On Emmeline Pankhurst and Getting Stuck In

Illustration:  Bijou Karman

Illustration: Bijou Karman

Sometimes we all need a bit of guidance. Writers E. Foley and B. Coates have channelled the wisdom of remarkable women from throughout history for their new book, What Would Boudicca Do? From Hedy Lamarr to Rosalind Franklin, they show you how the examples of great ladies from the past can make your present a brighter place. Plus it’s illustrated by Bijou Karman (whose work also adorns our cover this issue). Here’s what we can learn from Emmeline Pankhurst about Getting Stuck In. 

We live in deeply unsettling times. When ridicu­lous men with access to armies and red buttons seem to be in charge all over the place, it feels very tempting to put your fingers in your ears and shout ‘La la la la la’ to drown out the terrible noise our politi­cians are making left, right and centre. Tempting, yes, but wrong. 

Emmeline Pankhurst, champion for the right of women to have a vote in the first place, would have stern (but motivational) words with you.

Born in Moss Side, Manchester, Emmeline Goulden was weaned on the intoxicating milk of radicalism, raised in a family burning with political passion. The eldest of ten children, she is said to have attended her first women’s rally at the age of eight, and her forward-thinking parents sent her to a Parisian fin­ishing school in which she was instructed in the arts of book-keeping and chemistry, as well as the usual embroidery and etiquette. In 1879 she married Rich­ard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years older than her and buddy of the great reformer John Stuart Mill. With her husband’s support, Ms P. founded the Women’s Franchise League – one of their wins was ensuring that married women were able to have a say in local (but not general) elections. This was an early step in the struggle for votes for women – before this, you were lucky if you got a chance to pick the captain of the local knitting club – but still, only those women clever enough to ensnare a husband got their minute at the ballot box.

After Richard’s death at the age of 64, Emmeline managed, through the fug of grief, to find solace again in intense social campaigning. She found­ed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 with her three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela. The Pankhurst gang’s goal was simple: votes for women in every election in which men could vote. Frustrated with a lack of progress on this issue across the party spectrum, Emmeline, with her gals at her side, set the political barometer to stormy. Their slogan was ‘Deeds, not words’, and boy, did they mean it.

The WSPU’s dramatic feats included arson attacks, pouring acid into mailboxes, and even (for the Fifty Shades of Grey fans among you) attacking Winston Churchill at Bristol Temple Meads rail station with a riding crop. One woman even took her meat cleaver to Velázquez’s Venus in the National Gallery; she said afterwards that she attacked the most beautiful woman in history as revenge for the government attacking the woman with the most beautiful soul in history – our very own Emmeline. Another, Emily Wilding Davison, ran onto the course at the Epsom Derby in June 1913 and was killed by the King’s horse. It’s worth noting that these high-stakes stunts were too much for some, and Sylvia and Adela abandoned the WSPU in protest, causing a family rift that never really healed.

When war broke out in 1914, the pragmatic Emme­line called a truce. She recognised that there was a greater cause to fight for – and that there was no point chasing the vote if ultimately there might not be a country in which to cast it. She switched her focus to campaigning for women to join the war effort, and as the boys went to the front to fight for Blighty, women began to take on more traditionally male occupations. Suddenly there were female tram drivers, farmhands and firefighters, and the ladies also took on roles in the civil service, police force and factories. It’s no surprise that women began to question why they were being paid less than their male counterparts for identi­cal roles (and it’s frankly bonkers, not to mention real­ly boring, that we are having to ask the same question over a hundred years later). Women’s rights were back in the spotlight and, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to women over thirty with some stipulations: they had to own property; or be married to a property owner; or be a graduate voting in a university constituency. So not much cop for our younger working-class sisters.

