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Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather: A Scandalous History of Birds, Hats and Votes

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'Shocking and entertaining. The surprising story of the campaigning women who changed Britain.' Virginia Nicholson ‘Full of fascinating historical detail and colourful characters… A great story, beautifully told.’ Kate Humble When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. 'Shocking and entertaining. The surprising story of the campaigning women who changed Britain.' Virginia Nicholson ‘Full of fascinating historical detail and colourful characters… A great story, beautifully told.’ Kate Humble When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. This is the intriguing story behind that feather. Twelve years before the suffragette movement began dominating headlines, a very different women’s campaign captured the public imagination. Its aim was radical: to stamp out the fashion for feathers in hats. Leading the fight was a character just as heroic as Emmeline Pankhurst, but with opposite beliefs. Her name was Etta Lemon, and she was anti-fashion, anti-feminist – and anti-suffrage. Mrs Lemon has been forgotten by history, but her mighty society lives on. Few, today, are aware that Britain’s biggest conservation charity, the RSPB, was born through the determined efforts of a handful of women, led 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’ all the way up to Parliament. This gripping narrative explores two singular heroines – one lionised, the other forgotten – and their rival, overlapping campaigns. Moving from the feather workers’ slums to the highest courtly circles, from the first female political rally to the first forcible feeding, Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is a unique journey through a society in transformation. This is a highly original story of women stepping into the public sphere, agitating for change – and finally finding a voice.


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'Shocking and entertaining. The surprising story of the campaigning women who changed Britain.' Virginia Nicholson ‘Full of fascinating historical detail and colourful characters… A great story, beautifully told.’ Kate Humble When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. 'Shocking and entertaining. The surprising story of the campaigning women who changed Britain.' Virginia Nicholson ‘Full of fascinating historical detail and colourful characters… A great story, beautifully told.’ Kate Humble When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. This is the intriguing story behind that feather. Twelve years before the suffragette movement began dominating headlines, a very different women’s campaign captured the public imagination. Its aim was radical: to stamp out the fashion for feathers in hats. Leading the fight was a character just as heroic as Emmeline Pankhurst, but with opposite beliefs. Her name was Etta Lemon, and she was anti-fashion, anti-feminist – and anti-suffrage. Mrs Lemon has been forgotten by history, but her mighty society lives on. Few, today, are aware that Britain’s biggest conservation charity, the RSPB, was born through the determined efforts of a handful of women, led 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’ all the way up to Parliament. This gripping narrative explores two singular heroines – one lionised, the other forgotten – and their rival, overlapping campaigns. Moving from the feather workers’ slums to the highest courtly circles, from the first female political rally to the first forcible feeding, Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is a unique journey through a society in transformation. This is a highly original story of women stepping into the public sphere, agitating for change – and finally finding a voice.

30 review for Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather: A Scandalous History of Birds, Hats and Votes

