Posts Tagged Mrs Pankhurst
The apotheosis of suffragette dress
The term ‘suffragette’ was invented in 1906 by the Daily Mail, as a belittling epithet, and was then adopted as a badge of honour by the women it sought to demean. These women – the suffragettes –campaigning for the parliamentary vote – were members of what are termed the ‘militant’ suffrage society – the Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters.
It would be possible to approach the subject of suffragettes and their dress chronologically because during what we think of as the Edwardian years, that is from 1901 to 1914, women’s dress did alter decisively, from the curvy, rather fussy outline, topped by a large hat, of the early years to the more tailored look in the year or so before the outbreak of war. It could be argued that this was not unconnected to the growing importance and popularity of the campaign for ‘votes for women’. However, I thought it would be interesting to approach the topic from a different angle – to see whether the suffragettes used dress as a weapon in their campaign and, if so, why and how.
The suffragettes were by no means the first women in Britain to campaign for the right to vote in parliamentary elections. That campaign had begun 40 years earlier, in 1866, when John Stuart Mill, then MP for Westminster, presented a petition to the House of Commons asking for the vote for women on the same terms as it was granted to men. Why were women barred from voting? The one reason – unarguable in its unreasonableness – was simply that in the mid 19th c the act of voting was gendered male – just as the army, the navy and the church were male. The ballot was not secret, votes were bought with beer, and the hustings were notorious for scenes of drunken brawling. Women who claimed a right to enter this world were transgressing the gender divide. In consequence, such women were either regarded, negatively, as insufficiently womanly – the jibe was that they must want the vote to make up for their lack of charms – or as positively masculine – as women aping men. Either way the popular verdict was that these ‘women’s righters’ were embarrassments – figures of fun.
As dress may be taken as the outer signifier of inner thought, the appearance of women who campaigned for the vote was always a matter to be given serious consideration.– both during the 19th century and then during the Edwardian campaign.
This is Punch’s view of the presentation of that first petition. The representation of the women – the ‘persons’ – whom Mill is leading – does reflect something in demeanour and dress of the women who organised the petition. They were, on the whole, self-confident, young middle-class women – the wearers of muffs and fashionable bonnets. The more elderly woman with glasses represented the earnestness of the movement – while the image of the old woman with the umbrella – as depicted, a member of a class of women who would have no hope of gaining the vote, which was based on property holding – was the caricature that was to feature in both 19th and 20th c popular representations of the suffrage movement, particularly on comic postcards in the Edwardian period.
The petition had been put together very quickly – women went round their friends, relations and neighbours asking for signatures.Here are two young women who did just that – in Aldeburgh in Suffolk. They are Millicent Garrett, sitting down, and her sister, Agnes. As you will note they are entirely conventionally attired as young women of the 1860s. Both were to be involved in the suffrage campaign all their long lives – Millicent Garrett, as Mrs Millicent Fawcett, was to negotiate women to the ballot box in 1918.
Millicent and Agnes very much looked up to their elder sister, Elizabeth, who, in spite of many difficulties put in her way, had in 1866 managed to become the first woman to qualify in Britain as a doctor. She was one of those in London who were organizing the suffrage petition. Again, all her life she made no particular statement about her looks – but dressed in such a way that, within the bounds of conventional fashion, she could carry out her work as a doctor in the hospital she founded and as lecturer and eventually dean of the London School of Medicine for Women. Like Millicent, she was, at this time, very much of the view that women would get the vote by proving themselves worthy – not by upsetting the establishment. One aspect of this was that from the very beginning of the campaign it was recognised that women were more likely to be taken seriously – or at least, not dismissed out of hand – if in outward appearance – in dress and demeanour – they conformed to the general ‘look’ expected of women – that is, if they placed themselves firmly on the female side of the gender divide and avoided looking either unwomanly or mannish. For instance, when in 1870 public suffrage meetings was being planned in London, Elizabeth Garrett, who was something of a cynic, suggested that it would be a good idea to make sure that only pretty, well-dressed women filled the front row.