Emmeline died in 1928, agonisingly just two weeks before women finally won the vote on the same terms as their menfolk. Some hair-splitting historians have questioned whether it was Ms Pankhurst’s actions or merely the seismic changes of the war that meant that women were finally judged capable of having the vote without frittering it away on fancies. Was it simply that, with so many men dead, it was now impossible for the government to overlook women? In our eyes, Emmeline still deserves our respect, and more importantly we owe it to her to turn up and take part in our democracy – her activism paved the way for a future in which women’s equality has never been off the agenda. Yes, politics today is unpredictable and sometimes depressing, but women have a special duty to exercise a right that was so recently fought for and ferociously hard-won. In fact, we’d go so far as suggesting that the next time you have to vote – in a general election, for a staff rep or for the oddest-shaped vegetable at the village show – you make sure you put your best feminist fashion foot forward and array yourself in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green.

What's in your bedroom?

Photos:  Olivia Howitt

What does your bedroom say about you? Olivia Howitt’s photographic project explores this most intimate of spaces

Like many good ideas, Olivia Howitt’s What’s in Your Bedroom? project came out of a conversation with her friend. “He told me about a girl he met at a friend’s shared house in Hackney – they were talking about bikes and she invited him to see her bedroom. She had bicycles filling every available space, on the floor and hanging from the ceiling.” Olivia was struck not only by the girl’s passion but that she only had one room to house it. “I started to think about what goes on in people’s bedrooms, other than the obvious...”

Her project is a visual demonstration of just how many things are going on in people’s bedrooms, from side projects to main jobs, and how even the smallest of spaces can be used in a creative way. As Olivia describes them, they are “small museums exhibiting moments of their inhabitant’s life in objects”, each capable of telling “short stories about our lives”.


While our bedrooms became our realms as teenagers (as in the marvellous example of Ellie May O’Sullivan, pictured) that experience is prolonged in London, where Olivia has shot the majority of the rooms, where housing costs are likely to mean shared accommodation well into your twenties at the very least. That was Olivia’s experience when she moved to the capital from Manchester, going from her own house to “all of a sudden, my whole world contained within my bedroom.”

Across the array of tastes and styles of bedrooms Olivia has had the privilege to photograph, there’s a common link, and one that’s not linked to their inhabitant’s taste or budget. “For me they have soul. I’d always want my bedroom to have soul”.



See more of Olivia's bedrooms at whatsinyourbedroom.com and @whatsinyourbedroom. You can snoop inside three more bedrooms in issue 40 of Oh Comely, out now


Ellie May O’Sullivan, student

“My bedroom is an area that is completely my own, so it’s a place where I can relax, listen to music, draw and express myself. My mum and sister have always collected things and I guess I’ve followed the family trend. There are so many things I love in my room and it’s so hard to pick a favourite – in a fire, I’d probably be burnt to a crisp trying to decide what to save – but definitely one is my small vintage Steiff penguin, Peggy, who’s a bit tatty round the edges but is really cute and fuzzy.”

Women with tattoos

Jay Rose.jpg

portrait eleni stefanou, Women with Tattoos

People are drawn to tattoos for different reasons – because they find them beautiful, empowering, therapeutic or a tangible way of holding on to important memories. Eleni Stefanou is taking photos of women and their ink, and sharing their stories on a blog as a visual love letter to tattooed women everywhere


Jay Rose, 23, tattoo artist, Glasgow

“Some people think of tattoos a ‘second skin’, but I find that concept quite strange. The minute a tattoo is on my skin it becomes a part of me and I often find it hard to remember what it was like to not have it. Looking back at old photos is becoming increasingly weird, especially since I’ve become more heavily covered. For me, getting tattooed isn’t simply about decoration – every tattoo I have means something. That’s not to say tattoos without meaning are anything less, but for me each tattoo is marking a journey and allowing me to become more secure within myself. I have tattoos with friends, for family and inside jokes.

“It was getting my stomach, hand and back tattooed that were the biggest steps in really bringing my vision to life, they were turning points for me. Those were the big tattoos that started to really frame my body and connect the dots if you will. I felt myself become so more comfortable in my own body after that.

