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The work and activism of the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) was captured in a series of photographs by Norah Smyth, a keen early photographer and one of the federation’s most active members. By 1914 the ELFS was a powerful campaigning group with thousands of members, which had grown from a branch of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) after they were expelled from the organisation in 1914. The first photograph shows the ELFS with a stall outside a pub on Roman Road, Tower Hamlets, spreading word of an upcoming demonstration. Some of the posters are printed with 'The Woman’s Dreadnought', which was the title of their own weekly newspaper.

The ELFS movement was shaped by the reality of working women's lives. As well as women’s suffrage, the ELFS campaigned on a range of issues that affected the working and living conditions of the working-class community – from equal pay to decent housing – which won them wide support from local men and women. As their movement grew, they also began to support the wider community in other ways. They organised parties and concerts and, during World War One, ran several initiatives including a milk depot where young children could get free milk (photograph 3) and a cooperative toy factory (photograph 2), which paid a living wage to its women workers and provided a crèche.

These photographs are from the Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst collection, International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam).

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