1920s london, bbc series, douglas fairbanks, e.r.a., emancipation, equal rights amendment, house of eliott, lord anthony ashley cooper, lord ashley, suffragette movement, suffragettes, women's liberation
A very dear friend kidnapped me today and took me to lunch and the beach. It felt very decadent and a little bit naughty. I haven’t allowed myself that luxury much lately. Instead I’ve been keeping at agent queries and job hunting–not the most fun way to spend a summer.
At my mum’s suggestion, I’ve also started watching an old BBC series called “The House of Eliott” that begins in 1920, just after the end of World War I. She thought I would enjoy seeing Sylvia’s era come to life. And I have—the costumes are swoon-worthy! It follows two sisters whose father dies and leaves them to fend for themselves, having spent most of their inheritance and not prepared them with any sort of education. They have a knack for clothing design so strike out to make a name and a living.
The thing that caught me by surprise is how women were treated before emancipation. I knew it intellectually and from history lessons, but to see how few rights women had has been shocking. It’s appalling just how much their success and very existence depended on the men in their lives. It wasn’t simply about the vote–which was important in its own right—but women were literally second-class citizens.
We were treated like children until we demanded more in the 1960s. My mum raised me to be independent, self-sufficient and to never allow a man to disrespect or control me and for that I am truly grateful. But to see just how bad it was, has been a revelation. How did Silky manage the oppression?
It also makes much more sense to me why Sylvia worked so diligently to marry “the right sort.” In her day, from within a good solid marriage to a decent and loving man, she could maintain a kind of independence that other, less fortunate women only dreamed of.
Besides, I totally get the draw of the leisure class lifestyle. Just this short window into having the free time to pop off to the beach in the middle of the day, has shown me how idyllic and freeing that sort of life would be.
Today’s post is a shot of Silky from the late 1920s or early 1930s. By this point she was estranged from Lord Ashley, but still enjoying his financial support. She was experiencing her very own kind of emancipation…and then she met Douglas Fairbanks.
Silky’s life changed dramatically after her marriage to Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper in February 1926. And not entirely for the better. Though they remained legally married until 1935, they were estranged after about two years. There were probably several reasons for this separation, but I know a little something about a city girl being taken to the country and how poorly that can go.
Today’s photo is a shot of Sylvia nearly a year after her marriage to Tony. I believe it’s a sitting in a series done by Cecil Beaton, but that’s not verified. The background has been painted over to make it more newspaper printable, but I can see the shadows of the lilies he was so fond of using as backdrops for his stylized portraits. This was also about the time he began photographing and reporting on London society for Vogue. And he had a lot to say about Silky.
The plaid frock she’s wearing is the same one she’s got on in pictures published by the Tatler in November 1927. I found it at the Newspaper Library in Colindale when I was researching in London eleven years ago. She is seated long-ways on a loveseat, a book in her lap with two small cameo shots in the upper corners. She warrants an entire page and the caption lists her husband’s education and titles, ending with “Lady Ashley was before her marriage a charming personality on our stage.”