“With every tattoo you collect, you also step into a journey with your chosen artist. You put your trust in them. For example, I chose tattoo artist Hannah Pixie Snowdon to tattoo my entire back. I am a rather small human being and it was important for my back piece to be worn – and not for it to wear me. Its evolution has been both a representation of my growth as an individual and Hannah’s growth as an artist – it was the first back piece she ever created. As for physically getting it done, I squirmed, cried, winced and in parts it has become my worst nightmare come to life.

“I am a tattoo artist myself, and I’ve had a lot of emotional experiences on my artistic journey. The other week, for example, a lovely woman had emailed me wanting a tattoo with a little nod to her mother who had recently passed away. Her mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and doctors had discovered a brain tumour within the same week. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in September last year and it’s been a hard journey, so this is something that struck home. She was a really lovely girl who had been through something that I could empathise with.

“And that, for me, is what makes tattoos so powerful and healing. They can unite people through shared experience and allow someone to mark a tragedy in their life and then recover from it.”


Read four more stories of women and their tattoos in issue 39 of Oh Comely

Women Who Changed the World: Annette Kellerman

words: frances ambler

illustration: maria martini


Our cover girl for issue 38 is Annette Kellerman – the swimming star who challenged Victorian perceptions about women’s bodies by ditching pantaloons and skirts and daring to bare her flesh while swimming. It’s Annette who is responsible for the swimming costume as we know it today

Record-breaking swimmer, the highest paid women in vaudeville, a health and fitness pioneer, the first major actress to both appear nude and to wear a moveable mermaid costume on film – out of all of Annette Kellerman’s notable achievements, it was her own line of one piece costumes, the foundation of modern swimwear, of which she was most proud,for it helped liberate women, allowing them – for the first time – to really swim.

Born in Australia in 1887, Annette wore steel braces as a child and took swimming lessons to strengthen her weak legs. She took to the sport like the proverbial duck to water. To help her family's finances, she became a professional swimmer. As a record breaker, Annette travelled the world raising publicity, in London swimming in the polluted Thames; in Paris, racing men in the Seine. She was one of the first women to attempt to swim the Channel.

While for most of the western world, pantaloons, skirts, even corsets, were still the norm for women’s ‘bathing’, Annette wore a short legged, non-skirted costume to compete for Australia. Invited to perform for British royalty in 1905, she sewed a pair of black stockings onto her men's swimsuit, creating a full-length one-piece “figure suit”. “I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline,” she sniffed. Such an ensemble saw her being arrested on a beach in Massachusetts for indecency. From the subsequent publicity, she designed and sold her suits worldwide, one step towards liberating the female body.

Annette also challenged Victorian perceptions of women’s physicality. Her performances combined a kind of underwater ballet with high dives, her choreographed moves with her ‘Kellerman girls’ an early form of synchronised swimming. She starred in highly successful films too, appearing unashamedly nude in the 1916 film, A Daughter of the Gods.

“I insist that swimming is not only a splendid sport for women, but that it is the sport for women,” Annette said, benefits ranging from the physical to the psychological. “If more girls would swim and dance, instead of rushing into matrimony as the only joy in the world, there would be fewer divorces.” She encouraged women to throw aside their corsets and penned books on health and fitness. A lifelong vegetarian, she even opened her own health food shop.

Annette died in 1975, at 89, having swum well into her eighties. Her swimwear got a generation of women into the water for the first time, allowing them to experience what she described as this “clean, cool, beautiful, cheap thing we all from cats to kings can enjoy". 

Order a copy of issue 38 from our shop

What life models think about

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Throughout art history, the figure of the model has been a consistent but anonymous presence – both a visual reference and an inspiration for the artist. For our latest issue, we photographed four women who work as life models in their favourite poses and spoke to them about their career, motivations and what they’re really thinking when they’re nude. This is Sophie Cleaver, 27, from Glasgow: 

"I walk into a room with strangers and take my clothes off, but I’m not body confident at all. People aren’t drawing me, they’re drawing some shapes. It’s performative, like dancing or acting. I’d slouch on a couch but when I’m posing, I sit up straight. There are thousands of images of me out there but I don’t see them as me.

