Votes for Women. A Play in Three Acts
London: Mills and Boon, Limited, .
London: Mills and Boon, Limited, . First edition. Original publisher's drab printed wraps with text to spine and front cover. Measuring 180 x 120mm and collating complete with stage plan: ix, 115, . Toning to spine and offsetting to wraps; some loss to paper at spine ends and chip to lower front wrap with no loss to text. Bookplate of CALLIL to verso of front wrap, with offsetting to front endpaper. Light foxing to the closed text block and terminal leaves with remainder of pages fresh. Scarce institutionally and in trade, we were able to locate 11 copies in OCLC and, excepting the present example, no copies in the modern auction record or in trade.
Written by American actress, novelist, and suffragist Elizabeth Robins under the original title Friend of Women, the present text is a testament to the trans-Atlantic sisterhood of the period's women's rights activists. The published edition of her "hugely successful play Votes for Women!, which advocated militancy as the only means of achieving female suffrage" presented "many scenes are taken directly from actual suffrage meetings, including verbatim quotes from hostile men and rousing speeches by suffragettes who stood up for their principles, at great personal risk" (Godfrey). The inaugural performance took place on April 9, 1907 at London's Court Theatre; it would not only become a theatrical success and Robins' best known work, Votes for Women was also heralded as the first major play about women's suffrage. A correspondent of Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, Robins donated a portion of proceeds to their militant WSPU as well as to Millicent Fawcett's more diplomatic NUWSS.
Centering its plot on Vida Levering, a society beauty who is converted to activism by working class women around her, the play deploys melodrama in order to critique it. Vida's early weakness in response to the changing world is not altered by the love of a man, but by a no-nonsense and driven sisterhood. Votes for Women ultimately functions both as a call to suffrage activism as well as to a broader effort "to create new roles for women outside those of wives and sweethearts" (Liggins). Published the same year as a novel titled The Convert, the plot expanded to depict the "taboo issues of abortion and unmarried motherhood" by exposing the deep secret of Vida's life -- an early, unmarried pregnancy and abortion, the leverage she uses "to gain the political support of her ex-lover, the rising Tory politician Geoffrey Stonor" (Godfrey). Controversial, effective, and scarce in both formats. (Item #5800)