‘I told him I was not a felon, and that I would not be treated as one. His answer was, that there were many women in Newgate who had been well off, and who were obliged to sleep on the floor: there have been two hundred at once sleeping on those mats. Two hundred did you say? Yes. Then more shame for you. Had I been one of them I would have excited a rebellion against you…’
The years between the advent of the French Revolution and the passing of the Great Reform Act were a period of intense political activism in Great Britain. Though they are often overlooked in history books, there were many women who played prominent parts in agitating for political reform.
This book highlights the contribution of British working-class women in the political arena in issues ranging from separation of church and state to freedom of the press to the French Revolution. I liked that the author focused on lesser-known figures – too often the mainstream narrative consists only of upper class women seeking universal suffrage which is, while important, only a partial picture of what female reformers were up to at the time.
I liked the author’s style of writing, which is straightforward and easy to follow. She weave the stories of separate women together into a larger narrative that spans the era under study, placing them in context deftly. She also covers a wide variety of women, including those we might not traditionally consider political rebels, such as Jane Carlile who went to prison for running her husband’s banned books shop.
However, I did wish that the author touched upon the background events that affected the women a little bit more. The reader is presumed to be at least somewhat familiar with British history – I was able to follow along with my eighth grade social studies class knowledge – but I doubt many American-educated readers would know much about this era. I also thought the writing lost focus at times when it delved into the actions of the more documented men involved.
Overall, this was a really interesting and accessible read about little-known historical figures who deserve the attention.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.