Object Analysis: Anti-Suffrage Voodoo Doll

Anti-suffrage Voodoo Doll posted through a letterbox in West Wales ©Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The photo above shows an anti-suffrage voodoo doll which was posted through a woman’s letterbox in West Wales.[1] Not much is known about this item as it was sent anonymously;[2] however, we can guess that the recipient would have had some involvement with the suffrage movement or had shown sympathy for the cause.  The figure’s face is hand-drawn with ink and the face is purposefully drawn in an unpleasant manner to suggest that the women who campaigned for suffrage were hideous and unfeminine. The face also depicts a woman of an older age possibly to portray the character of an ‘old maid’ – a woman who never married.

The idea to present this doll as having an unpleasant look could have been done to suggest that women who campaigned for female suffrage were ugly old ladies that hadn’t found a husband. The idea to represent the doll as foul is used to threaten the intended recipient and insult the women campaigning for the vote.

The figure is homemade and has several pins sticking out of her body so arguably the intent of this object is to instil fear and the threat of violence. The recipient may have been known as a sympathiser or campaigner for the suffrage cause which could have angered members of the community. The tension and threat of violence that occurred during this period was widespread across Britain and not confined to Wales. Both the suffragettes and the anti-suffragists took part in agitation and violence during the Edwardian campaign and the growing media attention due to these violent episodes made female suffrage one of the top political issues of the time.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, female suffrage has been a main focal point of study amongst historians of gender and has received a large deal of analysis. Although much historiographical attention from the likes of Martin Pugh, Lisa Tickner and Laura Mayhall has been focused on the women advocating for enfranchisement,[3] little attention has been given to those women and men who opposed the vote.

Opposition to the movement in general histories of the suffrage campaign are only mentioned briefly  in their interactions with the suffrage movement itself, so an in-depth study of the opposition is often forgotten with historians preferring to focus on the often bigger and perhaps more exciting reform movement such as the movement for female emancipation in Britain. However, without an in-depth study of the opposition of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain, the full history of the movement will never be accurately documented.

In concurrence with Pugh, it would be wrong for historians to ‘minimise the role of the opponents of the women’s cause simply because they were on the losing side’.[4] It is not gender history if those responsible for documenting women’s history only focus on the women seeking rights and reform. The campaign for enfranchisement had a large opposition in parliament as well as within the realm of public opinion, so why has the opposition received such little attention? Brian Harrison and Julia Bush have both produced works that give a general overview of the national opposition taking the form of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League (WNASL) and the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage (NLOWS).[5] Although accounts such as these are some of the first academic studies of the opposition to female suffrage, they fail to provide a thoroughly detailed assessment of the movement.

There needs to be more work done within the realms of gender history and British history to accurately document the opposition to such movements as the suffrage campaign to accurately portray the right atmosphere and challenges that these women faced in gaining the vote.

[1] Anti-Suffrage Voodoo Doll, National Museum Wales, WA_SC 4.1.

[2] https://museum.wales/collections/online/object/bf12482e-ffee-35fb-b28d-2c609c5cdd7c/Anti-suffragette-doll/?field0=string&value0=anti-suffrage%20doll%20&field1=with_images&value1=on&index=0, accessed 30 July 2018.

[3] Martin Pugh, The March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage 1866-1914 (Oxford, 2000); Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: imagery of the suffrage campaign 1907-14 (Chicago, 1988); Laura E. Nym Mayhall, Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain 1860-1930 (Oxford, 2003).

[4] Pugh, March of the Women, 165.

[5] Brian Harrison, Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain (London, 1978); Julia Bush, Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain (Oxford, 2007).

[6] Lucy Delap, ‘Feminist and anti-feminist encounters in Edwardian Britain’, Historical Research, 78(2005), 379.[


St Dwynwen’s Day: The Forgotten Welsh Valentine’s Day.

St Dwynwen of Llannwyn

St Dwynwen’s Day is not a well known Welsh holiday, in fact many Welsh people today forget about this ancient celebration. So it is not a surprise that the rest of the world is unfamiliar with the story of St Dwynwen.

Who was she? Well Dwynwen was one of the twenty-four daughters of Brychan Brycheiniog, the king of Breconshire in the 5th century and she was widely regarded as the most beautiful in the kingdom. Story tells that Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, but unfortunately her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else. Maelon was so outraged that he raped Dwynwen and left her. Dwynwen, distraught, prays to fall out of love with him.

In a woods she ran to in distress, Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who appeared carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice. God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen. First she wished that Maelon be thawed from the ice, second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers and third that she should never marry. All three were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to God’s service for the rest of her life.

Dwynwen became a nun, fulfilling her wish to never marry. She founded a convent on Llanddwyn, off the west coast of Anglesey, where a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage after her death in 465AD. Visitors to the well believed that the sacred fish or eels that lived in the well could foretell whether or not their relationship would be happy and whether love and happiness would be theirs. Another tradition claims that if the water boils while visitors are present, then love and good luck will surely follow. Remains of Dwynwen’s church can still be seen today.

