Edy Craig and the ‘Pageant of Great Women’ at Smallhythe Place

Edith Craig as Rosa Bonheur in 'Pageant of Great Women' (1909)

Edy Craig (1869-1947), daughter of actress Ellen Terry, was a suffragette and a political theatrical activist, a producer and a designer who lived at Smallhythe for over 40 years. She was a founding member of the Actresses' Franchise League and later a director of the feminist Pioneer Players.

" I certainly grew up quite firmly certain that no self-respecting woman could be other than a Suffragist. "
- Edy Craig
'Pageant of Great Women' by Cicely Hamilton on display at Smallhythe Place

The ‘Pageant of Great Women’ was written by Cicely Hamilton and was based on an idea by Edy Craig who both produced it and played a part. The production consisted of three main roles: Justice, Woman and Prejudice. The first two roles were played by women and the latter by a man and they were supported by a large cast portraying famous and accomplished historical heroines.

(Top row:) Viola Finney, Edith Olive, Mrs Sam Sothern (Bottom row:) Nella Powys, Janette Steer, Angela Hubbard in 'Pageant of Great Women' November 1909
Suffragettes in costume for a production of 'Pageant of Great Women' (November 1909)
(Top row:) Viola Finney, Edith Olive, Mrs Sam Sothern (Bottom row:) Nella Powys, Janette Steer, Angela Hubbard in 'Pageant of Great Women' November 1909

The Pageant made the front page of the Daily Mail in November 1909 attracting positive publicity at a time when suffragettes were being portrayed as violent trouble makers. It was performed many times and included venues such as The Royal Albert Hall, The Savoy Theatre and The Philharmonic Hall in 1912 after a speech by Emmeline Pankhurst.

‘I stand for the clear right to hold my life my own’
The 'Pageant of Great Women' programme. Philharmonic Hall, 1912.
‘I stand for the clear right to hold my life my own’

The play was a great success and was requested by women’s groups throughout the country. Edy took charge of the arrangements for these productions taking with her the three actors who had speaking parts, along with costumes, to dress the thirty or forty players provided by each local suffrage society. At the climax of the ‘Pageant of Great Women’, the character Woman addressed men everywhere: "I stand for the clear right to hold my life my own" and "this you must know: The world is mine, as yours".

'Pageant of Great Women' November 1909
Suffragettes in costume for a production of 'Pageant of Great Women' (November 1909)
'Pageant of Great Women' November 1909

Edy produced other suffrage plays which were equally important to the cause. She wished to reach out to all classes and the plays were often written in the form of entertaining farces in which men get their retribution and the women join the suffragettes.

A pageant photo of Edy Craig, published by the Suffrage shop
A pageant photo of Edy Craig, published by the Suffrage shop
A pageant photo of Edy Craig, published by the Suffrage shop
" Plays have done such a lot for the Suffrage. They get hold of nice, frivolous people who would die sooner than go in cold blood to meetings. But they watch the plays, and get interested, and then we can rope them in for meetings."
- Edy Craig

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