At a time when it was still exceptional for a well-brought up woman to speak on a public platform, suffrage speakers quickly made their mark and by 1874 Punch had already made up its mind on the subject of the dress of a typical suffrage campaigner. Here the cartoonist has elected to depict her as positively masculine. Now, just such a woman as Punch was referring to – a famous champion of women’s rights, although by all accounts very much more attractive in the flesh – was Rhoda Garrett – who was not only the cousin of Agnes, Elizabeth and Millicent, but also the partner, both in an interior design business and in life, of Agnes.
An engraving of Rhoda speaking at a London public meeting in 1872, shows her wearing an outfit such as that in the Punch cartoon – a loose jacket and skirt. She is hatless and her hair is loose and she certainly doesn’t look to be corseted. Rhoda was on the radical wing of the suffrage movement – her attire reflecting her freer approach She was prepared, for instance, openly to support the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts. Millicent Fawcett, on the other hand, believed that it was dangerous to the suffrage cause to mix it in the public mind with any mention of prostitution. You can see Millicent here on the left, with hair braided, shawl draped.
Rhoda Garrett died in 1882 – when barely 40 – and is now little remembered. If she had lived she might well have made a very interesting figurehead for the suffrage movement – both in terms of the substance of her speeches and in her idiosyncratic style of dress.
But by the beginning of the 20th century, despite the hundreds and hundreds of meetings, petitions presented and bills debated, women were still denied the vote – even though by then the act of voting only meant, as it does now, putting a piece of paper into a box, the electoral hustings no longer involved hard drinking and unseemly brawls and women had already won the right to vote for many local government bodies.
In October 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst decided to form her own pressure group – the Women’s Social and Political Union – to make a determined effort to move the campaign forward. She had been involved with the suffrage movement since the 1880s when living with her husband and children in Manchester. Despite spending some years moving in London Arts and Crafts circles, Emmeline always remained more a figure rendered by Tissot than Burne-Jones. She preferred Parisian modes to Pre-Raphaelite drapery. By the time she founded the WSPU she was a widow, back living in Manchester. It took a couple of years to gather steam and it was when the WSPU began to make itself seen and heard in London that the term ‘suffragette’ was coined. By 1906 the difference between the suffragettes and the original campaigners – the ‘suffragists’ – had become clear.
The WSPU were prepared to demonstrate in an increasingly militant fashion, while the suffragists, members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies – known as the NUWSS – led by Millicent Fawcett, remained ‘constitutional’ – that is they would not contemplate breaking any aspect of the law. Even when under arrest Mrs Pankhurst contrived to look elegant and womanly.
Emmeline Pankhurst was soon joined in the WSPU by her eldest daughter, Christabel. The photograph above dates from c 1908 – her dress is rather more ‘artistic’ than her mother’s – the brooch may have been designed by C.R. Ashbee.
In the Vanity Fair ‘Spy’ cartoon from a couple of years later she appears to be wearing the same gown – which we can now see is green, a favourite colour. Grace Roe, who was to become a life-long friend, has left a description of the first time she saw Emmeline and Christabel speaking – at a WSPU rally in Hyde Park in 1908. Although she was interested in the women’s suffrage movement she had been put off by the press reports and was afraid that Emmeline and Christabel might be ‘unwomanly women’. However, she was delighted to discover that, on the contrary, ‘There was Mrs Pankhurst, this magnificent figure, like a queen’ and Christabel who ‘had taken off her bonnet and cloak, and was wearing a green tussore silk dress. She was very graceful, had lovely hands and a wonderful way of using them.’