St Dwynwen’s Church remains in Anglesey

St Dwynwen’s day today is considered a type of Welsh valentines day due to Dwynwen’s wish that God fulfill the dreams of lovers as we are supposed to cherish those around us and remember Dwynwen’s selflessness and wish for love to be spread to all. Most people who celebrate today mainly use St Dwynwen’s Day as a way to celebrate Welsh culture singing hymns and eating Welsh delicacies. No matter how you celebrate the day, St Dwynwen’s story deserves to be told and remembered.

Information courtesy of St Fagan’s and Historic UK.


Day of Dissent: Ian Hislop’s Exhibition at the British Museum

I recently visited London in order to graduate from King’s College London, saying goodbye to the student part of my life and saying hello to the hopefully short ‘unemployed historian’ chapter. As I was spending a week in the city I desperately want to get back to I decided to put on my tourist gear and head to the museums (a hobby I regrettably never took full advantage of whilst living in London). My first stop was to see Ian Hislop’s exhibition “I Object”: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent and I was not disappointed.

If anyone doesn’t know, Hislop is an entertaining character in the British media having been the editor of renowned satirical paper ‘Private Eye’ since 1986 and for his witty, cutting comments on ‘Have I Got News For You’. Naturally, since satire and political lampoonery have shaped his career, it seems very fitting that he chose to create an exhibition on dissent and resistance all over the world, hand choosing objects, artwork and clothing that have defied religions, governments and wars throughout history. The objects that show dissent in this exhibit hail from a wide range of countries across very different eras and regimes. The acts of dissent as well vary from possible mistakes such as a misprint ‘thou shalt commit adultery’ in a King James Bible, to outright political statements such as a coin defaced by the women’s suffrage movement stamped with the slogan “votes for women’. As well as choosing the objects himself, Hislop has plaques around the exhibit telling the audience the reason why he chose these specific objects and asking questions about how we might oppose the status quo in our everyday lives. He interacts with the public throughout giving the reader a chance to think deeper about the objects on display and how dissent is shown in national media today.

These photographs from the exhibit above are just a small number of objects on display at the exhibit. The plate ‘Say yes to vodka! Papa Mikhail says no to vodka!’ from Russia around the year 1991 reproduces a Soviet-era anti-alcohol poster from the 1950s. The plate satirises the temperance movement of the 1980s instigated by Gorbachev. This type of satire is perceived to have been made after the collapse of the Soviet Union as an act of blatant opposition such as this would have no doubt had dire or even lethal consequences.

The image of the Hindu goddess Kali shows a very popular act of political dissent of creating images where a figure ‘wears the enemy’ to show violence and victory. The image, estimated to be created around 1895, shows the goddess of destruction wearing a necklace of severed heads to signify the death of the ego. The heads being painted akin to European skin tone and fashion can be seen to signify the politicians of colonial powers as the Indian people start to form a fight for independence. This act of sedition, showing Kali to represent all of India defeating the British colonisers is a great image to represent the tensions in India at the time.

Trump. Oh god I know I know, everything in the media today is all about Trump since he won in 2016 so it would be irresponsible not to include an object of dissent from the Tump era. On January 21st 2017, women from all over the world gathered in cities to march against Donald Trump being elected to the highest office in the United States. One of the main reasons why women marched all over the world was for his derogatory comments and actions towards minorities, disabled people and women. The infamous “grab her by the pussy” comment sparked outrage from women across the globe. One act of defiance in the march was the wearing of pink ‘pussy’ hats which aimed to reclaim the word as a form of empowerment and show that women can and will fight these comments and injustices. This modern act of defiance sparked other movements such as the Me Too campaign which highlighted sexual assault across the globe and sought to hold those accountable for their crimes.

My favourite piece from the exhibition however, was one that directly poked fun at the British Museum itself. This piece of wall art was created by the infamous graffiti artist Banksy showing a seemingly primitive drawing of a man with a trolly going out to fetch a killed buffalo. This ‘cave painting’ fragment was hung in the British Museum unbeknownst to the museum staff for three days. It was even given a fake identification number and label mimicking the other labels at the museum. Part of the label reads that the painting was created by a Banksymus Maximus stating that the majority of his work has not survived due to “zealous municipal officials who fail to recognise the artistic merit and historical value of drawing on walls”. The museum was alerted to this fake by Banksy’s website and it is a perfect representation of dissent at the expense of the museum.

The exhibit is a must see for anyone who enjoys satire and resistance to the status quo and depicts both funny and very serious acts of defiance to regimes around the world. It teaches us that we should always question our governments and not just willingly accept the status quo if it does harm or promote injustice. It is a love letter across the ages to those who sought to have their voices heard and defy those who ruled them no matter how covert or outrageous. It is a homage to satire and resistance telling the audience that there should always be debate and opposition to make the world a more learned place.

(All images were taken at the British Museum and all objects belong to the museum. The exhibit ‘I Object: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent’ is in the British Museum until the end of January)