Resistance through Words: Writing as Vocation


Postcard of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. Pethick-Lawrence founded and co-edited the "Votes for Women" newspaper with her husband Frederick in 1907. The Pethick-Lawrence household served as headquarters for the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), eventually becoming an unofficial hospital for the recovery of suffragettes recently released from prison.

A marvelously prolific writer of diaries, letters, fiction, non-fiction, newspaper columns, and political think pieces, Isabel Sieveking in her own time was largely known as a historical biographer. Her works include Memoirs and Letters of Francis W. Newman (1909), A Turning Point in the Indian Mutiny (1910), The Memoirs of Sir Horace Mann (1912), a well-reviewed travel memoir Autumn Impressions of the Gironde (1910), and one novel, The Great Postponement (1912).

 However, her writing and its "intuitive sympathies," as we have seen, also became a central instrument in her work "as a champion of women's rights" and the Suffragist movement for which "she lectured, wrote, and took an active part in...under the leadership of Mrs. Pankhurst and at one time, of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence." Her obituary goes on to say that "Only her associates in the Women's Social and Political Union know what they owe to her indomitable courage and remarkable gifts of speaking and writing." Although the WSPU primarily became known for its embrace of militant tactics, a break which eventually led Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to leave the organization for another, the WSPU's newspaper, Votes for Women, gave words a central place in the fight for equality.

The printed page became the political battleground on which women sought to gain public understanding and acceptance by fusing traditionally essentialist arguments about women's roles with radical claims about their rights.  For Sieveking personally, her writings on behalf of the cause welded together her own seemingly disparate identities, drawing upon her interests in religion, education reform, legal equality for women, and feminist freedom in personal choices.