This year marks the centenary of women being given the limited right to vote, although it wasn’t until 1928 that women and men were given equal voting rights. How can we today truly understand the struggles that took place to secure these rights when the right to vote is just part of the landscape in which we live and it’s just something that we take for granted. Luckily for us Sally Nicholl’s has captured a slice of social history in the magnificent ‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do.’ She offers us a uncompromising insight into the lives of three very different young women who each play their part in campaigning for change. From the desperate poverty of the East End to the polite drawing room meetings, they all have to make sacrifices for change. But just how much are they willingly to give up in their fight to secure votes for women.
Evelyn, Nell and May all have very different stories to tell and each have their own individual frustrations and hardships to endure. Evelyn desire to be educated is seen as wasteful by her family when her destiny will inevitably be to get married and have children, her life is tightly controlled. Whilst Nell has on the face of it more freedoms to dress and live as she likes, the incredible poverty she faces is made worse by the lack of opportunities for her to work as a woman. As a pacifist who is brought up with a mother deeply involved in the Suffragist movement May’s life is defined by her mothers values and beliefs despite how she may feel. All of their struggles are set against the harshness of the Great War and encapsulates the pain and difficulties for the women who are left behind to wait and mourn and try to hold their families together in the darkest of times.
It’s definitely not a romanticised view of how the right to vote was achieved for woman, it’s a honest and sometimes brutal account of the battle that took place. By seamlessly weaving the girls lives into history you feel like you are stepping back in time to see the world through their eyes. Sally has created these strong women who are realistically flawed and who you genuinely care about it. There are lots of observations that made me smile none more so than Nell bemoaning the lack of pockets in women’s clothes, something that 100 years later is still irritatingly familiar. This is such a compelling and inspiring story, it’s one of those books I want to put into people’s hands and demand that they read it! With all of this taken into account this is a slightly older read than I would usually recommend, definitely one for KS3 and over.
Thank you to Andersen Press for sending me a copy of this book. ‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop. It is also available in paperback from the 1st February.