15 March 2018
On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, communities around the world were encouraged to #PressForProgress in pursuit of true gender equality and, as the UK also celebrated the centennial of women gaining the right to vote, St Mary’s School, Cambridge invited local Classworks Theatre group to perform a special re-enactment of a speech given by Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst’s in 1912.
Mrs Kate Latham, Director of Teaching & Learning at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, introduced the performance and urged students, from Year 6 to the Upper Sixth, to act as if they were in the original 1912 crowd, saying: “Some brave women gained the right to vote 100 years ago. Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the most significant suffragettes in history and, in 1912, she gave the speech that you are about to hear to a very large, very rowdy crowd at The Guildhall in Cambridge.”
In the re-enactment, students found themselves amongst ‘hecklers’ who disapproved of Mrs Pankhurst’s outspoken opinions about equality for women. The performance exposed some of the horrors women faced in the early 1900s and the relative privilege enjoyed by men at the same time. During the speech, Mrs Pankhurst – played by Mandi Cattell – revealed that she spent six weeks in prison as a result of visiting the House of Commons with a petition and refusing to move on when asked. She went on to explain that the same sentence was served by a prominent man in Bradford for committing atrocious acts.
Following the conclusion of the play, Mrs Latham said: “We are hopeful this has given our students a flavour of the determination of women, like Mrs Pankhurst, who were so fundamental in effecting change for the better. It’s always fascinating to see young people learning about how different life has been through history and especially important for them to understand how much has been achieved. We take this time to also remember that equality is not yet guaranteed – for many women and girls globally, as well as closer to home. We are confident that this experience will have both inspired our girls to understand the need to keep on ‘Pressing for progress’ over the next 100 years and hope it has also encouraged them to believe determination and passion can result in real positive change”.