And here is Christabel again, photographed at the Women’s Exhibition – a WSPU bazaar that was both fund and image-raising – held in Knightsbridge in 1909. And that is a hat that is intended to disarm – to secure her as a ‘womanly woman ‘ and disprove any association with the Shrieking Sisterhood. The photographs of Emmeline and Christabel– as were many others of the leaders – were reproduced on postcards, which were sold by the WSPU. By doing so they not only advertised that they conformed to accepted views of womanhood, but raised money in the process.
Emmeline Pankhurst’s second daughter, Sylvia, was an artist, and had trained at Royal College of Art. She eventually broke away from Emmeline and Christabel to pursue the campaign for the vote from a base among the working women of the East End. She always appears conventionally, if carelessly, dressed and in 1911 the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, characterised her as too busy to be ‘bothered about her hair, or the hang of her skirt.’ Another suffragette described her as dressing ‘like a Quakeress in sober browns and greys’. But when the occasion demanded even she, radical that she was, was prepared to make an effort. During an American tour in 1911 a reporter in Des Moines described her arriving at a suffrage meeting, a ‘pink-cheeked slender girl clad in a trailing gown of creamy silk, [who] dropped modestly into a seat on the platform and raised her blue eyes to meet the hundreds in the audience.’
Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and her husband, Frederick, were wealthy philanthropists – working philanthropists- who brought both money and organisational skill to the WSPU, joining the Pankhursts as its leaders. Mrs Pethick Lawrence was particularly disturbed by the exploitation of girls working in the London dress trade and in the early years of the 20th century founded a club for them. In fact, in the mid-19th century, right at the very beginning of the suffrage campaign, it had been concern for what were then termed ‘needlewomen’ that had dominated much of the discourse. Although, of course, such women would not be emancipated under the terms for which the vote was being demanded, middle-class women thought that if they had the vote they would be able to improve the lives of their working-class sisters. The irony of women slaving to provide new fashions for other women was not lost on the campaigners. Emmeline Pethick Lawrence set up not only a club, but also a tailoring co-operative – ‘Maison Esperance’ – to free at least a few girls from exploitation. It was based first in Great Portland Street and then in Wigmore Street. As you see, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence favoured rather loose, flowing garments – richly embroidered, tasselled – floating scarves. I think they qualify as artistic; she was certainly rather fey and spiritual.
These women were, of course, all middle-class, but the WSPU also had its working-class icons – the most important of whom was Annie Kenney. Until swept up by the Pankhursts, she had been a mill girl in Lancashire – and for many of her early public appearances she was dressed in shawl and clogs – for effect, I may say. That is not how she would have chosen to dress. In the photograph on the left she appears in the mill girl guise, alongside Mrs Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, who had been one of the earliest of the suffrage campaigners. Mrs Elmy was impoverished – what money she had was spent on campaigning – and totally unworldly – her ringletted hair was styled as it had been in her youth – but was well aware that it would never do, as she said, to ‘look a scarecrow’ when appearing in public. So friends united in providing her with a new gown when necessary, ensuring that her appearance was commensurate with her importance in the movement.
Rather than shawl and clogs Annie Kenney much preferred the type of garments that those with whom she now associated wore – such as she wears in the above photo. Thus, in December 1906, for a dinner given at the Savoy by Mrs Fawcett and the NUWSS to celebrate the release of WSPU prisoners, Annie recorded that ‘Mrs Lawrence bought me a very pretty green silk Liberty dress for the occasion, and I wore a piece of real lace. I was so pleased with both.’
For by the autumn of 1906 WSPU militancy now involved arrest and imprisonment. This photograph was taken a couple of years later – at the WSPU office in Clement’s Inn in the Strand and shows the leaders being arrested by Inspector Jarvis of the Yard. From this we can get a good indication of their normal daywear. From left to right they are Mrs Flora Drummond – Mrs Pankhurst – and Christabel. Annie Kenney looks down from the poster on wall
But alongside militancy that led to arrest was militancy that merely involved making a peaceful, public demonstration. Although the WSPU’s first London march in 1906 comprised women from the East End, many carrying their babies, the WSPU did not pursue its involvement with working-class women. Wealthier women were more able to contribute not only funds but a more glamorous presence on the streets. It was they who were mustered for the spectacles of pageantry that the WSPU in successive years mounted in London – and in provincial cities. These displays gave the photographers material to record. Both still and moving cameras were used – for newsreel of the occasions was shown in cinemas.