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore

    My thanks to Aurum Press and NetGalley for a review copy of the book. Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved Birds tells the story of Margaretta ‘Etta’ Lemon, who worked for around five decades to bring an end to a cruel practice—the slaughter of millions of birds every year, simply for the millinery industry—and who was also a founding member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. But really (and the title is something I will come back to later in this review), it is much more. In fact, the My thanks to Aurum Press and NetGalley for a review copy of the book. Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved Birds tells the story of Margaretta ‘Etta’ Lemon, who worked for around five decades to bring an end to a cruel practice—the slaughter of millions of birds every year, simply for the millinery industry—and who was also a founding member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. But really (and the title is something I will come back to later in this review), it is much more. In fact, the book is the story of the broader campaign that took place to save the birds and to get parliament to ban trade in feathers (of which Etta was a prominent member) as also another powerful campaign that was being run alongside by an equally powerful, and perhaps a woman who stood out more, Emmeline Pankhust, the charismatic leader of the suffragettes. The two movements ran somewhat parallelly and even contrary to each other for while Mrs Lemon sought a ban on plumes (and indeed whole birds) on hats, Mrs Pankurst’s ladies were encouraged to be more fashionable and lady-like which included flaunting these elaborate creations; Mrs Pankurst sought the vote for women while Mrs Lemon opposed it! Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhust had roughly similar backgrounds but their inclinations and reactions to fashion, politics, and the Victorian society they belonged to were entirely opposite to one other. But our story doesn’t really even begin with these formidable ladies. Rather, Boase introduces us to Alice Battershall, a young factory worker, who worked like hundreds of others in skilled and unskilled employments in the feather trade—from cleaning and washing to curling, thickening, and dyeing, among many stages before the plumes were ever affixed to a hat--and, mostly, for a pittance. To these hundreds of poor young women, feathers represented not a living thing (in fact, few had ever had any real contact with birds having lived in the city all of their lives), but certainly a living, ready money (feathers stolen at work), and a symbol of respectability and acceptance. And the work had its own problems—for employment was seasonal and the girls had to find other work when feather work closed after each season. But the other side of the picture was that the millinery trade led to the massacre (a lot of it excessively cruel, like the egrets who were hunted during their mating/hatching seasons when feathers were at their most beautiful, leaving thousands of chicks to literally starve to death) of millions of birds every year. One estimate that the author mentions is by Frank Chapman which was 5 million birds killed annually in America alone. And it wasn’t just feathers but whole wings or even whole birds affixed to hats in what would certainly look grotesque to us today but was the height of fashion in its day. But fashion demanded it, the shops continued to sell (it was a profitable trade) and the ladies to buy. So, the ladies who set out to protect the birds had a formidable task before them. And ladies they were. The society’s start can be traced to the individual efforts of some of the ladies, like Etta Lemon herself who sent letters to the women she observed at church wearing these offending creations (they made her shudder, too)—and ultimately to tea parties. A ladies’ tea party may not be viewed too seriously but at a time when women lacked places to meet, two sets of ladies Emily Williamson with her Society for the Protection of Birds in Manchester, and Eliza Phillips with her Fur, Fin and Feather Folk in Croydon (of which Etta Lemon was a part) began their campaigns. Eventually, the two were combined and absorbed by the RSPCA but continued to remain for a while a society run by women. And while it may have been scoffed at by more ‘scientifically minded men’, the women managed to increase their membership manifold, and bring in funds too, though ultimately men too were made members, and they had to look at influential ones for support. But the fact remains, these were women in a world of men—and were not spared slights or derision but still persisted with their campaign. They had impressive organisational skills (Etta Lemon in particular), and their campaigns included both directly targeting wearers (with pamphlets and such) and even manufacturers, to trying to push through a bill for banning this cruel practice through the influential male members of the society. But politics and compromise were very much a part of the process, for the issue of game birds raised by member Julia Andrews was shut down and Miss Andrews even removed, with the society declaring that its focus would remain the millinery trade. Politics reared its head at other times too, in Mrs Lemon’s later days when she was pushed out of the society she cared about so much. Alongside, we follow Mrs Pankhurst’s story and the suffragette movement which resorted to violent protest and means to put forth the claim for votes for women; they too faced derision, cruelty, like force feeding when they went on hunger strike in prison or even violence/assault during protests. Mrs Pankhurst’s own interest in fashion and shopping was passed on to her fellow campaigners who were encouraged to look their best, and it was sometimes ladies who were members of both movements who achieved some success in preventing them from wearing feathered hats. Both movements involved decades of struggle and considerations of politics, fashion and of course economics. And it wasn’t their efforts alone, but also changes in circumstances which ultimately bore fruit. This was a well-written and excellently researched (even Alice Battershall’s life is well traced) book which proved to be an engrossing read for the most part. I enjoyed following the journey of the two campaigns—their successes and failures, the ways in which they intertwined, and the stories of the two formidable ladies—Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhust—who played crucial roles in each (there were many others too, like Winifred Duchess of Portland in the bird campaign; Millicent Fawcett leader of the suffragists; and even Mrs Humphry Ward, prominent among the Anti-suffragists, among many more whose contributions we learn about as well). What I especially liked about the book was the well-rounded and holistic picture it paints for us—we see the perspectives of the young girls who worked with feathers and for whom they were a symbol of respectability, to the suffragettes like Mrs Pankhust to whom too, these were a symbol of their femininity which was the basis on which they sought the vote; we peep into glamourous boutiques, and also into a hunt for egrets—the hunter thrilled with the money he makes from one trip (as indeed did the traders who interests weighed with politicians for a long enough time to see the plumage bill shelved many times for over a decade); and of course those, like Mrs Lemon who felt for the birds and could not bear to see them adorning the hats of the fashionable ladies of the day, to even Winifred Portland who had to tread a middle way for while she was a passionate animal lover, a vegetarian and hated blood sport, her husband hunted with equal passion, and she had to balance her role in the RSPB with her role as society hostess. The book was an eye opener for me in many ways; I did know about feathers on hats as a fashion but did not have an idea of the extent of this practice and trade—I didn’t know how many species of wild birds were driven to the brink of extinction, or that the creations had full wings, or even entire birds on them. The thought was so repulsive and off putting (mild words compared to what I felt), but then I realised that this was also a time when people did wear furs too, and with heads and tails attached! I honestly was not aware of the extent of cruelty involved in the practice as well, like the egret hunting I mentioned earlier—and it was these images that served strongly—though the lens of a camera and in the powerful words of Virginia Woolf that did sent a shudder through people, much more than pamphlets and other campaigns could achieve. (And speaking of pictures, I must mention that the images in the book are really high quality which I appreciated a lot.) Of the suffragettes too, I learnt a lot—especially all they had to go through in their campaigns—the violence and cruelty, the slights and sneers—the victory is a hard won one (which we perhaps don’t appreciate enough). (Also, to tell the truth, I didn’t quite know the difference between suffragettes and suffragists before reading this either). From these and Boase’s writing, we get a good sense of out two heroines, Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhurst—where they came from, what drove them, and their lives, thoughts and ideas which moved in very different directions to each other. This was a very interesting and enjoyable read overall, but I did have one criticism or complaint and this was the title itself—reading the title and description of the book, I had expected a book focused more on Etta lemon and the movement for the protection of birds; the suffragette movement I’d expected to go into, but only to an extent, but when I found so much of the book devoted to that, while I did enjoy reading the details there were times when I wondered why we were going on such a tangent, and was even slightly losing interest. Later I found that another edition (the hardback) of the book is titled Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather. But this too, I feel doesn’t capture the whole essence of the book---If I had known from the beginning that this was about both ladies and both movements—Etta and Emmeline (like one of the chapters), I think I’d have been able to appreciate it much more when reading. But a really good and engrossing read otherwise. 4.25 stars!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lou (nonfiction fiend)

