This history chronicles the militant, bodies-in-the-street tactics of the women's suffrage movement in Great Britain, with special attention to the contributions of the working-class suffragettes who fought for the right to vote.
Diane Atkinson’s detailed and authoritative Rise Up, Women!...seems to me to be pretty much a definitive history of the suffragettes ... Given both the length of her book (the text runs to almost 700 pages) and the nature of the sometimes internecine squabbles of the Pankhursts and their associates, the only tiny steps forward the campaign was at times able to take, it’s a huge achievement that her narrative, so crisp and clear, is never less than enthralling; it rushes along with all the speed of the motorbike in whose sidecar the released Kitty Marion would later niftily elude the police.
There are hundreds of mini biographies packed in here, and more often than not they begin with an unconventional girl, working to support herself, sometimes married to a free-thinking, liberal-leaning man, who sees injustice in her life and her world and looks around for a way to change it. She goes to a meeting, makes like-minded friends ... The cumulative effect of these stories is a gathering wave, as more and more women enlist in the WSPU’s campaign of publicity-seeking civil disobedience and the male authorities struggle to respond ... Atkinson’s book helps put working-class women back in their rightful place at the center of the British suffrage story ... A patchwork of compromises in practice, women’s suffrage, when it was won, was undoubtedly a sweeping moral victory.
Rise Up, Women! aims to be a definitive history of the suffragettes as well as shining a spotlight on the role of working-class women in the campaign. Atkinson’s admiration for the courage of her subjects radiates throughout the book, but stops short of hagiography ... The ambition for completeness renders the book at times a dense read, and Atkinson’s habit of naming almost every individual present at any given event, presumably to commemorate all those women involved in the WSPU, slows the pace. However, her desire to shed light on the contribution of working-class suffragettes bears rewards ... Atkinson exhorts the reader to salute the suffragettes. She is right to do so. It is easy to assume that women’s suffrage was inevitable, but that should not detract from the efforts and losses undertaken by the pioneers so vividly described in this account.