Susan Silvester (1878-1968): Politics and Protest

Such as with her education, Susan does not include much about her or her family’s political opinions or those of the people in her community. This could be that politics were not as inclusive in her time as they are now. For example, the effects of politics may not have felt for the residents of Minworth due to their rural, agricultural lifestyles. Susan does note, however, that her parents were ‘people of a radical and independent spirit’ (10). This is certainly shown in their self-sufficient lifestyle and with their DIY approach to life Susan and her family certainly believed in standing up for themselves and the community.

Susan does also mention that her mother ‘became a keen suffragette’ (10) most likely influenced by feminist figures at the time such as Emmeline Pankhurst who ‘between 1898 and 1905… focused ever more intently on the Votes for Women issue’ (Rollyson, 2003, 328). Susan goes on to explain how her family were ‘always politically liberal’ (10). Their political beliefs were most likely informed by their community-centric way of life with equality, decency and kindness making up their attitudes to other people, especially in their community. 

Gladice Keevil campaigning in 1908 at the Manchester North West byelection.

What I also find to be an interesting point in Susan’s memoir is when she talks about her friend Emma Birch, an ‘uncertificated’ primary school teacher who was involved in a dispute Susan recalls to be known as ‘The Minworth Council School Scandal’ (23). She writes how a new law had been passed that stated that a school or department with over 50 pupils required to be monitored by a certificated teacher. The education committee threatened to transfer Emma due to her uncertificated status but the managers of Minworth School wrote back ‘if Mrs Birch is removed… most of the infants will cease to attend, as they come only because their mothers know and respect the teacher’ (23), with villagers and more also protesting against the transferral of Emma. The dispute went on for some time, but Emma was eventually allowed to stay. 

Susan describes this as a story illustrating ‘the strong interest that local people took in their own affairs’ (23), but I believe it is also more than that. The working-class community of Minworth all shared their place in society, therefore subsequently relying on each other where society failed them. This is a story of the community pulling together to protest for what they believed in. The Minworth residents put more trust in their personal connections with Emma than what the law insisted. This ties in with the self-reliance that made Susan, her family and Minworth residents such interesting characters. Strong, liberal family values and strong bonds of trust and emotion were a key characteristic for the rural working-class.

Susan finishes this section about her friend Emma Birch by stating that Emma ‘was proud of being Victorian’ (24), suggesting that she treasured the values that she connected with her youth. I am led to believe that Susan, due to her memoir, was also proud of being a Victorian. Despite her poor background, the importance of community and cooperation amongst the Victorian working class was a significant aspect of Susan’s early life.

Bibliography

Rollyson, Carl. “A Conservative Revolutionary: Emmeline Pankhurst (1857-1928).” The Virginia Quarterly Review 79, no. 2 (2003): 325-34.

Silvester, Susan, ‘In a World That Has Gone’. pp. 31. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, Brunel University Library, Special Collection, 1:628, available at: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

Images Used 

Theguardian.com (Heritage images/Getty images)

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