    Margaretta (Etta) Louisa Lemon MBE (1860-1953) of Reigate was a co-founder of the all-female organisation that later became the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Renowned for her public speaking, she lobbied for legislation to protect wild birds against the fashion for wearing feathered hats which she claimed was ‘murderous millinery’. She was a member of the Reigate Board of Guardians and the Board of Managers for Earlswood Asylum but a staunch anti suffragist, heading a branch Margaretta (Etta) Louisa Lemon MBE (1860-1953) of Reigate was a co-founder of the all-female organisation that later became the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Renowned for her public speaking, she lobbied for legislation to protect wild birds against the fashion for wearing feathered hats which she claimed was ‘murderous millinery’. She was a member of the Reigate Board of Guardians and the Board of Managers for Earlswood Asylum but a staunch anti suffragist, heading a branch of the East Surrey Anti-Suffrage League. When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. This is the intriguing story behind that feather. Twelve years before the suffragette movement began dominating headlines, a very different women’s campaign captured the public imagination. Its aim was radical: to stamp out the fashion for feathers in hats. Leading the fight was a character just as heroic as Emmeline Pankhurst, but with opposite beliefs. Her name was Etta Lemon, and she was anti-fashion, anti-feminist – and anti-suffrage. Mrs Lemon has been forgotten by history, but her mighty society lives on. Few, today, are aware that Britain’s biggest conservation charity, the RSPB, was born through the determined efforts of a handful of women, led 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’ all the way up to Parliament. This gripping narrative explores two singular heroines – one lionised, the other forgotten – and their rival, overlapping campaigns. Moving from the feather workers’ slums to the highest courtly circles, from the first female political rally to the first forcible feeding, Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is a unique journey through a society in transformation. This is a highly original story of women stepping into the public sphere, agitating for change – and finally finding a voice. A fascinating piece of history rich in intricacies and colourful, idiosyncratic characters and a tale not given the exposure it deserved over the last century.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    What a fascinating book. I’d never heard of Etta Lemon before, and I hazard a guess that not many others have either. She seems to have been written out of the historical record. (An all too familiar fate for women, sadly). And yet Emma Lemon played such a pivotal role in founding and developing the RSPB, and we’ve all heard of that, particularly in the UK. So why don’t we know more about her? Thankfully we now do, and what an excellent biography this is. The author expertly weaves together the What a fascinating book. I’d never heard of Etta Lemon before, and I hazard a guess that not many others have either. She seems to have been written out of the historical record. (An all too familiar fate for women, sadly). And yet Emma Lemon played such a pivotal role in founding and developing the RSPB, and we’ve all heard of that, particularly in the UK. So why don’t we know more about her? Thankfully we now do, and what an excellent biography this is. The author expertly weaves together the stories of Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhurst (and we’ve all heard of her) as they were active at the same time, although their aims were different. Etta cared about birds, in particular the ones that had been slaughtered for Mrs Pankhurst's hats. And that is indeed a hard-to-stomach aspect of the book, the description of the appalling destruction of so many birds purely to adorn women's hats. Later Etta Lemon actually became an anti-suffrage campaigner – and that in itself is a compelling tale. All in all, there is so much to enjoy in this meticulously researched, well –written and thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating biography. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    Excellent! A fantastic example of social history at its best. This relates how campaigners, Etta Lemon prominent among them, took on the issue of Murderous Millinery. This became linked to the founding of the RSPB too.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nann