The WSPU staged the first of their major pageants in Hyde Park in June 1908. It was estimated that a quarter of a million people attended. In order to make as dramatic an effect as possible Mrs Pethick Lawrence suggested that women should wear white – and, of course, – as we see here – did so herself. .One suffragette, Jessie Stephenson, has left a description of how ‘my milliner and dressmaker took endless pains with my attire. A white lacy muslin dress, white shoes and stockings and gloves and, like an order, across the breast, the broad band in purple, white and green emblazoned “Votes for Women”, a white shady hat trimmed with white’. The mother of another WSPU member, Mary Blathwayt from Bath, recorded in her diary that Mary was dressed ‘in white muslin with the scarf crosswise over her shoulder’.– as the woman on the left wearing .
The scarf was a new piece of merchandise – a motoring scarf in the new WSPU colours of purple, white and green – a combination devised by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence to represent the WSPU brand – and with which the WSPU is still associated. The colours were used on programmes, rosettes, flags and banners and on the sashes the women draped across themselves.
Even Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy wore a sash, standing alongside Mrs Pankhurst. She has left us details of the bouquet she was given to carry –advertising the WSPU’s colours in a composition of ‘ferns, huge purple lilies and lily of the valley’.
The colours were not only employed in the course of the pageants. In Nov 1910 Christabel Pankhurst was one of the leaders of a deputation of all the women’s suffrage societies to Asquith and Lloyd George and for the occasion dressed in a coat with wide satin lapels in purple, white and green. The journalist Henry Nevinson commented in his diary that it was ‘fine – but a little overdone for the morning.’
In order to sell the merchandise, the local WSPU societies opened shops – taking short leases on high street properties, just as charity shops do today. This is the one run by the Putney society. They produced a wide-range of tempting goods – from board and card games, to ‘Votes for Women’ tea and soap and ‘Emmeline’ and ‘Christabel’ bags. The Pankhursts were the Alexa Chungs of their day. But one of the most popular type of merchandise was what might be loosely termed ‘jewellery’. This ranged from mass-produced badges to hand-wrought items. One WSPU diarist recorded that the local society ‘had taken a shop in the central part of the town, and decorated it beautifully with purple, white and green flags. On a counter I saw piles of leaflets, pamphlets and Suffragette literature, also very pretty little brooches in the colours, one of which I bought and intend always to wear’
The WSPU had very quickly developed the idea of creating such symbols to be worn to indicate support for their cause. Soon all the suffrage societies, ranging through the Women’s Freedom League, the Actresses’ Franchise League, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, the NUWSS, the Men’s League and, as here, the Jewish League all had their own colours and badges.
Something of an irritating mythology has gathered around the concept of ‘suffragette jewellery’, fostered by dealers and auction houses who like to claim that any piece with stones approximating to the colours purple, white and green, must be of suffragette association. Although, at the height of the WSPU campaign, such pieces certainly were manufactured both by commercial and craft jewellers, it is now very difficult to identify them with any certainty as suffragette – amethysts, pearls and demantoid garnets or emeralds were very commonly used in Edwardian jewellery. We do know that some pieces were made with the WSPU in mind. For instance, in December 1909 Mappin and Webb issued a catalogue of ‘Suffragette jewellery’.
And this silver and enamel pendant using a design by Sylvia Pankhurst was certainly made and sold in WSPU shops. And in Votes for Women craft workers advertised jewellery made up in the colours and the numerous fund-raising bazaars provided ample opportunity for purchasing such items of jewellery associated with the movement.
