This evening I went to the Southbank, at Waterloo, for the finale of the three day Women of the World conference. The finale was an evening of comedy and music, hosted by the deliciously naughty Sandi Toksvig and with performances from Susan Calman, and an all female orchestra led by Clio Gould (who usually leads the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra) and conducted by the multi-talented Sue Perkins. There was even a guest appearance by Helena Kennedy QC.
The evening was so much fun and it ended with the whole audience all standing up and singing along at the top of their voices to March of the Women by Dame Ethel Smyth - the suffragettes' anthem.
Ethel Smyth was a composer at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century. She joined the Women's Social and Political Union to campaign millitantly for women's suffrage in Britain, and even stopped working for two years so that she could properly devote herself to the cause. Along with many other members of the WSPU she was jailed for her actions in the suffrage campaign. Sandi Toksvig told us all the story of how one visitor to Holloway Prison found a whole group of suffragettes in the prison quad singing March of the Women, while Ethel Smyth conducted them from a window above, using a toothbrush as a baton.
So this evening we all stood up to remember the suffragettes and sing their anthem, which really should not be forgotten. It was spine tingling and exciting, and although we laughed when we too were conducted with a toothbrush, the determined lyrics and forceful, soaring music of the song made sure we remembered and gave thanks for all those amazing women who came before us.