Culture

Orcadian Suffragists Take Centre Stage for New Exhibition at the Northlight Gallery

Woman’s Suffrage – A Work In Progress


Woman's Suffrage: A Work In Progress. Exhibition poster. Northlight Gallery, Stromness, December 1st to 6th 2018,10am-4pm.

Woman’s Suffrage: A Work In Progress. 1st to 6th December. Northlight Gallery, Stromness.

The campaigning work of the suffragist movement in Orkney is to be highlighted in a new animation “A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm” by Orcadian artist Martin Laird and writer Fiona Grahame with narration  by Kim Foden and original music by James Watson. The process involved in the making of the animation will be presented at the Northlight Gallery, Stromness from 1st to 6th of December in an exhibition entitled “Woman’s Suffrage: A Work In Progress”.

The exhibition is part of a global event ‘Fair Saturday’ which takes place on the day after Black Friday but in Scotland it is being tied into our National Day celebrating St Andrew. Scotland’s Fair Saturday is on 1st December 2018.

St Andrews Fair Saturday

Fair Saturday is an international celebration by artists and cultural groups where money raised goes towards a social cause. This year the Scottish Government is supporting the initiative which will see activities and events taking place all across Scotland.

“St Andrew’s Fair Saturday contributes to the global Fair Saturday movement and the celebration of St Andrew’s Day and is a key component of a co-ordinated drive to boost social inclusion, fairness and sharing inspired by Scotland’s National Day on 30 November 2018.”( standrews.fairsaturday.org)

The animation, A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm, has been made possible through an award from the Scottish Government’s Centenary Fund which celebrates the year, 1918, when some women got the right to vote.

iscot orkney news a gude cause martin laird (1)

The writer and researcher of the project, Fiona Grahame applied for the Centenary Award which had to tell a local story about the suffrage movement.  The project will also produce education packs to include the animation and research materials for all the schools in Orkney. There are plans to show the short animation in the Pickaquoy Cinema, Kirkwall.

Fiona Grahame, researcher and editor of The Orkney News said:

“ The story of the suffragist movement in Orkney is fascinating. It is important that local history reflects the activism of Orcadian women and their participation in events locally, nationally and internationally.”

“The animation and education packs have been made possible because of the Centenary Fund award from the Scottish Government. The Orcadian suffragists believed in the importance of education and social reform. Taking part in St Andrews Fair Saturday and supporting the invaluable work of the Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service continues the process they started.”

The exhibition on St Andrew’s Fair Saturday is the launch of this exciting project with all proceeds going to the nominated organisation: Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service which provides support for anyone who has experienced sexual violence or abuse. It offers locally based help for survivors extending it to non abusive family and friends. Importantly the organisation also takes its work out into the community to:

“Work towards the prevention and ultimately the elimination of sexual violence, supporting social change by raising awareness and understanding of rape and sexual violence, challenging myths and campaigning.(O.R.S.A.S)

The Orcadian Women’s Suffrage Society over 100 years ago also campaigned vigorously for social change with the first public meetings in Kirkwall and Stromness on the issue of votes for women taking place  in 1871. Made up of men and women –  teachers, artists, ministers and local gentry the Society was about more than votes for women. As suffragists they believed very much in social reform and the positive change that would come about in legislation with female suffrage.

Martin Laird, artist of ‘A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm’ said:

“The banner of the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society was designed by the artist Stanley Cursiter, and I consider it an honour to follow in his footsteps by helping to bring their story to light.”

Many leading suffragists came to Orkney to address public meetings. Dr Elsie Inglis spoke in Orkney on 16th of April 1912 at a packed meeting on “Woman’s Suffrage and the Present Political Situation”. She spoke about the need of the women’s point of view being represented in Parliament in order that women might be treated fairly for:

“Parliament even with the best intention often did wrong through ignorance and of the desirability of improving the position of women workers of whom there were five million in this country and many of whom were compelled to work under unhealthy conditions for a sweating wage. If men and women worked together their laws would be far better than if the work of legislation was left to men alone”.

The connection with Dr Elsie Inglis was to continue for during the 1914-18 war the suffragists in Orkney who had disbanded their political campaign funded ‘The Orcadian Bed’ in one of Dr Inglis Scottish Womens Hospitals in Northern France. Leading Orcadian suffragist Dr Mary McNeill was to serve in the Scottish Womens Hospitals in both France and Serbia. She was awarded medals for her work in the dreadful conditions she encountered there.

Cary Welling, owner of the Northlight Gallery, Stromness, Orkney said:

“I am pleased that we have such a relevant, interesting, good looking show in Northlight for such an important occasion as Fair Saturday.”


Martin Laird’s animation ‘A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm’ is a short film telling the story of the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society. Written by Fiona Grahame, narrated by Kim Foden and with original music by James Watson. Funded by the Scottish Government’s Centenary Fund. Proceeds from the Northlight Exhibition to go to Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service. It is open Saturday 1st December  to Thursday 6th of December, 10am  – 4pm, Meet the Artists Saturday 2 – 4pm Northlight Gallery, Stromness.

Woman's Suffrage: A Work In Progress. Exhibition poster. Northlight Gallery, Stromness, December 1st to 6th 2018,10am-4pm.

Woman’s Suffrage: A Work In Progress. 1st to 6th December. Northlight Gallery, Stromness.

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