Women and Power - Challenging Histories at Kedleston Hall

Portrait of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

We’re telling the story of Lord Curzon’s involvement in the anti-suffrage movement, as part of a wider programme highlighting the fight for suffrage by many women during the early part of the 20th century and their achievement in finally gaining the vote, at least for some of them, in 1918.

An alternative view

While many National Trust properties have a close connection with the campaign for women’s suffrage, it’s fascinating also to investigate and reveal the story of the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage (NLOWS) led by Lord Curzon, which reflected an alternative view of the role of women in society and which was very influential in the national debate at that time.

It’s important for the National Trust to highlight that this was a subject which divided Britain, and not just along gender lines, because many women also felt that their right to vote was neither necessary nor desirable, including amongst them one of our founders Octavia Hill.

Octavia Hill was one of the founders of the National Trust
Octavia Hill (after John Singer Sargent) by Reginald Grenville Eves, RA
Octavia Hill was one of the founders of the National Trust

Defending traditional roles

Whilst many would today find Lord Curzon’s views on women and their role in the public domain to be unacceptable, at the time he gathered considerable support and was passionate in his defence of the traditional and maternal roles of women.

Proven wrong

His ideas about women’s abilities were proved wrong as women rose to the challenge created by World War I and took on the roles and responsibilities of men. Conversely it is interesting to reflect that the Suffragists and Suffragettes suspended their campaigning during the War recognising the greater challenge facing Britain.

It is somewhat ironic discover that Lord Curzon’s second daughter, Lady Cynthia, nicknamed ‘Cimmie’, joined the Labour Party and went on the become MP in 1925 for the constituency of Stoke on Trent and to wonder what her father would have made of this.