Lottie Martin’s autobiography Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds does not engage with great political themes. On the whole, we can see how Lottie’s memoir is concerned with many gendered specific themes of the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries. These themes surround, predominantly, schooling, domestic life, employment and life during the war.
By 1832, the working class had been made. Yet we can see how there were general fears of the lower class in terms of politics. In a debate over enfranchisement of the working men (1866-7) one MP states:
‘If we will not admit the Working-men into the great school of Public Life, we leave them to the free exercise of their instincts and their passions: if we will not teach them political wisdom, they will teach us political disaster’[i]
We can see therefore how politics was a major factor within Britain during the nineteenth century; political strategies needed to be in place for fear of ‘political disaster’.
Lottie recalls during her childhood how ‘there were only two parties in those days the blues and the yellow, Tory and Liberal’. However, through one political study, British Politics, one can understand how the ‘two party’ structure has changed in contemporary society; this books refers to it as the ‘decline of the two party system’[ii].
British Politics also informs us: ‘following agitation by the suffragettes, women had secured the vote on the same terms as men by 1928’. [iii] Therefore, one could speculate how Lottie’s autobiography – set during the years 1899-1920 – would not be greatly concerned with politics as it was a male-centred subject.
With women becoming politically active around the year of 1928, it would be assumed that they were not generally engaged with politics, despite the introduction of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave women over 30 the vote provided they, or their husband, met property qualification. However, Lottie vividly remembers how women participated in politics within her community:
‘About a week before the day the candidate’s wives or their friends would visit the people asking for their vote’
The wives and friends of political activists would go to working-class homes to promote their party. Although women were not given the vote at this time, they were used as a promotion device to encourage other working-class families to vote.
Lottie remembers with surprising clarity when one woman came to her house and tried to persuade her family to vote for her husband’s political party:
‘After informing my mother of the wonderful advantages she would have if her particular party was voted in, she prepared to leave with a persistent appeal: ‘Now Mrs Martin do your best to persuade your husband to vote for us … you will never regret helping us into power’
From this rather humorous retelling, we can see how this particular woman used all her powers of persuasiveness to gain a vote. But what is particularly interesting in terms of political history is that the woman said: ‘do your best to persuade your husband’. This woman-to-woman talk was a pragmatic way to persuade Mrs Martin to convince her husband to vote. Although Mrs Martin could not vote, she was required to use all her ‘womanly powers’ to influence her husband’s decision.
Yet this act of persuasiveness seems to have been in vain. Lottie continues: ‘with these final instructions she left with a very good morning Mrs Martin, and my mother answered Good Martin, Good Martin with great emphasis on the Martin’. Lottie’s mother subtly ridicules this woman with her response. The pun on ‘morning’ with ‘Martin’ dramatises the comical nature of the persuading woman.
Lottie also explores a further political image embedded on her memory: Voting Day:
‘Voting day was the day to remember, from early morning until late in the evening the boys would parade the streets singing in praise of their particular party, and sending out derogatory parodies about their opponents.’
Again, this seems to be another spectacle which Lottie remembers with clarity. As a child Lottie would not have understood the implications of Voting Day but was more interested with the ‘parade’ and ‘singing’. There is also a sense or political rivalry as these men sent out ‘derogatory parodies about their opponents’ perhaps raising curiosity to the mind of young Lottie Martin.
Indeed, the introduction of certain political acts benefited the working-class. One particular act was the Old Age Pension. Lottie writes:
‘As I look backwards in time I think 1909 must have been the beginning of change for ordinary people. In January of that year the Old Age Pension came into operation. All persons over the age of 70 years were entitled to this benefit’.
Lottie celebrates this new introduction for workers, deeming it a ‘wonderful step forward’. Yet she seems to write in a slightly critical tone when she continues: ‘the pension of 10/6 was more than acceptable to all the old who lived to receive it’. Indeed, those who ‘lived to receive it’ were very few in numbers as years of hard labour inevitably increased early death rates.
Another celebratory tone to Lottie’s narrative focuses on the introduction of free education. Due to the Elementary Education Act of 1870, education was made available to everyone. Lottie recalls:
‘My mother was delighted for despite the fact that she could neither read or write herself she had a great desire that her children should benefit from the free education now a compulsory law and always sent us to school regularly’.
Indeed, we can see the difference between Lottie’s generation and her mother’s generation. Lottie’s mother is ‘delighted’ with the fact that her children could attend school and increase their literacy rates; an education that Lottie’s mother did not receive.
Yet not all families were entirely appreciative of compulsory education. Lottie writes: ‘at this time many working class families failed to realise the value of the advantage of going to school’. Perhaps education was not the main priority for working-class families. What was more important, however, was that children at a young age would go to work to pay for living costs.
Although Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds is not a memoir rooted with deep political meaning, the reader still gains a different perspective on politics. Most political activists would write about strong, emotional themes, but Lottie explores the almost theatricality of politics, seeing it as a ‘parade’ with grown men and women ‘dancing’ in the streets to promote their particular political party.
[ii] Robert Leach, Bill Coxall, Linton Robins British Politics (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998) p.85
[iii] Robert Leach, Bill Coxall, Linton Robins British Politics (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998) p.399
Barker, Lottie, ‘My Life as I Remember It, 1899-1920′, TS, pp.70 (c.31,000 words). Brunel University Library
Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) vol.2 no.37.
Hill, Paula Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds by Lottie Martin (Nottingham: 125 Bramcote Lane, 1985)
Leach, Robert; Coxall, Bill; Robins Linton British Politics (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998)