My mum was a life model. When I turned 16 and needed to get a job, it seemed a good option. I’d grown up around it – when mum couldn’t get childcare, I’d sit in the corner with my crayons – so I wasn’t nervous. I joke that I’ve had 11 years of art classes – I find myself repeating bits back to people. I used to do it around lots of other things, but now I can’t. I have MS and it’s completely draining. Modelling is good for that – you can recline and have a rest! But I couldn’t do it every day.

One advantage is the thinking time. In other jobs, you wouldn’t get to sit and think for 45 minutes. When I was doing my A levels, I would do my coursework in my head while I was posing and write it all down when I got home – now it’s shopping lists or knitting.

If I’m posing for shorter periods of time, like a few seconds, I do things I couldn’t hold for longer, like going right onto the tips of my toes. I always try new poses. Even if it’s similar to one you’ve done 50 times, every pose is always slightly different.

Every situation is different too. When you’re modelling for A level students, there’s always one who’s nudging his mates. I’ll make eye contact with him for the entire class – it’s a sure-fire way of dealing with it. Quite often you’re in spaces that aren’t set up for modelling. There’s a lot of changing in toilets. I had this weird situation recently with a drone with a camera hovering outside the studio where I’d been posing. That was unique, but I sometimes swap notes with my mum – you know, like, “oh, I had one of those…”

Life modelling comes and goes with fashion. At the Glasgow School of Art, where I model, only 20 years ago they had about 18 full-time models with their own staff room. We’re all part-time now. But there are groups like All the Young Nudes in Scotland, putting on evenings set to music in clubs, making it cool again.

I’ve recently become much more proud of what I do. I’ve made it work as a viable job. I couldn’t support a house on it, but it’s enough for me, with the help of my boyfriend. I want to keep on doing it for as long as I can – to become Britain’s longest serving life model."

Pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 37 to see our other three life models and to read about their experiences. 

Meet our new music editor

Photo: Irene Baqué

In issue 33 we say a sad farewell to the wonderful Linnea Enstrom, who has left Oh Comely to start a creative writing course in Sweden. We're delighted to introduce you to Marta Bausells, who will be taking on the role of music editor. To get to know her a bit better, we sat her down for a little chat...

Hello Marta! Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I'm a freelance writer, editor and curator. I was born and raised in Barcelona. I started out by writing about music and culture at the same time as I studied politics. At the time, I thought they were two separate things and that I'd have to choose, but I later realised that culture is intrinsically linked to society, politics and social action. I then worked for a newspaper there, where I was lucky to report on all sorts of topics – social issues, environment, foreign news – before I moved to London four years ago.

I love that my work has allowed me to learn and explore all sorts of subjects and ideas. I always wanted to go back to writing about culture, though, and I eventually landed a job on the Guardian’s books desk, where I hosted discussions about books, created a series about books set in American cities, chatted to book-lovers around the world daily, and discovered the wonders of the literary internet. Currently, I’m really enjoying working with Literary Hub on covering books from this side of the Atlantic. 

I also do lots of other little things, like a collaboration with Subway Book Review (check it out!), which means I stop book-carrying strangers on the tube and chat to them about what they’re reading! It’s magical. No matter the subject, what I love the most about my job is that I get to meet fascinating people and share their stories. I can't wait to go back to writing about music!

What was the first single you bought? 
The Spice Girls' 'Wannabe'!* It caught me at the exact target age, and everyone at my school was crazy about them for a year.

*If by bought you mean copied on a cassette tape and passed on among friends countless times (oops). But I'm sure I ended up buying it too! 

What was the last gig you went to? 
Well, this is a bit random – but it’s the truth! It was this Catalan guy called Ferran Palau. I had gone back to Barcelona for a few days, it was the end of the summer and it was starting to drizzle (that sticky, humid end-of-summer Mediterranean rain). One neighbourhood was celebrating its yearly festivities, which means the streets are beautifully decorated by neighbours and there are gigs in almost every little square. I had just discovered this guy’s music a few hours earlier in the car, with friends – and there he was. One of those serendipitous musical moments.

What song will always get you up and dancing? 
Anything by Queen. I have a special weakness for 'Don’t Stop Me Now'.

