Followers of our blog will know that we've been writing a series of posts to cover the amazing women we've named our garments after. This week, we're writing about Rosa May Billinghurst and the cape that takes her name.
The Rosa May cape went through several iterations before it reached its final design. Initially, the navy was a much lighter teal colour. At first sample stage, this was approved. However, the fabric supplier ran out and we opted, instead, to go with navy. It turned out to look better than the initial colour combination. Other changes included tailoring. The first sample had excess fabric at the shoulders and was way too long!
We're very proud of the finished product. The wool mix means it keeps its wearer warm. The soft lining, which extends to the neckline, protects the skin from irritation - the downside of wool. We used our kintsugi print for the lining too, which gives it a luxe, premium feel. The great thing about capes is that, unlike some coats, you don't need to twist or contort your arms to get into it. This is helpful if you have limited upper body mobility.
Many people think of the Pankhurst sisters when they hear the word 'Suffragettes', but there is another woman who fought just as hard. That woman is Rosa May Billinghurst, referred to as the 'cripple Suffragette' by her peers. Journalists at the time also appeared to reduce Billinghurst to her impairment, even using the term instead of her name in some of their coverage.
Katie Fox, who is a modern domestic records specialist for The National Archives, has written extensively about Billinghurst. She says that the first mention of her in records held at The National Archives is in relation to the WSPU’s window smashing campaign, for which she was imprisoned for a month. Katie also covers the brutal treatment Billinghurst received at the hands of the police during Black Friday. Amongst other things, they threw her from her tricycle and twisted her arm behind her back.
Katie also points out that Billinghurst was not the only disabled activist. She highlights the activism of Adelaide Knight, who used a cane. Both she and Billinghurst chained themselves to the railings outside Buckingham Palace. Knight was also made to spend time in prison for her activism. Both women are great examples of the fighting spirit that has changed the world for the better. Neither saw their impairment as something that could stop them from participating in the movement and we all continue to benefit from their passion and the courage of their convictions all these years later.