A Celebration of Helen Crawfurd for International Women’s Day
Artist Lorna Miller was asked to submit four pages for an anthology of comic art about the Great War which will be published in France by L’Association in 2016. Her pages are going to be exhibited in two schools in France who are using the theme of the first world war to create their own comics and to learn about the visual arts, history, geography and English. Lorna will be visiting the schools to work with the children for a few days in April 2015.
“When I was asked to contribute to the French anthology on World War One, I assumed it would be mostly male French artists who would be submitting work. I decided I wanted to tell a story from a female perspective because when war is commemorated it is the story of the sacrifice and deaths of the men that dominates. As an artist I want to stand out from the rest. As a woman working in a male dominated medium, this isn’t difficult.
By coincidence, I found out that the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom Scottish branch, who were founded at the beginning of WW1, were holding their own birthday celebration in Edinburgh. Musician Penny Stone got us all singing together which I really enjoyed and I found Lesley Orr’s talk about Helen Crawfurd entertaining and fascinating. I knew a little about the rent strikes and Mary Barbour but Lesley really brought to life the peace activism driven by Helen and helped me to form a picture of the story I wanted to tell.
It’s important to acknowledge the men who played a part in the women’s fight for independence and how they helped to advance the women’s movement. Keir Hardy, the leader of the Independent Labour Party, was a supporter of the suffragettes and spoke up for them in Parliament. The newspaper Forward was the organ for the ILP. I really loved reading copies of it in the Mitchell library as it gave a clear understanding of their beliefs. It also voiced the concerns of the working people with their letters and poems and the cartoons were bitingly satirical against the Imperial ruler’s domination and corruption. Helen was able to continue pushing for change because she found a place within the ILP once she left the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society when they patriotically started campaigning for the war.
Helen Crawfurd had a fearless sense of injustice as did the other members of the ILP at this time. It was a driving force of the whole socialist movement, which elevated those who were part of it without discrimination. As I quote in my comic, there already was a war raging against the poverty and exploitation of the working classes. One of the results of Helen’s activism was the habit of handing out white feathers for cowardice was not as common in Glasgow. People were not divided by the war in the same way they were inother places. Those opposing the war were not the minority; their loyalty was to their homes and families and they did not want to needlessly fight otherworkers like themselves. The peace activism in Glasgow challenged the pro-war propaganda that started to be churned out. It was the first time graphic posters and emotive imagery had been used for this purpose and it had a massive impact on people’s thinking. It was popular to depict children in adult military clothes making jokes in a war scenario.
Where we have failed is by allowing this history to disappear. It is a history that shows that women in Scotland had an incredible role to play in the United Kingdom at this time, leading to hugechanges to everyday people’s lives. Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dollan, Mary Barbour and others were pioneers in grassroots activism because they had no other choice. The domestic lives of many women meant they couldn’t often join the public meetings that thousands of working men and women attended. This is why rent strike meetings were held outside front doors, down closes and in homes. It was a women’s and children’s political movement that changed legislation at a time when women couldn’t even vote for change.
Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in 2012 at Imperial War Museum London, on First World War centenary plans. He said, “
“For many, going off to war was a rite of passage. Many of them were excited; they would eat better than they had when they were down the mines or in thetextile mills. They would have access to better medical care, and many thought they’d be home by Christmas, anyway.”
If we only allow powerful leaders to speak on our behalf with no alternative narrative, their views become assimilatedinto public consciousness without challenge.
I am a married mum to a seven year old boy and I work part-time as a development worker, teaching gardening and craft skills to adults with learning difficulties with the charity CKUK. It has taken me over a year to complete this comic. I will be going to France to share the story of Helen Crawfurd when my own son will probably, like myself, never hear of her at his school in Glasgow.”
International Women’s Day was born in the socialist movement, when radical ideologies started to rise, with the greatexpansion and turbulence of the industrial world and huge population growth in the early 1900s. It has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year’ by the United Nations. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women’s advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life. IWD is now an official holiday in many countries around the world.