In the Museum of London lies a purple feather, once worn by the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. The plumed hat was an essential part of her ultra-feminine image - and she was not alone. For over half a century, from the High Victorian era to the Jazz Age, whatever your class, it was de rigueur to deck your head with plumage, wings - even entire birds. An insatiable global trade in feathers brought bird life to the brink of extinction: snowy egrets, crested grebes, jewel-like hummingbirds. Not even the garden robin was safe. At its Edwardian peak, the plumage trade was worth a staggering 2 million pounds a year to Britain - 204 mil pounds in today's money.The struggle to save the birds was a woman's campaign. It captured the public's imagination a decade before Mrs Pankhurst began making headlines, and its aim was simple: to stamp out the fashion for feathers in hats. Leading the fight was a woman just as heroic as Emmeline Pankhurst, but of a very different mettle. Her name was Etta Lemon, and she was known as 'Mother of the Birds'.Today, everyone has heard of the RSPB - but few are aware that Britain's biggest conservation charity was born through the determined efforts of a handful of women in 1891, led for half a century by the indomitable Mrs Lemon. While the suffragettes were slashing paintings and smashing shop windows, Etta Lemon and her local secretaries were challenging 'murderous millinery' in the female sphere of the department store, in the sacred space of church and, ultimately, in the male preserve of Parliament.This book explores two very different heroines: Mrs Pankhurst and Mrs Lemon - one lionised, the other forgotten - and their rival, overlapping campaigns. Moving from Manchester to London; from the feather workers' slums to the highest courtly circles; from the first female political march to the first forcible feeding, Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather takes the reader on a novel journey through Victorian and Edwardian Britain to the First World War and beyond.This is a highly original story of women stepping into the public sphere, agitating for change, fighting amongst themselves - and finally finding a voice.
Tessa Boase read English at Oxford, and has worked as a scriptwriter, a voiceover artist and an editor at The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. As a freelance journalist she has contributed to a wide variety of publications. Her first book, The Housekeeper's Tale, was published in 2014.