    I acquired this book after it was a reader recommendation in the Christian Science Monitor. It's the second book about feathers I've read this season. (See: The Feather Thief.) Boase tells the story of two women activists in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. One is remembered today -- suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst. The other is nearly unknown -- conservationist Margaretta (Etta) Lemon. Not only does Boase provide the history of their movements but she also compares and contrasts the publi I acquired this book after it was a reader recommendation in the Christian Science Monitor. It's the second book about feathers I've read this season. (See: The Feather Thief.) Boase tells the story of two women activists in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. One is remembered today -- suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst. The other is nearly unknown -- conservationist Margaretta (Etta) Lemon. Not only does Boase provide the history of their movements but she also compares and contrasts the public relations effect of both, and why the these two contemporaries did not work together. (The suffragists were fashionable. Their hats were bird-and-feather trimmed and they wore furs. They avoided dowdiness. Many of the conservationists opposed woman's suffrage, partly because they did not want to dilute their area of advocacy.) I was more aware of the suffrage story. I knew who Emmeline and her daughters were and I knew something about what they went through (imprisonment). I wasn't aware that there were numerous suffrage groups and an active and influential anti-suffrage movement. I didn't anything about Etta's pioneering conservation movement. In the last quarter of the 19th century women's hats in the U.K., the U.S., and Canada (and most of western Europe) were bedecked with feathers. Frequently the feathers were still attached to taxidermied birds who were then attached, in their entirety, to the hats. The fashion and fad meant the wholesale slaughter of millions and millions of egrets, birds-of-paradise, osprey, and many other species. Not only were birds hunted nearly to extinction, but many were tortured in the process. In 1889 Etta Lemon began Fur, Fin & Feather Folk -- one of the first conservation societies in Britain -- to protest the fashion and the means by which the feathers were procured. Renamed the Society for the Protection of Birds (and later given a Royal charter), RSPB still exists. It's the British equivalent of the Audubon Society, which was founded about the same time and for the same reasons. Boase provides a rich field for discussion: how both the suffrage and conservation movements, though begun by women, succeeded after men became active and influential. How do the millinery fashions of 1900 [which women in all ranks of society adopted] compare to fashions today, especially for "fast fashions" sourced in developing nations. Think about the working conditions for the "feather hands" who dyed and curled the plumes.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Abigail Hartman

    I wish this had lived up to its absolutely gorgeous cover, but it didn't quite. The focus is the women-founded Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for the purpose of ending the brutal plumage trade (the main reason I was interested in it), and the tensions between the Society and the contemporary suffragist movement. The Society is represented by Etta Lemon, the suffragist movement by Emmeline Pankhurst. I appreciated how Boase set up these two women and brought out their similarities in t I wish this had lived up to its absolutely gorgeous cover, but it didn't quite. The focus is the women-founded Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for the purpose of ending the brutal plumage trade (the main reason I was interested in it), and the tensions between the Society and the contemporary suffragist movement. The Society is represented by Etta Lemon, the suffragist movement by Emmeline Pankhurst. I appreciated how Boase set up these two women and brought out their similarities in the midst of their glaring differences: Lemon, a strong-willed and outspoken woman, opposed extending the vote to women. I also appreciated how Boase made an effort to understand both sides, although I don't think she spent as much time exploring the reasons why some women opposed the suffragist movement as she should have: she ultimately concluded (as far as I could tell) that these women had just internalized misogyny and couldn't get beyond seeing themselves as standing in the shadow of the men. In the end it felt like Boase was still struggling to wrap her mind around the concept of women opposing women's suffrage...and not quite succeeding. [She also kept mentioning and describing the moustaches on the guys, and I got the feeling she was treating it as a sign of the patriarchy or something and it was just weird.] The writing style also rather let the book down for me. It's a bit too...newspaper-reporter-y. I don't like the self-referential style (I found this source, I went here, I thought this when I saw the painting...); it comes across to me as in-your-face. The short paragraphs became irritating: some felt like they could have been combined, while in other cases they seemed to skip about without good transitions, leaving me (usually only briefly) confused. The chapters, too, are very short, and while to an extent this can't be helped because of the sort of book it is, I thought it lacked sufficient content on any one of the topics it covers: the suffragist movement, the RSPB, the Pankhursts, the millinery trade. For instance, we seemed to jump from the RSPB being a failure to it buying lots of land and being very influential without showing how we got from one thing to the other. It just was all a bit too cursory. It does have some good information, though, about the RSPB and the exploitation of nature, and I am glad I read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Serendipity

    Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather was a wonderful book for me to read combining two topics which have played a significant role in my life - women’s history, particularly their efforts to gain direct representation in parliament both through the vote and through women candidates (I have a PhD in the area) and bird conservation (besides reading birding is my other main interest). This book looks at two intertwined topics. One is the origins of Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, star Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather was a wonderful book for me to read combining two topics which have played a significant role in my life - women’s history, particularly their efforts to gain direct representation in parliament both through the vote and through women candidates (I have a PhD in the area) and bird conservation (besides reading birding is my other main interest). This book looks at two intertwined topics. One is the origins of Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, started by a group of women wanting to protect bird life and especially to stop the trade in feathers and the use of birds as hat decorations. This was something I knew very little about. It also looks at the campaign in Britain for voting rights for women, something I was already quite familiar with. But seeing the similarities and differences between the two campaigns, the interconnections and the antagonisms was illuminating and provided new insights. Many suffragettes were ardent feather wearers, while most women leading RSPB’s campaign against the feather trade were anti-voting rights for women, despite (or because of) their own involvement in political matters. Such an interesting story, filled with many fascinating details. I especially enjoyed the opening sections outlining the working conditions of women and children in the feather trade. A woman and two children could spend more than a day preparing a single ostrich feather, a task requiring over 8,600 knots. I also enjoyed reading the stories of many women who have previously flown under history’s radar. Not to mention the gender based disputes over RSPB leadership - men thought they were scientific and dismissed women as sentimental. Snippets about the historian’s work, how she discovered some things but was unable to find others, also added interest for me. All in all an engaging, engrossing, well-written narrative about topics I found really interesting. A non-fiction win for sure, one I think would have wide appeal, even to those who have less pre-existing interest than I do.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Allison Clough

