Summerlee Suffragette Stories 


CELEBRATING a century since the first UK women gained the vote, Summerlee Museum is hosting Hard Fought Victory – a play on the suffrage movement – with school matinees from 5-8 March and a public performance on 9 March from 12pm.

Performances are free, thanks to grant funding from the Scottish Government’s Centenary Fund, as the play tells the story of the campaign for women’s suffrage in Scotland.

Writer and Director, Sarah Jane Quinn said: “Everybody knows about Emmeline Pankhurst, but there are a lot of Scottish women who got involved that people know less about.”

“The Scottish suffrage movement was partly distinguished for its work in the Scottish Women’s hospitals – which were created during the war, by Elsie Maud Inglis, showing how women could work together to achieve social change.”

The play uses real life events told through fictionalised characters; two of whom – Doctor Green and Mary Richardson- are played by actor Betty Valencia.

She said: “Doctor Green is taking part in the Suffrage movement, but from a place of privilege; she is part of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. Her way of petitioning is writing letters and she has a certain level of contempt for the women who have been using violent forms.”

Her second character, Mary Richardson, does not share these views.

She explained: “Mary is an English suffragette in prison, and she has been talking about how the women have been force-fed, when they were on hunger strike; this is one of the darker parts of the performance, because you hear her explain how she would rather die than let her protest go unheard.”

Bringing light relief to the drama is the character Nosey Jane, played by Jamie Lee Aitken.

She said: “Nosey Jane is quite gossipy, she has her fingers in all the pies and knows everything about what is happening in Coatbridge in this moment in time.”

Also capturing the suffrage movement zeitgeist is Jamie Lee Aitken’s character Violette.

Jamie Lee Aitken explained: “Violette is trying to juggle being a housewife and being a working woman, she is finding it quite exciting, but also it unfair that they are not getting paid as much, or getting the recognition that they deserve, so that is why she gets involved in the suffragette movement.

Getting everyone involved in the drama was key to Sarah Jane Quinn’s plans, as she wrote the interactive play.

She said: “Weather permitting the play will start with the audience on the tram, stopping off at a certain area where we will perform the first scene, and from then on in its going to be a walking tour up until the last scene when it will be back on the tram to the museum entrance.”

“At one point the tour will split in two, at the cottages, and one group will go one way and another will go the other, as two actors will be in separate cottages, doing different scenes at one time; then the groups will switch.” 

Hard Fought Victory is presented en promenade, using the displays, buildings and trams of Summerlee as a backdrop to the performance.

Jamie Lee Aitken said:  “You get the excitement of coming in and seeing the actors in the space that they would have naturally lived in, like Summerlee’s period cottages. Kids and the public will get to come in and interact.”

Betty Valencia added: “The play is very unique, I don’t know where you can find something as immersive as this, and it’s a mix of history, facts, and dramatic performance on a live set.”

“Here you have the experience in the period clothes, working with period props, so it is very exciting!”

For more information on Hard Fought Victory visit the CultureNL website.