issue of the magazine, at least not as a numbered page. The British Library does not indicate the provenance of the digitised copy on its website, nor do the specialists who mention or study the text (Smith 2017, Pavard 2019). It may have been either inserted in the first issue as a separate sheet or published in a different periodical.

5 Please note this study relies on the Spare Rib collection digitised by Jisc and freely accessible online here:
The figures mentioned in this article are approximations based on the online search engine, which is very useful but not always accurate. It does, however, give a reliable estimate of the number of references to the suffrage movement in
Spare Rib and its evolution over the years and, as will be demonstrated, bring to light the treatment of some famous feminist names. Krista Cowman, who was able to access the print version of Spare Rib, but is looking at a slightly longer period gives the following figures: “In 18 of the first 102 issues of Spare Rib (between 1972 and 1981) the 19th- and 20th-century suffrage campaigns appeared 19 times in six features, five reviews, three obituaries, two interviews, two news stories and one reprinted short story” (Cowman 2010, 198).

6 The BBC TV series Shoulder to Shoulder, chronicling the militant life of the Pankhurst family, seems to be a milestone in the representation of the first wave in British popular culture. Sheila Robowtham’s take on the first episode, published in Spare Rib 24, in June 1974 will be further analysed in this article. The TV series also led to the publication of a book of photographs from the archives of the suffrage movement, edited by Midge McKenzie, which seems to target a broad audience, and is reviewed in Spare Rib by Catherine Gieve (Gieve 1975).

7 1976 seems to be the exception but 1975 holds a record, with 3 feature articles.

8 Sadly, this article is not available online. It may be noted, however that this issue of Spare Rib offered a suffrage poster sale for Christmas, probably in an attempt to collect funds. Together with the TV series and the theatre plays reviewed in Spare Rib, this poster sale seems to confirm that the suffrage movement was, indeed, part of the cultural fabric of the 1970s. Krista Cowman, who read the piece in print, writes that it provides an innovative study of suffrage posters, as Harper shows they were meant to counter anti-suffrage claims that voting would make women mannish, but also pleaded the cause of working-class women (Cowman 2010, 202).

9 The “Fawcett Library” began as “The Library of the London Society for Women’s Service”, in a converted pub in Marsham Street in 1926. Founded by the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, which became the “Fawcett Society” in the 1960s, it aimed at preserving the history of the suffrage movement and providing documentation for newly enfranchised women. After the war, it was moved to Fawcett House at 27 Wilfred Street, Westminster, which is where Spare Rib journalists accessed the collections until 1977. It was also renamed “Fawcett Library” in 1957, in memory of Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who headed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society from 1897 to 1919. In an online presentation, the current curator of the collections at the LSE Library, Gillian Murphy, retraces later difficulties and relates how they became the Women’s Library.
See Last accessed June 15 2019.

10 The end of the second paragraph in the editorial reprises, as a quote, the derogatory male-chauvinist phrase already present in the title given to A. Reaburn’s article: “What we can do is reflect the questions, ideas and hope that this growing out of our awareness of ourselves, not as a ‘bunch of women’, but as individuals in our own right”.

11 Edith Alice Mary Hepburn, a.k.a Anna Wickham published a collection of poems entitled Songs with the Women’s Printing Society in 1913, which was a pretext for her husband to have her committed to a private asylum for a few months (see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Hepburn [née Harper], Edith Alice Mary [pseuds. Anna Wickham, John Oland], (1883–1947)”. Last accessed June 15, 2019.

12 The poem entitled “The Woman and Her Initiative” can be found in Selected Poems. Anna Wickham, London: Chatto and Windus, 1971.

13 See The Mirror, which reproduced some of the most famous covers of Spare Rib among which the one with the matchbox ‘Lucifer’.

14 These cover lines also play on the famous, cunning 1970s Virginia Slims cigarettes’ slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby”, which had previously recuperated feminist rhetoric for advertising purposes.