Vinyl, CD or download?
The day I actually have space in the house and money to buy many of them, I’ll go back to vinyls – which is how I grew up listening to music. In the meantime, I’m a Spotify and downloads gal. 

Who, dead or alive, would you most like to interview? 
Frida Kahlo. I visited her house last year in Mexico and I was like “can I just move in here now?”. I would love to have been around her energy when she was alive, even if for five minutes. I am so inspired by how, despite being in horrific and crippling pain, she got up every morning, kicked ass and made the most amazing art – and lived her life in her own terms. 

And if I might cheat and add a couple from the realm of the alive, right now my musical dream interviewee would be Solange – what a queen! I’d love to interview Michelle Obama once she leaves the Oval Office and gets to talk more freely. And Tom Hanks, always. 

Outside of music, what else do you like to do?
Like I said, I love reading. My bedroom is ridiculously full of 'to-be-read piles' – it’s almost like I live around these book towers, and not the other way around. I also love film – I ran a film club with a friend for a while – good television and storytelling podcasts. I used to feel stressed-out or guilty about how little time there is to follow everything, but now I don’t mind being behind on TV shows or anything else. There’s this growing backlog of great culture waiting for me when I get home! What’s not to love?

Let us know a secret...
I don’t like chocolate… (!)


Find out more about Marta on her website, or follow her on Twitter

Illustrators we love: Hannah Sunny Whaler

One of our recent featured artists, Bristol-based Hannah Sunny Whaler, is a signwriter as well as a beautiful illustrator. "My work has pretty much entirely been centred around my signwriting since graduating," says Hannah. "These two sides of my work are equally as important as each other; one informs the other."

We asked her to share her first commission, favourite piece and her most personal work so we could get to know her better.

Hannah's work in progress

Hannah's work in progress

Hannah's finished piece.

Hannah's finished piece.

“My first illustration commission was a piece I got asked to create after my final show at Art College, aged 17. The lady who commissioned me had seen my work there, and wanted something in a similar style (but on paper rather than on a collection of old wooden planks and doors like my piece in the final show!).”

“Every year, the third year Illustrators at Falmouth Art College produce a book called Illustrated Quotes an Sayings to showcase their about-to-be graduates. As well as producing a piece for inside the book, you can submit a cover design too, simply illustrating a single number – ours was number 9. I chose to hand paint it on a plank of wood in a circus style, and my design won. It was such an honour to have my image represent such a talented bunch of illustrators! I'm very proud of this.”

“My most personal piece is probably my most recent exhibition: “Searching for Words”, which was on display for a week at Line Gallery in Stroud. It consisted of four panels, upon which I sign painted with a uniform but freehand set lettering style. All of the wording was taken from an intensive period of remote brain writing exercises where I just wrote as I thought, going from brain to page, linking phrases with rhythm, rhyme and colour. This was accompanied by a big wall painting introducing the show. It was very experimental and hugely personal, and felt rather exposing, like I was letting people read my mind.”

See more of Hannah's work in issue 32, and her sketchbooks and signs at hanasunny.co.uk.

Illustrators we love: Kate Rowland

Kate Rowland, jewellery maker and sketcher of all things pop culture, space, geology and dinosaur, featured in our current issue. We wanted to know more about her work and asked her our favourite illustrator questions:

What was your first commissioned piece? 
Which is the piece you're most proud of? and
What's your most personal drawing to date?

"My first commission was to illustrate a flyer for a retro games console night in Hackney Picturehouse. It was really fun, and I got paid in cinema tickets as well as actual money."

"I'm probably most proud of my 'space achievement' series. They were part of a university project, and remind me of all the hard work, as well as immense amounts of fun! I might make these into real patches soon..."

"All my work is very personal, but I painted this after a trip to Dungeness with my sister. We'd wanted to visit for ages (it's the UK's only desert!) and it was as amazing and inspirational as we'd hoped. This is the film maker Derek Jarman's iconic house."

See Kate's work in issue 32, and browse her jewellery on her Etsy shop.