    Anti-Semetic. I returned this audiobook after one chapter. The first chapter focuses on a businessman, who mistreated his employees and had them jailed. He is frequently and needlessly described as Jewish. This would almost certainly not have been done had the man in question been Christian, so serves no purpose other than to perpetuate a negative stereotype. The vast majority of employers mistreated their staff in the 1800s, religion has nothing to do with it. Perhaps this was unconsciously don Anti-Semetic. I returned this audiobook after one chapter. The first chapter focuses on a businessman, who mistreated his employees and had them jailed. He is frequently and needlessly described as Jewish. This would almost certainly not have been done had the man in question been Christian, so serves no purpose other than to perpetuate a negative stereotype. The vast majority of employers mistreated their staff in the 1800s, religion has nothing to do with it. Perhaps this was unconsciously done, but I was so uncomfortable I couldn't continue to read the book. I don't want royalties going to this woman from me. Having also read other reviews that weren't brilliant, I read the Wikipedia article instead.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rakie Keig

    Rather interesting coverage of the origins of the RSPB and the (now mostly forgotten) women who spearheaded a movement, founded a royal society, and helped preserve thousands of species of birds from slaughter. The author cleverly ties it in to the suffragist movement, which grew at about the same time and in parallel to the RSPB. It's a different perspective on a part of history that we should all probably know more about. I found it fascinating, if a little heavy-going at times. Rather interesting coverage of the origins of the RSPB and the (now mostly forgotten) women who spearheaded a movement, founded a royal society, and helped preserve thousands of species of birds from slaughter. The author cleverly ties it in to the suffragist movement, which grew at about the same time and in parallel to the RSPB. It's a different perspective on a part of history that we should all probably know more about. I found it fascinating, if a little heavy-going at times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nicki Williamson

    I am really interested in the subject material as both a feminist and an advocate for animal welfare, fairtrade and workers rights. However this was just a bit hard going for me. I started it last year and have ended up just skimming through the majority in a few hours. I think I would have enjoyed this topic as a longer magazine article but this felt like reading someone's dissertation and it was just too much for me! I am really interested in the subject material as both a feminist and an advocate for animal welfare, fairtrade and workers rights. However this was just a bit hard going for me. I started it last year and have ended up just skimming through the majority in a few hours. I think I would have enjoyed this topic as a longer magazine article but this felt like reading someone's dissertation and it was just too much for me!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cath Smith

    A fascinating comparison between the deservedly famous suffragette, and the undeservedly unknown ladies who founded the RSPB and arguably changed the face of conservation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Harriet Carr

    The best thing I've read so far this year. Considered, balanced, immaculately researched and enlightening and thought provoking. The best thing I've read so far this year. Considered, balanced, immaculately researched and enlightening and thought provoking.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    I actually clicked on this as a free review copy in error, to be truthful, yet seldom did I regret it at all. I thought it was a children's book, along the lines of those others I have seen recently ("She Heard the Birds" – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... and "Counting Birds" – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), telling of pioneering bird enthusiasts killing off the trade in feathers for fashion. Instead it's an adult non-fiction book, and one that's much more about society and I actually clicked on this as a free review copy in error, to be truthful, yet seldom did I regret it at all. I thought it was a children's book, along the lines of those others I have seen recently ("She Heard the Birds" – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... and "Counting Birds" – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), telling of pioneering bird enthusiasts killing off the trade in feathers for fashion. Instead it's an adult non-fiction book, and one that's much more about society and hats than it is about birds. While those other books concentrated on American subjects, this British volume looks at the woman who helped inspire the RSPB bird and conservation charity, who was railing against the idea of killing birds and sticking their plumage in bonnets and headdresses. Oh, and she was campaigning for birds on similar platforms to the chief suffragettes, who were all too happy to flounce around under a forest of feathers, as they needed to look dainty and feminine to get anywhere – the brash, couture-less harridan look would not do. So this almost acts as a joint biography of Emmeline Pankhurst (wants everything for women, as long as she can be be-feathered, thus managing to keep the girls involved in the feather trade stuck in the poverty that is all they've known), and the most unfortunately-named Etta Lemon (wants everything for birds, and hang those women demanding the vote and a living wage and everything else for nicking her column inches). It's also a social history, looking at the background of the workers in the feather trade, the evangelical ideas that helped Lemon become such a pioneer in her field, and more. This was, perhaps surprisingly, the first era of the campaigning style we know of today, although they were making beginner's mistakes – a lead anti-vivisectionist sporting a whole bird of paradise and an ivory-handled umbrella as her decoration of choice. I'm forced to consider this book as a complete layman here – I've hardly ever worn a formal hat, and certainly not one with a gutted songbird stuck on it. I would never have thought to find myself reading about the social history of millinery decoration, and as I say those prior reads of mine never encouraged me to think the RSPB had been born from similar reasons – and certainly not that the chief worker of the SPB before its Royal endowment was a virulent anti-suffragist. So what this layman can report is that this is surprisingly engaging, and would appear to be so for many an audience member. You don't have to have an academic hat on (feather-free, of course) to be coming here for study of early environmentalism, social protests' impact on couture or any other reason an expert would need to peruse this. It is, ultimately, a bit clumsily-named, much like its title subject, for this is about a lot more than someone who consumed a citrus fruit, and perhaps too forensic, "must-make-the-definitive-book-and-therefore-use-every-minute-detail" for its own good, but it still can go down as a surprising success. To quote, "ETTA LEMON was originally published in hardback in 2018 under the title of MRS PANKHURST'S PURPLE FEATHER." That was a slightly better title, but only just.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anne Thomas

