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April Clark: Mr. Selfridge and the sufferin’ suffragettes

April Clark
Staff Photo |

I’ve become fascinated with life as it were 104 years ago. No big deal.

It happens when I least expect it.

I can read a book and go back to that moment in history, before women could vote and cars were an everyday convenience. I certainly am partial to literature. But I have a tendency to get lost in the world of television. That may have started with early childhood sitcom crushes on “The Brady Bunch” and “Happy Days.”

Who didn’t love Chachi?

Through the years, I’ve become attached to hit shows such as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “90210,” and, more recently, “Parks and Recreation.” All come highly recommended by me. My TV palate has a serious side to it, though, and it is with pride that I admit my newest British-born boob tube obsession, “Mr. Selfridge.”

Jeremy Piven, I never knew we would come together like this.

It’s no secret I love Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. I pine for the new fourth season of “Downton Abbey,” the British megahit that has some people losing sleep over what tragedy will happen next to the Crawley family. Actually, I really hope Downtonheads aren’t losing that much sleep. The season premier isn’t even until Jan. 5, 2014.

Talk about insomnia.

“Call the Midwife,” the show about the baby boom in the 1950s in East London, is equally addictive. Not only has the show reminded me I have an extremely low pain tolerance — especially when birthing babies is considered — but it also drives home that notion that women are rock stars.

Always have been.

Although “Mr. Selfridge,” adapted from Lindy Woodhead’s biography “Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge,” focuses on American businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge, it provides an historical perspective to what it was like to be a woman in 1909. Women were starting to gain rights. They could go out without a man to escort them. They could participate in motor car races. They could win Nobel Peace prizes. And they could shop in department stores where they finally had access to fashions and products once only reserved for the wealthy. Hence the sale was created, giving birth to the way I shop.

If it’s 50 percent off, it’s totally worth it.

These were the times in London, where Mr. Selfridge opened his Selfridge & Co. empire, when women were also starting to fight for the right to vote. The times were changing, and women’s voices were finally becoming strong enough to be heard. It’s hard to imagine this only happened just two generations ago, when my great-grandmothers were young girls. They were born in a time that would only continue to gain in momentum in terms of progress for women’s rights.

We’re still working on becoming president.

In 1909, the women’s suffrage movement was alive and well, especially in London. The suffragettes knew that there is power in numbers. Successful movements — and lucky for me and the women who come after me that’s the case — use that to their advantage. And with a fight came a fight and violence jailed many of the suffragettes. The captives waged hunger strikes and were forced to eat. This was all solely based on the fact that women didn’t have rights as equals.

It seems like the Dark Ages to me.

To me, 1909 doesn’t seem that long ago. I imagine teenagers would think it sounds like the Dark Ages, too. But I connect with that era, when change was part of everyday life. Women were making firsts all over the place. Housewife Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman to drive across the U.S. Moving pictures debuted at Madison Square Garden. And, my favorite, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened. That’s where the race today starts with “Ladies and gentleman, start your engines” when it once was just the latter being able to make those Greatest Spectacle in Racing turns.

Looking back at the past is something I enjoy doing often. It reminds me of how hard the women before me worked so I can vote for elected officials and have a voice in democracy. The 19th Amendment allowing women to vote was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. It seems like a given to the current generations, but it wasn’t even 100 years ago.

We have come a long way, baby.

— April E. Clark is trying desperately to bring home the bacon where she will subsequently fry it up in a pan. She can be reached at aprilelizabethclark@gmail.com.


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