15 The Matchgirls’ strike started at the Bryant and May match factory in London, where a great majority of the workers were women, and about a third of them actually teenage girls. The chemicals they had to manipulate included sulphur, which accounts for the matches’ nickname, lucifers, and white phosphorus, which caused them to suffer from necrosis of the jawbone, or “phossy jaw” (Raw 2011). The awful working conditions triggered the strike, often depicted as one of the first instances of gender-specific industrial action.

16 For an extensive study of the suffrage press, see Delap (2011). Further enquiry is needed to understand why the Spare Rib collective selected these specific suffrage periodicals and what could explain the order in which they were tackled. However, this disregard for chronology, which is quite striking in an editorial probably meant to educate a broad readership, could be in keeping with the feminist conception of history that Spare Rib seemed to develop, as will be demonstrated.

17 Janice Winship offers a compelling analysis of these oppositions in the WLM, and more specifically in Spare Rib. She points to the coexistence of “two not easily reconciled strands – to put it crudely, one that demands ‘what about me?’ and the other ‘what about her?’” She notices: “The two strands derive from rather different political traditions: “the personal is political” from a 1960s libertarian politics with its stress on individual liberation from society’s repressive structures; the recognition of inequalities (and also the need for collective action) from a more socialist politics focusing on class hierarchy and working-class oppression.” (Winship 1987, 142)

18 Sheila Rowbotham (born 1943) was influential in the development of women’s history from the 1960s onwards as one of the founders of the History Workshop movement, promoting a history of the masses and the common people, as opposed to traditional “hero history”. As a socialist, she underlines the necessity of maintaining a feminist approach, which is why she criticised Sylvia Pankhurst in the same article: “Despite a male-dominated Labour and socialist movement, Sylvia resolved to take her feminism into the socialist movement. I think her feminism was first narrowed, and finally overwhelmed.” (Rowbotham 1974, 16). Krista Cowman, who provides an illuminating overview of the feminist historiography of the suffrage movement in the 1970s (Cowman 2010, 195-196), unfortunately fails to spot an article published in Spare Rib, and ironically entitled “Radical Feminism rears its Head” (Maitland 1973, 32), in which the contradiction between feminism and socialism within the History Workshop is explicitly discussed, thus showing that the magazine kept its readers informed of the latest developments in historiography, envisaged as a highly political topic.

19 Jill Liddington emphasizes this aspect of Kenney’s biography, focussing on her formative years in Oldham, the reasons why she left, and what happened there afterwards. It ends on a quote from the memoirs of a woman, who must have been just under 10 at the time, but remembers how Winston Churchill, then Oldham’s Liberal MP, was once met by a crowd of women demanding the vote in his constituency, “but after Annie Kenney left Oldham, to link up with the Pankhursts and London, everyone simmered down” (Liddington 14). Krista Cowman convincingly argues this is one of the instances in which Spare Rib reinforces a bias of traditional historiography, which tends to present the suffrage movement as metropolitan (Cowman 202).

20 Jule Holledge later became Professor of drama at Flinders University, Australia, and published a more extensive study of the AFL (Holledge 1981).

21 Krista Cowman also emphasizes this connection: “First and second-wave feminist histories shared common features. Both practised recovery, seeking historic precedents to legitimize present activities. Both interrogated aspects of women’s earlier opposition to patriarchy to shape and enhance contemporary organizational practices. Both sought outlets beyond the academy experimenting with forms such as visual presentations: Cicely Hamilton’s Pageant of Great Women (1909) prefigured Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party (1978)” (Cowman 194).

22 Some suffrage plays seemed to enjoy a revival in the 1970s. In February 1979, for instance, Spare Rib published a review of “How the Vote was Won”, “an hour-long piece of lively entertainment made up of series of sketches and songs originally used during the suffrage movement” (Hemmings 38).