    An absorbing intertwining of several threads of social history: bird conservation, Victorian philanthropy and politics, the suffrage movement, and the plumage trade and working class life. Although it's titled after RSPB founder Etta Lemon and she does more or less frame the narrative, it's just as much about Emmeline Pankhurst (I wonder why it wasn't called Etta and Emmeline or something like that--the original title Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather might have suited it better), with plenty of ot An absorbing intertwining of several threads of social history: bird conservation, Victorian philanthropy and politics, the suffrage movement, and the plumage trade and working class life. Although it's titled after RSPB founder Etta Lemon and she does more or less frame the narrative, it's just as much about Emmeline Pankhurst (I wonder why it wasn't called Etta and Emmeline or something like that--the original title Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather might have suited it better), with plenty of other characters, including somewhat hypothetical ones (such as a stand-in female laborer in the millinery industry) given a lot of air time. I didn't mind, since the story was well-told throughout. It was interesting to get glimpses of the historian-journalist's process, the discovery of documents and tracing down of records of people like the above millinery worker, and the threading them together in a narrative supported by the author's personal interest in bringing these overlooked characters to light, as well as her reactions to them--e.g. her initial surprise that Etta Lemon, strong, political, semi-masculine personality that she was, was also a stuanch anti-suffrage activist, leading this rivalry with Emmeline Pankhurst to become the central scaffolding of the book. She does a good job of examining and holding in tension the nuances of these complex people. Also very interesting to read about the militant suffragists and the personalities necessary to instigate that movement as well as the extreme anxiety and vitriol they provoked, reminiscent of today's more militant tendencies in activism. I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in this time period in England, new angles on familiar and unfamiliar names, and/or the history of the suffrage movement (RSPB as well, but I would say it's more about social politics than conservation per se).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ley-Anne Forsyth

