“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”
June 11th has something for everyone.
For the environmentalist, today in 1770, Captain Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia when his ship, “The Endeavour” was grounded. For the artist, today the great John Constable was born in 1776. For the scientist, today was the birth of Sir Kenelm Digby, a speculative philosopher and alchemist, known for his unusual cure for warts (washing hands in an empty basin into which the moon shines), and for his futurist insights. “It may be, some ages hence, voyage to the southern unknown tracts, yea, possibly, to the moon, will not be more strange than one to America.”
For me, the most significant happening of June 11th was in 1914. In her book, “America’s Women – 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines” Gail Collins highlighted the work of Britain’s suffragette movement, in particularly their willingness to put their lives into jeopardy. June 11th was the day when a lady’s purse, filled with an explosive device, was hung on the back of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, London. The chair sustained minor damage, when the explosion occurred at 5:50pm. No one was hurt nor was anyone ever charged. The suffragettes were blamed, nonetheless, because of the recent passage of the “Temporary Discharge for Ill Health”, aka “Cat and Mouse Act” that legalized the hunger strikes of the women who had been imprisoned and subjected to force-feeding. The government, not wanting to be held responsible for harmful outcomes, allowed women to be released when they were at their weakest, only to be rearrested when they engaged in further acts of civil unrest.
Waves of sweeping change are very difficult to control, as the authorities soon learned. The act did not suppress the power of the movement or demoralize the participants. Instead, it brought the debate to an entire nation, who saw a government violating basic human rights.
Ninety-nine years later, this conversation continues, unabated. It is a noble struggle – one that belongs to all of us.
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”