Collecting Suffrage: The Hunger Strike Medal

One of the most iconic items to add to a suffrage collection is a WSPU hunger-strike medal. 

These medals were first presented by the WSPU at a ceremony in early August 1909, given to women who had gone on hunger strike while serving a prison sentence handed down as punishment for an act of suffrage militancy.

The medals comprise a silver pin bar engraved ‘For Valour’, a hanging length of ribbon in the purple, white and green colours, and either a silver or a striped enamel bar, from which hangs a silver circle with the name of the presentee on one side and ‘Hunger striker’ on the other. If the ribbon terminates in a silver bar, this is engraved with a date denoting the day of the owner’s arrest. The enamelled purple, white and green bars are engraved on the reverse, for example sculptor Edith Downing’s medal that I once sold is engraved with ‘Fed by Force 1/3/12’. This was the date of her imprisonment that resulted in a hunger strike and forcible feeding.

The reverse side of the medal

Some medals, such as the one Emily Wilding Davison is wearing in my 6 August ‘Suffrage Stories’ post, carry more than one bar, indicating multiple hungerstrikes.

Each medal was presented in a purple box, with a green velvet lining. As can be seen in the photograph, a piece of white silk that originally went inside the lid was printed in gold with: ‘Presented to [name] by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.

These medals were made by Toye, a well-known Clerkenwell firm, and cost the WSPU £1 each – the medals now sell for thousands of pounds. They were treasured by their recipients who , in their old age, still proudly wore them  on suffrage occasions; they are treasured today by collectors who recognise the bravery of the women to whom they were awarded.

Grace Roe (right) and Leonora Cohen (centre)wearing their hunger strike medals in 1974

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