We also know that one-off pieces of suffragette jewellery were made.In 1909 Ernestine Mills, an enameller who was a WSPU supporter, was commissioned by the Chelsea WSPU to make a pendant for one of their members on her release from prison. In silver enamel, it depicted the winged figure of Hope singing outside the prison bars and was held by a chain made up of purple, white and green stones. Above is a pendant made by ernestine Mills for an Irish suffragette.
The symbolism of both jewellery and of military decoration is realized in a portrait of Flora Drummond, painted in 1936, that now hangs in the Scottish Portrait Gallery. She was a Scots woman living in Manchester who along with, or despite, her husband and young son, was swept into the WSPU in its very early days. As you can see, she took to it with a will –and was known as General Drummond. .For her portrait she wore a large pendant of purple, white and green stones alongside the WSPU equivalent of the Victoria Cross – the hunger-strike medal.
As you can see from this photo, held by the Museum of London, the WSPU by 1908 or so had, alongside its desire for its members to be seen as womanly women, begun to embrace a more military ethos. Uniform – or at least uniformity – were important elements when producing pageantry and processions – in creating a spectacle. Here we see a suffragette acting as a standard bearer You will note how like a uniform she has made her outfit – although all the individual pieces are, I imagine, conventional
For the major suffragette demonstration in Hyde Park in 1910 the WSPU paper,Votes for Women, asked those taking part to march eyes front, like a soldier and ‘to remember you are just a unit in a great whole’. Hints were also given on how to dress. ‘Don’t wear gowns that have to be held up. Don’t wear enormous hats that block the view. Do wear white if possible. Do in any case keep to the colours.’ .Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, who was probably responsible for this edict, took her own advice. She wore a lovely dress – with a hem that was perhaps weighted in someway, to bell out a little, clearing the ground. She wears a loose lacy long jacket over the dress – also white. Her hat may have been purple or green – although of course one cannot tell from the photograph – and is neat and close fitting. Her gloves are white and she carries a little bag – again probably in purple or green. Sylvia is holding one of the placards she had designed that were a feature of this procession –a convict’s arrow was superimposed on the House of Commons portcullis – symbolising the lengths that women were prepared to go to gain the vote. Christabel is in academic dress – she had graduated in 1906 with a first-class degree in law from Manchester University. In all the major processions graduates marched as a group – emphasising the fact that, although they had attained scholastic heights, they were still denied the vote.
Emily Wilding Davison is the other figure in academic dress in the Hyde Park photo and on a separate occasion sat for a studio photographer in academic dress – she had gained her degree in the 1890’s. The photograph can be dated to some time after 1908 by the fact that she is wearing a particular brooch – the WSPU Holloway badge – given to women who had been imprisoned. This was the photograph that the WSPU chose to publish in the press and on postcards after her death at the Derby in 1913 – the image chosen to reinforce the idea of intellectual achievement – of noble womanhood sacrificed.
In 1911, Britain having badefarewell to King Edward the previous year, prepared to celebrate the coronation of the new king. The suffragettes, in a spirit of truce, held back on their militant campaign to stage perhaps their most spectacular procession – and demonstrate, in mass, their womanliness.
For this procession the WSPU organized separate contingents representing different groups –their dress making specific statements.
This is the Indian contingent.
Nurses – who always received a warm welcome from bystanders as they marched past
Members of Cymric Suffrage Society – the welsh suffrage society – dressed in their regional costume
Cicely Hamilton, seen here (3rd from left) carrying the Women Writers Suffrage League banner, was very much a lady who favoured the tailor rather than the dressmaker. In her autobiography she wrote: ‘A curious characteristic of the militant suffragette movement was the importance it attached to dress and appearance, and its insistence on the feminine note. In the WSPU all suggestion of the masculine was carefully avoided, and the outfit of a militant setting forth to smash windows would probably include a picture hat.’
