Q&A with ‘Minnie Turner’, Brighton suffragette

Our Votes for Women display opened in Brighton Museum on 17 November.

Marking the centenary of the first women being granted the vote, the display highlights Brighton & Hove’s suffrage heritage and features objects belonging to Brighton-based suffragette Minnie Turner.

Royal Pavilion & Museums’ Learning Assistant Karen Antoni dresses up as Minnie Turner for her role with the museum and also runs guided tours around Brighton & Hove exploring the history of the suffragettes in the city.

She told us about the life of Minnie Turner and what she enjoys about stepping into the shoes of Brighton’s most influential women’s campaigner.

Who is Minnie Turner?

Minnie Turner, 1909

Minnie Turner was born in 1867. She was bought up in a modest house in Preston Street in Brighton. Her family ran a very busy shop selling knitted garments. She and her elder brother Alfred loved books. They were mainly self-educated. As a young woman she made her living running a lodging house. Her guests were professional people. She became very interested in politics and social justice, particularly women’s suffrage.

In 1906 the UK had a new Liberal government. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had promised women the vote, so lots of women had tirelessly campaigned for the Liberal party. Minnie, like many other women, felt very let down when they broke their promise. So in 1908, she joined the WSPU – the Women’s Social & Political Union.

Minnie outside ‘Sea View’

Minnie advertised her home at 13-14 Victoria Road, Brighton as “Seaview”. Suffragettes could recuperate after being released from prison or prominent speakers addressing meetings could stay. Lots of women connected to the women’s movement stopped in Seaview. All the Pankhurst sisters, Constance Lytton, Emmeline Pethic-Lawrence, Annie Keeney, Flora Drummond to name just a few.

Mary Clarke

An office opened in 1909 at North Street Quadrant to organise demonstrations, sell tickets for events in London and as an address for correspondence and letters in the press. Minnie was one of the organisers along with Mary Clarke (Emmaline Pankhurst’s sister) who also stayed at Seaview. The windows at Seaview were broken after rowdy meetings on the seafront. Minnie was arrested twice for her suffrage activities. In 1911 during a protest opposed to Asquith’s Reform Bill, she broke a window at the Home Office and was sentenced to 3 weeks imprisonment at Holloway.

In 1912 Minnie had furniture seized through non-payment of taxes. She was a member of the Tax Resistance League for Women’s Suffrage which argued ‘No Taxation without Representation.’ By 1913 Seaview had acquired a mixed reputation as a “Suffragette boarding house” harbouring a colony of militants. In April 1913, the windows of the house were stoned by local youths. Minnie Turner and her guests retaliated by sticking up signs in the windows declaring the damage as an illustration of ‘Masculine Logic, the only logic men understand.’

How did you end up acting as Minnie Turner?

In 2010 the Royal Pavilion opened the WW1 Indian Military Hospital Gallery.  To mark its opening a few learning assistants were asked to be costumed characters awaiting the arrival of the wounded Indian soldiers in 1914. Women didn’t have the vote at this time, so I thought it would be interesting to play a woman that might have been part of the women’s suffrage movement. They would have been very active before the outbreak of WW1 and such women would have been very good at organising and have the knowledge to be aware of the soldier’s religious and political needs.

What do you admire about her?

Minnie was passionate about suffrage and social justice. She felt a responsibility for the community. She was a very brave local woman, who fought for what she believed in. Not only did she actively campaign for the right for women to vote she went on to improve the conditions of the Brighton Workhouse in Elm Grove after WW1.

Minnie Turner in her garden

How do people react to you when you are in character?

I love playing a suffragette. All sorts of people come on my tours and I was invited on to the stage with Sandi Toksvig when she came to the Dome to talk about the Women’s Equality Party she has set up inspired by the WSPU.

All sorts of people came on my walk and talks. I would always finish with a rousing campaign song called ‘Rise Up Women’ that everyone really enjoyed singing along with me and a reminder that now we do have the vote then we should always remember to use our vote.

What can we learn from people like Minnie and other suffragettes/suffragists?

Brighton Museum has some incredibly rare artefacts on display which belonged to Minnie Turner. These are a Holloway sash and brooch presented to members of the WSPU who had undergone imprisonment in honour of the sacrifice they had made for women’s suffrage. There is also a brooch designed by Sylvia Pankhurst described as the Victoria Cross by the WSPU. The items were donated to the Museum by a relative of Minnie Turner.

The story of the women’s movement and the fight for the right to vote has fascinated lots of women, myself included. It has inspired a pride in my sex/gender and more importantly a political awareness.  How could you not be inspired by these women?

Caroine Sutton, Press Officer & Karen Antoni, Learning Assistant

Votes for Women

Opens 17 November 2018

IMAGES OF BRIGHTON GALLERY

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

 

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