The best books on the lives of suffragettes

Who am I?

I've written and taught about language and gender for many years and I've always been interested in gender politics more broadly. But I wanted to tell a story about suffragettes, something fun to read that would hold the attention and make people think. Because people forget, or just take for granted, what women went through. In the process of writing Sally Heathcote Suffragette, and since, I've accumulated masses of books dealing with women's suffrage. This is a small selection of some I enjoyed. I hope you do too!

I wrote...

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

By Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (illustrator), Bryan Talbot (illustrator)

Book cover of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

What is my book about?

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for the vote. A tale of loyalty, love, and courage, set against a vividly realized backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a common housemaid swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. As the hunger for change grows within a culture of rigid social mores and class barriers, Sally and thousands like her rise up to break the bonds of oppression at the risk of ostracisation and violence. 

Costa-award winners Mary and Bryan Talbot and acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth have crafted a graphic novel of stunning depth, gripping drama, and lavish visual detail that brings history to life.

The books I picked & why

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Suffragette Sally

By Gertrude Colmore,

Book cover of Suffragette Sally

Why this book?

This amazing account of the Edwardian struggle for women's suffrage was published in 1911, in the thick of it. While doing research for Sally Heathcote Suffragette, I discovered a review of it in Votes for Women, the official paper of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). It weaves the stories of three fictional women into what were then very recent events in suffrage history, bringing them to life. The Sally in the title, like my Sally, is a maid-of-all-work A coincidence? Yes, but not really surprising. Domestic service was the most likely form of employment for a woman of no means before the First World War; Sally (from Sarah) was a common name then and it alliterates well with ‘suffragette’.

Falling Angels

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of Falling Angels

Why this book?

For modern fiction dealing with Edwardian women's suffrage, I recommend Chevalier's moving account of two girls growing up as the new century begins. It's a beautiful, atmospheric handling of the turbulent period of social change. The Victorian idealisation of the 'Angel of the House' falls from grace and the outcome is heartbreaking.

Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green: London 1906-1914

By Diane Atkinson,

Book cover of Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green: London 1906-1914

Why this book?

Purple, white, and green are the colours of the WSPU regalia. Suffragette ephemera fascinates me, especially their merchandising (soap, chocolate, board games, chinaware - all sorts of things). I first heard of it at a presentation by Diane Atkinson. This book is the catalogue of an exhibition she put together when she was a curator at the Museum of London. An excellent resource, it's full of images with pointers for where to find more. Ephemera is great for giving a sense of period, so I asked the artists on the graphic novel to cram in all they could.

The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison

By Ann Morley, Liz Stanley,

Book cover of The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison

Why this book?

That suffragette who 'threw herself' under the King's horse. Supposedly. Emily Wilding Davison was trampled on the Derby Day racecourse at Epsom on June 4th, 1913. Two WSPU flags were found pinned inside her coat. She died on July 8th, without having regained consciousness. When she was carried off the racecourse, she also had her pockets full. She had the return part of a rail ticket, notepaper, envelopes, and stamps, a race card marked with her fancies up to the fateful 3 pm race, and her helper’s pass card for the WSPU Summer Festival in Kensington, valid for 2.30 to 10.30 pm that day.

It isn’t clear that she was planning suicide. Indeed, she’d placed bets on horses and arranged to be an official at the festival later on. If this kind of detail fascinates you too, this book is a must-read.

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye's Suffrage Diary

By Elizabeth Crawford,

Book cover of Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye's Suffrage Diary

Why this book?

If you're looking for a meticulous account of the day-to-day life and work of a women's suffrage campaigner, this is the book to turn to. I was intrigued by the diarist's accounts of well-known historical events, such as the funeral procession for Emily Wilding Davison, which she participated in, even though she herself was a constitutional suffragist rather than a militant suffragette. The diaries are edited by a leading researcher and archivist in the field and full of explanatory notes that contextualise the daily entries.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in suffragettes, social class, and women?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about suffragettes, social class, and women.

Suffragettes Explore 20 books about suffragettes
Social Class Explore 51 books about social class
Women Explore 346 books about women

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Stories in Stone, Lincoln in the Bardo, and The Loved One if you like this list.