But be that as it may, there were some women who were able within the WSPU to adopt a role that allowed them to wear clothing more masculine than was otherwise acceptable. Here we see Vera – also known as Jack – Holme, the WSPU’s chauffeur. Involvement with the WSPU allowed her very much more scope to lead the kind of life she wanted – previously she had been an actress in the D’Oyly Carte. As Mrs Pankhurst’s chauffeur she wore a striking uniform in the WSPU colours, with a smart peaked cap decorated with her RAC badge of efficiency – atop her decidedly short hair.
She lived with the Hon Evelina Haverfield who appeared in the pages of Votes for Women in 1912 giving her imprimatur to the Omne Tempus raincoat – an ideal coat for town, county and campaigning.
As the suffrage battle grew more ever more physical, so the imagery became more military – if of a feminised kind. This poster was used after 1912 to advertise the Suffragette,the successor paper to Votes for Women. By now, Joan of Arc was often invoked as a role model
And, paradoxically, it was the womanly skills of WSPU members that were used to make many of the banners, flags and pennants that were carried by the marchers into the suffrage battle. And to raise funds for what was actually called ‘The War Chest’, the WSPU held grand bazaars. Of these the grandest was the one held in Knightsbridge in 1909. Here, in this photograph held by the Museum of London, we see Mrs Pankhurst manning the hat stall there – she had appealed for hats, veils, scarves, hair ornaments etc’. Hats clearly had their part to play in the woman’s struggle – although hat ornamentation could arouse strong feelings. Some suffragettes, many of whom combined interests in anti-vivisection and vegetarianism with their support for votes for women, were involved in a campaign to prohibit the wearing of feathers in hats.
But hat-wearing was de rigueur – even when setting out to commit arson. To have been hatless would have been to attract attention. When Emily Wilding Davison ran in front of the King’s horse in 1913– she was wearing a hat. Newsreel, that you can watch here, shows it bowling across the grass as she fell.
After Emily Wilding Davison’s death – the WSPU gave her a magnificent funeral. You can see the women dressed – very femininely -in white – guarding the coffin, holding their lilies like swords. One rank and file member, Alice Singer, recorded in her diary the day before the funeral that she had just bought a black armband to wear as she watched the procession from the pavement. And Kate Frye (who’s diary I have edited) bought a black hat specifically for the occasion.
This was the last big pageant –soon the WSPU was being harried by the police – it had to move out of its office, many of its leaders were in prison and Christabel had fled to France to avoid arrest. The society no longer had the resources to devote to pageantry
But whatever the suffragettes did to construct an image of co-ordinated determination, even if they might not always have achieved the ultimate goal of grace and nobility, the popular view of them had changed little. The Edwardian era saw the flourishing of the postcard trade and suffragettes were a boon to illustrators.
Their stereotypical attributes were glasses, big feet, tailored clothes, collar and tie, a billycock hat and an umbrella.
The image was even accepted as ‘authentic’ by the suffragettes themselves. When Lady Constance Lytton wished to ensure that she would be arrested – which, on account of her family connections, would not have happened if she had been recognised – she disguised herself as a stereotypical ‘suffragette’ – and was duly imprisoned.
Daily Life as suffragette supporter
[pic] But life as a suffragette was not all processions, marching and pageantry. It’s clear from a wide range of photographs that rank- and- file suffragettes came in all shapes and sizes and in daily life favoured a variety of ‘looks’. As I have noted, depending on the taste of the wearer, these ranged from the feminine and fancy, through the artistic, to the tailored. This range in style is reflected in the advertisements that appear in Votes for Women.
For instance, regular advertisers included Maud Barham, Artistic and original dresses, hand embroideries, djibbahs, coats and hats;
Amy Kotze, Artistic dresses and coats – for women and children – and Miss Folkard, Artistic dress and mantle maker. One woman who did favour the artistic look was prepared to make a sacrifice for the cause. On 2 November 1911 Alice Singer wrote in her diary that ‘I sold my Liberty smock to Vera Wentworth [she was another WSPU member]– proceeds 5/- to WSPU’
As for the tailored look, Alfred Day, ladies’ tailor, of Regent’s Park, was a regular advertiser, while the more conventional dresser was addressed by Madame Rebecca Gordon, court milliner and dressmaker.
