Topic Guide: Suffragettes

Image showing a collage featuring a poster of Joan of Arc with the title The Suffragette on a colourful background

Suffragette poster used in a mixed media painting

© reproduced with the permission of Parliament

    • It might seem difficult to believe now, but it was only in the last 100 years that women in the UK achieved the right to vote, also known as suffrage. The women who campaigned for the right to vote were known as suffragettes.

      This topic guide to the suffragettes covers: Emmeline Pankhurst, civil disobedience, Emily Wilding Davison, souvenirs and memorabilia and suffragettes around the world.

      Emmeline Pankhurst
      Along with her daughters Christabel, Adela and Sylvia, Emmeline Pankhurst was a prominent suffragette. They founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Manchester in 1903, bringing new life to the campaign for 'votes for women'. You can find out more about the WSPU at the Museum of London.

      The Pankhursts called for ‘Deeds not Words' and produced a newspaper to help promote their cause. You can see a poster for 'The Suffragette' at the V&A.

      Civil disobedience
      The deeds performed by suffragettes included rallies, demonstrations and even acts of civil disobedience. These ranged from seemingly mild acts such as defacing pennies (such as this one from the British Museum) to smashing windows!

      The Museum of London has a nice example of a toffee hammer, a hammer for breaking up sheets of hard toffee. Suffragettes used these to smash windows because they were easy to conceal in their clothes.

      Some suffragettes decided to take this further, with acts of serious vandalism. On the 10th March 1914, Mary Richardson attacked a painting called the Rokeby Venus with a knife. Listen to the SoundCloud clip below for a clip from the BBC World Service about the attack.

      The painting was restored, and you can still see it today at the National Gallery.

      Emily Wilding Davison

      Emily Wilding Davison was another suffragette who became notorious for her deeds, including hiding in the Houses of Parliament. This was commemorated by a plaque on the door of the cupboard she hid in.

      Emily’s most infamous act was when she supposedly threw herself under the King’s Horse at the Royal Derby in 1911, attempting to raise awareness of the suffragette movement. She was knocked unconscious and died a few days later. You can see footage of this moment in the video below from British Pathé.

      The London School of Economics  has an online exhibition exploring Emily’s life using objects related to her, including her return ticket home from the races. This ticket has led some people to think that she did not intend to kill herself that day.

      Souvenirs and memorabilia
      Because the suffragettes wanted to promote their cause as much as possible, they created lots of souvenirs, including jewellery, posters and accessories, such as this scarf from the V&A.

      The People’s History Museum in Manchester holds a replica of a game called Pank-a-Squith, produced by suffragettes, that was designed to teach people about the issues surrounding the campaign. You can find out more about the game here.

      Suffragettes around the world
      Different places around the world granted suffrage to women at different times. In the US, it was granted with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.  Soomo Publishing have produced this parody of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance which explains more about the fight of American suffragettes.

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