In July I was honoured to take part in an event marking 100 years since (some) women were given the right to vote in the UK. Thank you to Lynne Cheong, Equality Officer at Bolsover District Council for organising the event, which celebrated all who strive for equality, and commemorated in particular Josephine Foote Hitch, a local suffragette. Here is the poem I wrote for Josephine, and for all who speak up and stand up for social justice against the odds.
Josephine Foote Hitch was born in Rotherham in 1872, and lived at Stainsby, Derbyshire for much of her life. Her family inherited her suffragette sash, and a 1910 letter of thanks from Adela Pankhurst. Josephine was known to hide under platforms to heckle renowned anti-suffragette speakers, and was arrested, possibly imprisoned.
Josephine waits underneath the stage
with musty panto props, ghosts of applause,
hears audience arrive, laced black boots tap;
her wooden cave’s a dusty silent pause,
she waits, injustice at her back, not knowing
future thousands owe their freedom
to her acts. She waits with muted breath,
the cloud of voices swells above her head –
the twittering storm, the ones that wish her dead,
the words, the words she’s poised to break apart.
She’s daughter of the rage that swept her here,
a prison cell’s her fate; she gifts us
these seconds, this tipping point
in which is found the strength to interrupt,
to fling aside the tired old ways,
to shatter inequality of gender, class and race;
Josephine shouts out, takes centre stage
and makes her mark indelibly on history’s page.