Sylvia Pankhurst (and the Fidget Spinner): 2017


I like the title to this Blog; it has the air of a 1930s Agatha Christie murder mystery.  What is the connection between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner?  Is there a link between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner?  Will we ever find out?

The link between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner might be tenuous but there is a link.  A couple of days ago, I received, unexpectedly and surprisingly, two gifts.  It is not my birthday; I am not celebrating anything and it certainly isn’t Christmas but there is a kind of link about how I got them.  Hamish came to stay and had a couple of Fidget Spinners; although I’d heard about them, I’d never seen them and certainly never seen one in action.  Hamish gave me a demonstration.  I was fascinated.  A couple of years ago, I would never have been able to go near one because it would have set off a stream of epileptic seizures but, with the aid of good medication, I could enjoy the pleasure of a Fidget Spinner.  Hamish is really good at getting it spinning for very lengthy periods; he let me have a go and, while I managed the technique, I couldn’t get it to spin for long periods.  It obviously takes practice.  The following day, Hamish was carrying a Fidget Spinner and said he would like to give me it because he thought I could learn to use it, with practice.  I was delighted and it was his better one, reminding me of the Falkirk Wheel.  I have been taking delight in this ever since, using it while I research my Tea Towel Blogs, relaxing and focusing.  I am so pleased with this gift; I know how difficult it is to give away part of a valued collection.

The interesting thing about the Fidget Spinner is that there is controversy surrounding it.  Catherine Hettinger, a chemical engineer, supposedly invented it in 1993 and had a patent on it as a ‘Spinning Toy’.  She let the patent lapse in 2005 because she could not find a commercial partner.  In 2014, Scott McCoskery ‘invents’ the same thing, to cope with his fidgeting in meetings, gets it patented, advertises online  and reaps the financial rewards; Catherine Hettinger has no claim on any royalties.  Life is unfair; and it is a woman, in this case, that life is unfair to.  Hamish has since sent me a video, showing me how long he can keep the Fidget Spinner going for, putting me to shame but I am still practising!!

So, where does Sylvia Pankhurst fit into this story?  On the same day that Hamish gave me a Fidget Spinner, Luke sent me a tea towel through the post.  I can always spot a tea towel in the post, that thin plastic envelope, that feel of material through the packaging.  I had no idea what it was going to be.  Look at it! Beautiful, maroon, striking, thick cotton and Sylvia Pankhurst with a great quote: a quote that says something we would all believe in but a million miles from where we are today.  I have the Votes for Women and Emmeline Pankhurst tea towels but, for me, Sylvia is the Pankhurst that I love most; the Pankhurst that challenged the mould.  Sylvia was a suffragette but didn’t agree with the stance her mother and sister (Emmeline and Christobel) took in relation to the First World War: they backed the war effort, she didn’t and attended the International Women’s Peace Conference in 1915 in The Hague.  Sylvia wanted to continue campaigning for Women’s Suffrage during the war but the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) didn’t.   She refused to enter into a marriage contract and change her name.  When she was pregnant, she refused to marry her partner and was  disowned by her mother.  She argued with her mother about WSPU support for conscription, and support for what she saw as a middle-class cause. The WSPU did not link itself to any political party while Sylvia felt they should back the Labour Party, and did join herself.

After 1928, when all women achieved the vote, Sylvia continued campaigning – for Maternity Pay, Equal Pay and Child Care Facilities and we still haven’t achieved that.  More than that Sylvia became a staunch supporter of anti-fascism and anti-colonialism.  She supported Haile Selassie in fighting the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and was invited to live in Ethiopia in 1956; she died, and was buried, there in 1960, an ‘honorary Ethiopian’.

Sylvia was thrown out of the WSPU and the Communist Party because she did not conform to all their policies.  I love that rebellious nature.  However, Sylvia also trained as an artist; she designed all the posters, banners, pamphlets etc for WSPU.  In 1907, she toured the north of England and Scotland, painting working class women in their places of work.  I think these are amazing, and well-executed, paintings and really demonstrate her commitment to working class women and their rights.  Brilliant!

Sylvia Pankhurst was the subject of controversy even after she died.  There is a statue of Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst outside the Houses of Parliament, near the Victoria Tower Gardens, recognising their work for Women’s Suffrage.  House of Lords has always blocked any movement to erect a statue to Sylvia Pankhurst because of her opposition to the First World War, even with the support of Betty Boothroyd, the then Speaker of House of Commons.  The centenary of women achieving the vote, in 1918, has raised the issue of a statue once more and it will be based on Clerkenwell Green in Islington, recognising her work with the women of East London.  The campaign highlights her significant role in the rights of women.  Roger Chadwick, Chairman of the Funding Committee said “Sylvia Pankhurst was a remarkable woman.  Her work paved the way for London to become the most dynamic and exciting City in the world because of the diversity it welcomes and encourages.  She knew then what we all recognise today: that our strength comes from embracing and valuing people irrespective of their sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, race or religion”.

I just want to thank both Hamish and Luke for their gifts; that was genuine kindness which gave me a great deal of pleasure; being able to use a Fidget Spinner while reading up on Sylvia Pankhurst has been such a joy.  What great memories while I wipe up.



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