Capturing the atmosphere

Meet Maya Beano, the photographer behind our main homepage and social media cover images this month. We were so taken with her haunting 35mm film photos after printing one of her pictures in issue 32 that thought we'd quiz her about her inspiration and process.

When did you first fall in love with film photography? 

I've always really loved cameras, but it was only a couple of years ago that I properly got into it. After shooting with a digital camera for five years, I decided to take up something different. 

What is it about 35mm film in particular that you love?

My friend's room was where I shot my first full 35mm film roll – a group of us were just sitting around eating chocolate on a chilly autumn day. I remember being enamoured with how real the photos from that day felt. There was something very therapeutic about that tangibility. I also see 35mm film as a stepping-stone towards exploring other film formats, like instant and medium format, which I will hopefully have time to do one day. 

What advice do you have for people who want to start exploring film photography?

I would encourage everyone not to shy away from experimenting. I think it's important to realise that no matter how good you get at film photography, it can still be full of surprises. Also, photograph what you love. 

What's been your proudest creative moment so far?

It's satisfying when I look back at a photo that captures the exact emotions I was feeling at the time of the shoot. I try to do this with all of my series, and when it works, it is a proud moment. 

What's your favourite photograph you've taken? (Can we see it?!)

Oh this is a difficult question, because I feel attached to different photos at different stages of my life. Right now, I'd go for the image above, that I took of my brother just before his birthday last December – it was the perfect winter sunset and the moon had just come out. I'm a big fan of peaceful moments. I could always do with more of those! 

Who inspires you?

Friends, family, kind people. Everyone I love.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've taken photos during a couple of road trips this summer, so I'm currently busy with those. Most of these were taken in Northern Ireland where my best friend grew up. I'm also going to the US later this year for both work and leisure, so I plan to make the most of my time there photography-wise.

Maya Beano is a UK-based photographer. You can see more of her photography series at mayabeano.com, and her wanderings in film at instagram.com/dreamlabcoat

Women Who Changed the World: Freya Stark

“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do,” said British explorer Freya Stark. In 1927, aged 33, while the majority of her contemporaries were embedded in domesticity, she embarked on her first expedition. Boarding a ship to Beirut, her destination was the places she’d encountered through the pages of her favourite childhood book, One Thousand and One Nights. 

Explorer Freya Stark, illustrated by Viktorija Semjonova for Oh Comely issue 31.

Explorer Freya Stark, illustrated by Viktorija Semjonova for Oh Comely issue 31.

While Stark’s travels in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Persia in the 1920s and ‘30s did benefit cartographers by filling in hitherto blank maps, greater still was their effect on a transfixed audience back home. Over her 25 books, she transported readers to the far-flung corners of the atlas, bringing it to life with the characters of the people she encountered, descriptions of how they dressed, ate, lived, and imparting her own giddy delight in exploration. 

Stark’s first book, The Valley of the Assassins, published in 1934, charted her journey in an area barely visited by Westerners, let alone Western women. She travelled alone and unarmed, as she did on all her travels. Over time, her packing evolved to include letters of introduction, medication, small gifts to hand out, as well as copies of Jane Austen and Virgil. Clad in Dior dresses and favouring elaborate hats to hide the effects of a disfiguring childhood accident, Stark took advantage of her gender to experience the aspects of women’s lives hidden from her male counterparts and, when she wanted, to bend the rules. “The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised.” Her desire for exploration wasn’t driven by conquest or a need to assert superiority, but by curiosity, “I travelled single-mindedly for fun,” she stated. 

In her 1939 Baghdad Sketches, where a medical emergency left her close to death, she recounted that, “It was not my sins that I regretted at that time; but rather the many things undone”. Living until she was 100, and travelling into her eighties, Freya Stark was a woman who would never be “done”.Further reading: One Thousand and One Nights (Penguin Classics); The Valley of Assassins by Freya Stark (Modern Library Inc); Baghdad Sketches, Freya Stark (IB Taurus and Co Ltd)

This feature originally appeared in Oh Comely issue 31