Historical and cultural geographer Dr. Caroline Bressey discusses how newspapers have been used to campaign for electoral reforms and how they were used to fight racism 1930s in Britain.


A transcript of this slideshow is available below.

Who is talking?

Dr. Caroline Bressey - Historical and Cultural Geographer

Dr. Caroline Bressey is a historical and cultural geographer at University College London. Her research focuses on the history of the black presence in Britain and the impact of newspapers and journals on the development of anti-racist political movements.



Since the invention of printing, the printed word has been used to communicate ideas, claims and demands. These have been published as leaflets, books, newsletters and journals.

Newspapers and journals are different to leaflets because they are printed on a regular basis; sometimes every week, sometimes every month or even just once a year.

Some campaigners may produce a single newspaper to communicate their ideas, but others, such as the Chartists and Suffragettes, supported a number of papers, which focused upon different issues raised by a common interest.

The Chartists demanded a radical reform of the electoral system, including the right to vote for all men over the age of twenty one. But different members of the movement had slightly different aims and a number of newspapers were established to focus on their different agendas. They included the Chartist Circular , the Edinburgh Monthly Democrat, the Northern Star , the Southern Star and the Poor Man’s Guardian .

As well as creating their own newspapers to communicate their ideas, some movements used the existing media to make their points.

Those who made up the militant wing of the campaign to give women the vote were labeled ‘Suffragettes’ by the press of the day. Suffragettes argued that direct action was required in order to draw public attention to their cause. They set fire to buildings and postboxes and chained themselves to railings. As a result, they often clashed with the police and were arrested – all of which was reported in the press.

One of the most dramatic acts was undertaken by Emily Davison. At the Derby in June 1913 she ran out on to the race course and tired to grab the bridle of a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit her and the image of her dying in front of the spectators became front page news.

The League of Coloured Peoples was founded in London in 1931. They fought racism in Britain and promoted the interests of black people in all parts of the world. The main aims of the League were published in the first issue of their regular publication The Keys, in 1933.

The League commissioned reports, organised social outings and wrote to employers asking why they allowed racist practices to exist in their organisations. All these and many more activities were then reported in The Keys through essays, articles, photographs and letters.

The effects of racism were also personally and emotionally expressed by writers, through their letters to the editor or poems, like this one by Una Marson describing the painful impact of racist language.

You can set up your own newspaper, newsletter or journal to publish information about your campaign and to keep in touch with people who share your interests.

There are number of things you will have to think about:

  • All the newspapers we have looked at here were printed on paper but now many newspapers and journals exist online. Think about the differences. Which format do you prefer? How much money do you have, because there are cost implications in paper versions?
  • Will it just be about news stories, or will it contain reviews, reports and poems?
  • Will you have images? If so, how will you collect them?
  • Who will write content for your paper and, perhaps most importantly, who will have editorial control?
  • How often will you publish it?

You also could think about using existing newspapers as part of getting your message to a wider audience. You could write to editors about your issue, or respond to stories they’ve already published. Offer to write stories and reviews yourself, sent in your poetry or photography and perhaps invite journalists to your own events.