Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

The arrest of Dora

I’ve narrowly missed the anniversary of the legislation to allow (some) women to vote, but here’s a wonderful photo of the arrest in 1909 of Dora Marsden, women’s rights campaigner and individualist anarchist, for disrupting the chancellor’s speech at Manchester University, of which she was a graduate, hence her academic robes. A few months later she had a go at Winston Churchill. This extraordinary image is lifted from the flickr photostream of Greater Manchester Police, no less – but who was the photographer? Looking at this photograph, its perspectives so marvellously constructed around the focal point of Marsden’s serene and confident gaze, you can’t help but feel a profound admiration for her.

There are women bystanders in the background, but none of their faces are visible. Dora Marsden’s entourage is all male – a fine assortment of bemusement, amusement, embarrassment, condescension and stern disapproval. Someone really ought to make a poster out of this photo.

Marsden is a thoroughly interesting person, who broke away from the Pankhursts’ WSPU to form the Women’s Freedom League, becoming editor of The Freewoman, The New Freewoman and The Egoist, and in the process promoting and publishing the work of Pound, Joyce, Lewis, Eliot, HD and many other literary modernists. Her Stirnerite individualism later gave way to a personal form of syncretic religious belief. In 1935, sad to say, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dumfries, where she died in 1960.

Interestingly, according to the flickr blurb, members of her Women’s Freedom League later supplied the first of the Women’s Police Volunteers, an organisation that included many former suffragettes who had seen the insides of police and prison cells. I don’t suppose Dora was among them.

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