23 Spare Rib also stresses the continuity between generations of feminists by shedding light on periods and people that feminist historiography had previously left aside. In December 1976, Sheila Rowbotham and Drusilla Modjeska devoted a feature article, “Dora Russell: Quest for Liberty and Love”, to the birth control campaigners of the 1920s and 30s, and showed how their commitment, which was obviously very relevant to the readers of the 1970s, evolved from the demands of the suffrage movement.

24 Regarding the role and value of objects in the suffrage movement see Barbara Green, Feminist Periodicals and Daily Life, especially chapter 2: “Votes for Women and the Circulation of Emotion” (Green 2017, 41-88).

25 For an extensive study of the history of embroidery and how it has been linked to definitions of femininity, see Parker 1984.

26 The handkerchief may have stronger emotional impact than a “relic” like the “breakfast loaf” brought from Holloway prison and exhibited under a small glass dome in the Museum of the Suffragette Fellowship (Kean 2005, 558). Such a piece of official history was to be kept in a shrine, and passed on to the next generation to be admired. It also reveals a taste for myth, inscribed within a Christian and/or teleological temporality. Examining the handling of suffrage political fictions by the WLM, Laura Mayhall writes that “[their] historical accounts failed to examine earlier narratives as political fictions, in some cases going to great lengths to establish Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst and their followers as feminist heroines with no blemishes” (Mayhall 1995, 333). Spare Rib’s editors, however, were downright iconoclasts in this respect. They openly targeted the religious and autocratic undertones in the suffragettes’ rhetoric. A picture showing suffragettes gathered around Christabel’s portrait, for instance, illustrates the review of her memoirs in Spare Rib, and the caption reads: “Adoring a portrait of the Absent Leader” (Sebesteyen, 1978, 39).

27 Feminist thinkers of the 1970s were very much aware of the politics of historiography, and temporality. Julia Kristeva’s seminal 1979 essay, “Women’s Time”, thus formulates one of the first representations of the history of feminism as successive generations or “phases”, but also opens up the possibility for them to be construed as spaces, rather than eras (Kristeva 1979).

28 Krista Cowman sees this article on the handkerchief as a failure in feminist transmission: “In 1960, one signatory, Zoe Proctor, published an autobiography detailing her life and that of her companion Dorothea Rock, another ‘missing’ prisoner. Miller’s ignorance of its existence suggests that even when women recorded their own activism such texts were so marginalized that they could be overlooked even within the context of feminist research” (Cowman 204). It is very tempting to venture a different version of this chain of events, and argue that Cowman herself, once faced with this trace, even within another trace (i.e. the handkerchief in the Spare Rib archive), three decades later, does heed Barbara Miller’s appeal and provides some of the missing information herself, if not to the original author, then to subsequent researchers, thus regenerating or reinventing the coeval space the handkerchief was supposed to create in the first place.

29 Victoria Browne derives this analysis of “generational time” from Irigaray’s conception of non-oedipal, female genealogies (Irigaray, 1993).

30 Deborah Withers provides an in-depth analysis of the politics of transmission between the suffrage movement, the WLM and the “third-wave”, taking the emergence of digital culture into account (Withers 2015). The differences between Krista Cowman’s earlier study and this take on history in Spare Rib partly stem from working on the print and digital archive, respectively.

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Bibliographical reference

Julie Sauvage, Making History: The Suffrage Movement in Spare Rib Magazine from 1972 to 1978Caliban, 62 | 2019, 135-157.

Electronic reference

Julie Sauvage, Making History: The Suffrage Movement in Spare Rib Magazine from 1972 to 1978Caliban [Online], 62 | 2019, Online since 10 July 2021, connection on 03 October 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Julie Sauvage

Julie Sauvage is an associate professor at the University of Montpellier and a translator. She holds a PhD on “Theatricality in Angela Carter’s novels” (University of Bordeaux). She has published several articles on novels and short stories by Angela Carter. Her interest in second-wave feminism has recently led her to reorient her research towards periodical studies.

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