A Pageant of Great Women, written by Cicely Hamilton, was one of the most successful plays of the British women’s suffrage movement. The play foregrounded the legal arguments for the vote by creating a court setting in which ‘Woman’ and ‘Prejudice’ presented the case for and against women’s enfranchisement before ‘Justice’. This dramatization of the political arguments for legislative change was a landmark in empowering female political activists to create their own court at a time when women were excluded from the legal profession.
Written at a time of heightened intensity in the suffrage campaign, the play rehearsed the principal arguments on the topic of women’s enfranchisement and gave women practice in public speaking and debate. The spectacular dramatization of these arguments raised awareness about women’s history.
By gathering over fifty ‘great women’ of the past from many countries on stage as evidence that women deserved the vote, the play had a visually stunning impact and a didactic function. It created opportunities for local women’s suffrage activists and supporters to perform as these ‘great women’ alongside leading figures of the movement, such as Lady Constance Lytton. All of those assembled, the performers and the audience, effectively acted as witnesses to the successful prosecution of the case before ‘Justice’.
A Pageant of Great Women successfully used theatrical performance to raise awareness of a political campaign, to empower and educate. … The use of performance, especially before a live audience, and on tour to promote a political position, inform an audience, build a community and empower women … [continues to be] demonstrated in the women’s theatre – Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and V-day are the inheritors of the women’s suffrage theatre legacy
A Pageant of Great Women was staged a number of times in London as well as in Swansea, Eastbourne, Beckenham, Sunderland, Sheffield, Ipswich, Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham, Middlesbrough and Liverpool, the USA, South Africa and Ireland.
The full version of this landmark was written by Katharine Cockin.
GlasgowWomen’s Library, ‘March of Women’ https://womenslibrary.org.uk/discover-our-projects/march-of-women/
Glasgow Women’s Library, March https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/march-film-screening/