Book Reviews Historical Fiction

Book Review: Jenni Murray’s ‘Votes for Women’

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A charming selection of Suffrage biographies which does nothing to challenge the popular narrative on the Suffrage movement.

Votes For Women!: The Pioneers and Heroines of Female Suffrage (from the  pages of A History of Britain in 21 Women): Murray, Jenni:  9781786074751: Books
Maybe the review by the Daily Mail on the front cover should have set alarm bells ringing?


This is a standalone extract from a much longer book – A History of Britain in 21 Women. It gives brief biographies of six women involved in the Women’s Rights and Suffrage movements from the Victorian to the Edwardian period: Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor. There’s a short introduction by the author, and charming portraits of each of the women at the start of the chapters. It’s not long – only around 120 pages, and it’s a small book with a large font, so I finished it in one sitting. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s a good introductory profile of six amazing women.


There’s not much regarding highlights to cover, other than it was a light and easy read and showed some depth of research. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include any WSPU radicals other than Emmeline herself, and I think there are far more interesting characters than the Pankhursts to write about. Too much has been made of Emmeline and Christabel’s contributions to Votes for Women, and the most interesting Pankhurst characters – Sylvia and Adela, are all too often shunted aside in favour of their more autocratic relatives. I’m only glad the author didn’t decide to cover Christabel – I have a lot to say about Christabel, and not much of it is good.

As a journalist, I don’t think Murray does enough to get under the skin of the historiography of the movement, especially in 2018. There has recently been a small wave of reckoning on Suffrage history – the materials, preserved by Suffragettes themselves in the early-to-mid 20th century, were often carefully vetted and audited to craft an image of the movement, and what the average person on the street will still picture if somebody were to say the word ‘Suffragette’ to them: white, middle-or-upper class, single, chaste, well-mannered and non-violent. Actually, many Suffragettes weren’t white, many Suffragettes were working class, many were married, many had active sex lives outside marriage or were employed in the entertainment industries, and many were violent. This book regurgitates the tired history of Suffrage by focusing solely on upper-middle or upper-class women, and completely omitting the radical violence of the WSPU. It was a cute read, but more needs to be done. It omits more than it tells.