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UW Art History Professor Publishes Book on Photographer Who Focused on Women Suffragists

October 21, 2021
woman posing with book
UW Professor Colleen Denney has written a book focusing on Lena Connell, who photographed the leading women of the women’s suffrage movement during the reign of two British rulers. (Jeffrey Bernard Photo)

University of Wyoming Professor Colleen Denney has written a book focusing on Lena Connell, who photographed the leading women of the women’s suffrage movement during the reign of British rulers King Edward VII and George V.

Denney, a professor of art history and gender and women’s studies in the UW School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice, has published extensively on the visual culture of women’s activism worldwide. Her new book from McFarland Press examines “The Suffrage Photography of Lena Connell: Creating a Cult of Great Women Leaders in Britain, 1908-1914.”

The book is available in paper and e-book format at McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.

London-born Connell was among a new breed of young professional women who took up photography at the turn of the 20th century. She ran her own studio in North London, only employed women and made her mark on history by creating compellingly modern portraits of women in the British suffrage movement. At the time, Connell was among the first women photographers to take pictures of male subjects.

Denney has been working on British women in the suffrage movement since 2005 and found a particularly powerful image by Connell for a book Denney was doing research for on scandalous women in the Victorian period.

“The photograph featured two women suffragists who were actresses and who, together, ran a series of suffrage plays,” Denney says. “I featured it prominently in this new book since it is the only portrait we have of working women’s partnership in English representations. I wanted to know more about Connell once I found this image.”

According to Connell’s biography, she took pictures of leading members of the Women's Freedom League as well as Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffrage leaders. Connell was intrigued by the suffrage cause after she was employed to take pictures of the suffragist Gladice Keevil after she was released from prison. Photographs of leading suffragists were made into postcards, and copies were sold to supporters as a method of raising money.


“Connell was herself a suffragist; that fact, coupled with owning her own business, propelled her to celebrate these women who were going to make the world a more equitable place for women,” Denney says.

Whether they were factory workers, schoolteachers or aristocrats, the participants joined the suffrage cause to make a difference for future generations of women, if not for themselves. Connell’s portraits created a new kind of visibility for these activists as hard-working, unrelenting women, whose spirits rose above injustice, Denney adds.

“The women whom Connell captured in her photographs are as class-inclusive a group as you could find,” Denney says.

Denney’s 204-page book -- with 88 photographs -- examines Connell’s artistic career within the Edwardian suffrage movement and beyond, focusing on the most active years of campaigning between 1908-1914. The book discusses Connell’s body of portraits within the British suffrage movement’s propagandistic efforts and its goals of sophisticated, professional representations of its members. It includes all of her known portraits of suffragists through 1914.

“As a feminist art historian, I am always looking for examples of strong women leaders to share with my students so that they can realize how connected they are to this long history of a battle for justice,” Denney says. “Connell provides us, in this book, with key examples of brave women who are incredibly inspiring for the upcoming generations of activists.”

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