    This is an extremely hard review to leave. And I was so torn about what to rate it. Prepare for me to repeatedly contradict myself. I hated Etta Lemon the more I read. Anti suffrage and extremely conservative when I saw the Telegraph call it dazzling I should’ve been tipped off. However, she is someone we should all know the name of. The founder and all round sole creator frankly of the RSPB she has never had the credit owed to her for all the work she did to prevent countless species of birds be This is an extremely hard review to leave. And I was so torn about what to rate it. Prepare for me to repeatedly contradict myself. I hated Etta Lemon the more I read. Anti suffrage and extremely conservative when I saw the Telegraph call it dazzling I should’ve been tipped off. However, she is someone we should all know the name of. The founder and all round sole creator frankly of the RSPB she has never had the credit owed to her for all the work she did to prevent countless species of birds being only in history books. The book is extremely clever in that it places Etta against Emmeline Pankhurst who is someone we all know and love. What they were campaigning for at the same time and the disdain they no doubt held for each other. I want to say here I’m a historian and I’m a feminist. This book should’ve been made for me. But honestly, whilst the information was ultimately very interesting it took a lot of work to get to it. It was just so very long and far too detailed on things which bore no relevance at all. It’s clearly written by an extremely smart and well researched passionate historian in Tessa Boase, but despite this being a book perfect for me *on paper* I found it a proper slog. I have put it down and picked it up over the last 2 years. Pros included some insight to redress the love openly given to Panky and how maybe we should choose our heroes carefully and indeed a woman who’s contribution to our animal world which has been vastly overlooked being brought to our attention. Cons - I hated so much of Etta Lemon the person which made it all the harder. She was a Turkey voting for Christmas and I believe that irony would’ve been lost on her. Too much detail which didn’t help us better understand Etta or the tale of her life.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    This is a was a true delight. Meticulously researched with extraordinary revelations shining from every stone turned over. Historic time travel at its most compelling that transports us to a zeitgeist so utterly alien to our own and so completely that we understand and feel what it must have been to have lived in such through such a pivotal time in our social history. At the heart of the story are two adversaries, arraigned principally not against each other, but for the causes they champion: Ett This is a was a true delight. Meticulously researched with extraordinary revelations shining from every stone turned over. Historic time travel at its most compelling that transports us to a zeitgeist so utterly alien to our own and so completely that we understand and feel what it must have been to have lived in such through such a pivotal time in our social history. At the heart of the story are two adversaries, arraigned principally not against each other, but for the causes they champion: Etta Lemon for the preservation of birds, murdered by the million to keep every society hat feathered to its fullest glory; and Emmeline Pankhurst, feisty wearer of the hats Lemon abhorred, and suffrage champion who, along with so many others, tore up the rulebook and went to prison in the fight for women’s votes. Boase plants herself firmly in the middle ground between the two women, sympathetic to both, almost becoming the go between between their causes. But perhaps the real heroines of the story are the ordinary working women who toiled so tirelessly for little gain in countless East End sweatshops, combing, dying and curling the feathers that adorned the hats of the upper-crust ladies. The book is as much a tribute to them, and through meticulous research and with a gentle and sympathetic touch Boase takes us to the very heart of a London that cast them so harsh a lot.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book takes the reader right into the world of the high life of aristocratic women and the tough enslavement of the girls working for milliners. Etta Lemon, privately educated and intelligent, grew a society to save the birds, cruelly slain for beautiful women's hats, and was an excellent public speaker. She worked tirelessly to make women aware of this terrible trade - some women even wore dead birds on their hats. Many of the bird species were in danger of extinction. Yet she was against w This book takes the reader right into the world of the high life of aristocratic women and the tough enslavement of the girls working for milliners. Etta Lemon, privately educated and intelligent, grew a society to save the birds, cruelly slain for beautiful women's hats, and was an excellent public speaker. She worked tirelessly to make women aware of this terrible trade - some women even wore dead birds on their hats. Many of the bird species were in danger of extinction. Yet she was against women having the vote. Some of the suffragettes were also against this 'murderous millinery', but many felt that they had to use fashion, including feathers, to enhance their power. Tessa Boase compares Etta with Emmeline Pankhurst in an interesting way. This book is very enjoyable, and made me want to find out more about such eccentric characters as the Duchess of Portland, and learn more about Arthur Mattingley, who photographed Australian egrets for the Society. I received this free ebook from NetGalley in return for an honest review. EDITION Other Format ISBN 9780711263383 PRICE $16.00 (USD)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    It is good to mix a good history book into my To Be Read list; and I'm glad that I selected this book. The time line of the campaign to save birds from being gruesomely adorned on women's headwear and the women's suffrage movement in Britain take similar timelines. Some of the hats were 2 foot x 3 foot in dimension; I can't imagine. But you don't have to imagine, as there are pictures. Species of birds were decimated by hunters gathering all they could slaughter for women's fashion. In order to It is good to mix a good history book into my To Be Read list; and I'm glad that I selected this book. The time line of the campaign to save birds from being gruesomely adorned on women's headwear and the women's suffrage movement in Britain take similar timelines. Some of the hats were 2 foot x 3 foot in dimension; I can't imagine. But you don't have to imagine, as there are pictures. Species of birds were decimated by hunters gathering all they could slaughter for women's fashion. In order to obtain the highly desired mating plumes, adult birds were killed and the baby birds starved. I'm not sure that those images will ever be forgotten. History was pretty cruel in so many ways. Definitely worth reading. I'm glad that this bit of history was captured with Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds. Thank you to NetGalley, the author Tessa Boase and the publisher Quarto Publishing Group - White Lion, Aurum for the opportunity to review Etta Lemon in exchange for an honest review. Previously released in 2018 as Mrs. Pankhurst's Purple Feather.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sophy H

    2.5 stars I borrowed this as a library audiobook to listen to whilst crocheting. The story of the creation of the RSPB is an interesting one, as is the background and history of Etta Lemon, the founding member. I feel that the story is done to death here though. Tessa Boase has a lovely voice for narration, but at over 12 hours, said narrative felt repetitive in parts and overly detailed. There are constant lists of how many wildlife species the Victorians slaughtered in the name of fashion. Ther 2.5 stars I borrowed this as a library audiobook to listen to whilst crocheting. The story of the creation of the RSPB is an interesting one, as is the background and history of Etta Lemon, the founding member. I feel that the story is done to death here though. Tessa Boase has a lovely voice for narration, but at over 12 hours, said narrative felt repetitive in parts and overly detailed. There are constant lists of how many wildlife species the Victorians slaughtered in the name of fashion. There are fastidious descriptions of women's appearances and the likely scenario of where/how they lived. There is overly exhaustive rehashing of conversations at society meetings. After a while, I was best friends with the skip 30 secs forward button! A good but overly long and stifling account of the women behind the RSPB.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I downloaded this from Audible with a view to its perhaps being the leisure book I took along to our BYOB (Bring Your Own Book(s)) APDO Book Club meeting in December, but I didn't finish listening to it in time. It was a really entertaining listen, although quite horrifying in places, hearing all the birds which were killed for millinery in the Victorian period. I also really appreciated some of the in-fighting in the volunteer societies - very relatable, I think, for any of us who have ever got I downloaded this from Audible with a view to its perhaps being the leisure book I took along to our BYOB (Bring Your Own Book(s)) APDO Book Club meeting in December, but I didn't finish listening to it in time. It was a really entertaining listen, although quite horrifying in places, hearing all the birds which were killed for millinery in the Victorian period. I also really appreciated some of the in-fighting in the volunteer societies - very relatable, I think, for any of us who have ever got involved with a cause. Would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in women's history, volunteer organizations and / or ethical fashion.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Buschert

