We often find hidden gems in the collections in the most unexpected places.
This is a photograph in our maritime collections of a group of people in 1907 inspecting a trawler at Pontoon Dock No. 2 in Aberdeen Harbour.
The trawler is the Ben Rossal, a newly built steam trawler that was to have a varied career before finally being scrapped in 1967.
If you look closer at the picture it can tell us a very different story to the one that seems to be the focus of the image. On the right you can see some text has been painted on a fence. The text reads “Votes For Women Meeting Here To-Day Miss Helen Fraser”.
The Women’s Social and Political Union was established in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst. The aim of the organisation was to ensure all women got the vote.
Helen Fraser was a Glaswegian artist recruited to the WSPU in 1906 after hearing a stirring speech by Teresa Billington-Greig.
Fraser quickly devoted herself to the cause and became organiser for the WSPU in Scotland.
The meeting being advertised at the harbour was most likely one of a series, held by Fraser and Billington-Greig in January 1907, to encourage people not to support the Liberal candidate in the upcoming by-election.
Although many Liberal Party members were supportive of the Suffrage movement, the party did little to back this up in their policies and actions. The WSPU policy was to oppose all Liberal candidates regardless of their individual views on the suffrage debate. Their campaign in Aberdeen clearly had an impact – the Liberal majority was reduced from more than 4,000 to under 400.
The Aberdeen public was engaged in the lively debate. Fraser said the Aberdeen gatherings were some of the most intellectual audiences she had addressed.
Fraser’s words struck a chord with local women, and as a result, a local branch of the WSPU was set up in Aberdeen in 1906. Caroline Phillips, a journalist for the Aberdeen Daily Journal, became honorary secretary of the group and she developed a close friendship with Helen Fraser.
Fraser became disillusioned with the militant tactics that were used by the WSPU in their campaign for the vote.
In 1908 she was asked to resign from the WSPU.
Later that year she joined the National Union of Suffrage Societies, which was dedicated to achieving their means through more peaceful and law-abiding ways.
When you come across old photos, don’t forget to take a closer look – in case there is a hidden story in there.
Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums:
- Aberdeen Art Gallery (reopening autumn 2019)
- Aberdeen Maritime Museum (open 7 days, admission free)
- The Tolbooth Museum (open 7 days, admission free)
- Aberdeen Treasure Hub Museum Centre
For visiting information go to www.aagm.co.uk
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