The second phase of our project has now started – this is when we take the historical material and ideas that we’ve gathered over the past few months and begin to think about how we can use it in our films. Firstly, however, both schools visited the new History Galleries at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery to see a fantastic display of items that belonged to Nellie Hall, a militant suffragette, and to see some films that Sima Gonsai had made for the galleries about the early history of Birmingham.
Nellie Hall display at Birmingham Museum History Galleries
Nellie Hall was born into a very politically active family – her father was a radical journalist and her mother was involved in the formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, when Nellie would have been around 10 years old. Nellie was involved in the fight for women’s right to vote from an early age – she was one of the suffragettes who came to Birmingham to protest against Prime Minister Asquith in 1913 and was arrested for smashing windows of the Grand Hotel, as Asquith delivered a speech. For this, she was imprisoned at Winson Green and underwent forcible feeding. Some of the items on display include a letter Nellie sent to her father, Leonard, when she was in Winson Green. We were particularly struck by Nellie’s remark that ‘no free spirit has ever been wrecked by a mean-spirited oppression yet. And mine won’t be either’. She also describes how she inherited from her parents ‘a love of liberty and the spirit to fight for it’.
We also learnt that during the First World War, when Nellie was living in Birmingham, she had written to recruiting officers requesting that she be allowed to train for the Home Defence. She received a somewhat patronising reply, advising her that the best way she could assist the war effort was by persuading any men she knew to enlist. It was clear to us how determined Nellie was during her fight for women’s rights and her story will provide much inspiration for our films.
Sima then talked us through the films that she had made for the galleries. Moving Here was a collaboration between the museum and students from Birmingham School of Acting which explores the theme of migration to Birmingham during medieval times and beyond, specifically focusing on why people moved here. Looking at these allowed the students involved in Fight for the Right to start to envision how they can use the research they’ve done in different ways to explore the history of the suffragette cause in Birmingham.