    I purchased this book on a whim and an Amazon recommendation - such a great purchase. I couldn't put it down. And the major thing that intrigued me throughout the whole book was that there was no true heroine and such a dichotomy between the camps that Boase portrayed. Suffragettes using feathers to show their refinement and the anti-feather coalition was headed by Etta who was staunchly anti-suffrage. Both women have much to offer the world, however their faults make me distrustful of them. At I purchased this book on a whim and an Amazon recommendation - such a great purchase. I couldn't put it down. And the major thing that intrigued me throughout the whole book was that there was no true heroine and such a dichotomy between the camps that Boase portrayed. Suffragettes using feathers to show their refinement and the anti-feather coalition was headed by Etta who was staunchly anti-suffrage. Both women have much to offer the world, however their faults make me distrustful of them. At the end, I wasn't entirely sure how to feel but was glad that I now know more about the origins of the RSPB and anti-feather movement.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Frow

    Good. I listened to the audiobook version of this. Previously released as Mrs Pankhurst's Feather. It was an interesting read as I learnt about a campaign that I didn't previously know about. At times though I felt the author was taking on too much as she wrote about not just the campaign to save the birds from being fashion accessories but the suffrage movement which is a big movement in itself. Good. I listened to the audiobook version of this. Previously released as Mrs Pankhurst's Feather. It was an interesting read as I learnt about a campaign that I didn't previously know about. At times though I felt the author was taking on too much as she wrote about not just the campaign to save the birds from being fashion accessories but the suffrage movement which is a big movement in itself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hilary Blake

    Interesting to learn about Etta Lemon ,who founded the RSPB, about the appalling destruction of birds for millinery decoration, and the parallel development of Women's suffrage.However,it was a bit of a slog! Interesting to learn about Etta Lemon ,who founded the RSPB, about the appalling destruction of birds for millinery decoration, and the parallel development of Women's suffrage.However,it was a bit of a slog!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Jedrzejowska

    Fascinating book

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sneapybird

    Really well written and researched, I’d highly recommend this book to all conservationists and ornithologists.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Holyoak

    A fantastic book tht really shows the juxtapositions felt by many Victorian women felt between fighting for their cause and their desire to be ‘proper’

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anne Srokosz

    Didn’t enjoy the writing - didn’t flow well. Historical research brilliant & insights into the period fascinating. The whole bird feather industry & begi

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Interesting and inspiring, but a shame the author repeatedly feels the need to comment on the women's 'attractiveness' throughout the book. Completely irrelevant and ironically, not very feminist. Interesting and inspiring, but a shame the author repeatedly feels the need to comment on the women's 'attractiveness' throughout the book. Completely irrelevant and ironically, not very feminist.

  29. 4 out of 5

    BookBairn

    This was not quite what I expected to be honest. I read it on audiobook under the title Etta Lemon the Woman who Saved the Birds and I expected more about that personality. It was a bit clunky, repetitive and jumped from one 'character' to the next without a strong structure. There were some fascinating facts and insights but overall I found it to be a slow read. This was not quite what I expected to be honest. I read it on audiobook under the title Etta Lemon the Woman who Saved the Birds and I expected more about that personality. It was a bit clunky, repetitive and jumped from one 'character' to the next without a strong structure. There were some fascinating facts and insights but overall I found it to be a slow read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jaimie-lee Northey

    The delightful title made me pick this book up in a bookstore, and I'm glad I did. This isn't simply the story of Pankhurst's and the suffragettes. It looks at two campaigns - to get women the vote and the stop bird feathers, skins and parts being used in women's hats. I've seen feathers used in women's clothing in historical dramas and I never really though about it before, but birds had to die to make each one, and as women did not go outside hatless, millions of birds died to make hats for wo The delightful title made me pick this book up in a bookstore, and I'm glad I did. This isn't simply the story of Pankhurst's and the suffragettes. It looks at two campaigns - to get women the vote and the stop bird feathers, skins and parts being used in women's hats. I've seen feathers used in women's clothing in historical dramas and I never really though about it before, but birds had to die to make each one, and as women did not go outside hatless, millions of birds died to make hats for women, the fashion changing every season. The book focuses on these campaigns and the path to success, and particularly the women who headed each campaign: Emmeline Pankhurst and Etta Lemon. This is a story of opposites, of juxtaposition and the sharp dichotomy between these two women. Boase shows herself to be a formidable researcher. She delves into the primary documents and hunts down documents and evidence to find out this really remarkable story. She tracked down the family of one woman involved to get a photograph of her. She tells the story of the women involved adn affected by these movements from all levels of society, from the queens and duchesses down to the working class women involved in the millinery trade. Then she pulls all this research together into a well told, and well-paced historical narrative full of insight and understanding.

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