Shedding some light on Letchworth’s little-known militant suffragettes on International Women’s Day

A suffragette-themed play put on by staff of the Spirella Company, called ‘When Eve Reigned’, which

A suffragette-themed play put on by staff of the Spirella Company, called ‘When Eve Reigned’, which told the story of our country ruled by women. - Credit: Archant

The dedicated team who trawl through collections of Letchworth artefacts each week are determined to shed some light on the town’s little-known militant suffragettes.

Garden City Collection curator Vicky Axwell with artefacts from the Women in Letchworth exhibition.

Garden City Collection curator Vicky Axwell with artefacts from the Women in Letchworth exhibition. - Credit: Archant

To coincide with International Women’s Day on Tuesday, the Garden City Collection held both a talk and a ‘hands on’ look through the archives based on the women of Letchworth.

A Google search may not muster up much on Rachel Peace, but as curator Vicky Axwell will tell you, she was one of the last women to be force-fed and was made an ‘example of’ by the home secretary who refused to release her under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

Her long term imprisonment on behalf of securing votes for women either led directly, or greatly contributed to, her being committed to an asylum.

Many famous suffragettes came to speak at Letchworth, including the Pankhursts and Annie Kenney – and the latter came to live in Letchworth later in life.


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Vicky’s sessions at the Garden City Collection – which holds 40,000 items on the town to discover – gave visitors an opportunity to view and handle paintings, photographs and documents.

Due to the sessions being an hour and a half in length, the focus was on the early history of Letchworth’s women, but Vicky insists that the message transcends a specific period of time.

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“The International Women’s Day theme this year is to Pledge for Parity – for equality among men and women,” she said.

“Our events concentrate on how women secured the vote to help make this true and how Letchworth, in its pioneering years, was a special place where women had more opportunity to contribute to the growing community.”

Don’t fret if you missed the talks on women in Letchworth, there is plenty of time and opportunity to discover more at the collection, which is housed in a barn conversion down a private road off Wilbury Hills Road, next to Hillcrest Park.

The team hold tours on the first Saturday of every month and ‘Collections Explorers’ handling sessions take place every first Thursday.

The tours are very popular so people are advised to book early by searching for Garden City Collection at www.eventbrite.co.uk or contacting the team directly at gcc@letchworth.com.

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