Major stores such as Debenham and Freebody, Whiteleys and Pontings clearly thought it worth their while to advertise a variety of styles – tying in their advertising to current suffragette activities – whether electioneering or processing. Other advertisers included Regal Corset Parlor, whose slogan was – at least in Votes for Women – ‘Support the Women’.
However, whatever style was favoured, the wearing of the colours in everyday life was the sign of a committed suffragette. One writer mentions that in her experience a white costume, green straw hat and purple scarf was a very appropriate outfit for a WSPU member. In another, perhaps fictional, diary, when the suffragette heroine is persuading someone who is becoming interested in the WSPU, but does not want to fight with policemen, she tells her that ‘Derry and Toms have charming hats in the colours – they are really most becoming’ – thereby suggesting that she could participate in the fight for the vote by merely wearing the correct hat.
Other suffragettes were prepared to make a very much more public display of themselves. Many elderly suffragettes have recorded how, as gently-brought up girls, selling Votes for Women in the street took considerable courage. In the above photo we see that Vera Wentworth (to whom, as I mentioned, Alice Singer sold her Liberty smock) is the centre of attention as she advertises a WSPU procession.
But, increasingly, being a suffragette required more than social courage – it also involved the risk of being sent to prison. Before arrest, confrontations with the police could lead to physical manhandling and for one notorious scrum in Parliament square in November 1910 women altered their usual attire by stuffing cardboard down their fronts – armour indeed.
Many suffragettes have left memories of their time in gaol. The clothes are particularly remembered. One wrote ‘We wore a uniform – a green dress, thick serge, a little white cap on one’s head, an apron of blue and white check cotton and a round disc the colour of wash leather which had a number.’ Others remembered that in the early years underclothing was patched, stained and foul smelling – a particular horror.
But they put their prison dress to good use. Replica costumes were run up and were worn when campaigning at by elections, for parades, to show solidarity when meeting released prisoners at Holloway or, as in the photo of Mrs Pankhurst (above), at bazaars.
In November 1911 members of the WSPU adopted a new tactic and organised a mass breaking of windows in the West End and Knightsbridge. It was now thought that conventional methods of campaigning had achieved nothing and that violence – of a sort – was the answer. They called it the argument of the broken glass. Kate Frye, who did not actually wield a hammer, wrote in her diary on 21 November 1911, ‘I went in to Lyons and had coffee and a sandwich. Who should I happen to sit next but Miss Ada Moore [a popular actress and suffragette] and 2 ladies – ready for the fray. I wonder I wasn’t arrested as one – for I soon realized I was dressed for the part to the life. Long cloth ulster or coat, light hat and veil was the correct costume – no bag purse – umbrella or any extra.’ Muffs were a fashionable accessory at the time and were useful for concealing the hammer used to smash the windows. Three months later some members of the Chelsea WSPU adapted their dress by sewing special pockets to hang down inside their skirts in which to conceal stones to throw at windows. The attack on the very stores of which they were the main customers began shortly before closing time.
Alice Singer wrote in her diary on 24 February 1912 – ‘Wrote to offer myself as window breaking for 4th March, if Mrs Pankhurst thinks I shan’t disgrace the Cause’. And on the 27th February wrote’ Walked about the Suburb [that is Hampstead Garden Suburb] trying to find someone to make me a new frock to wear when I return from Holloway Gaol’. That certainly demonstrates a certain insouciance.
Holloway brooch – as awarded to Alice Singer for her imprisonment. She did not go on hunger strike
But it was not only imprisonment that women were prepared to face. Many also adopted the hungerstrike. Women who had undergone imprisonment and forcible feeding received recognition from the WSPU. The Holloway badge was given for imprisonment – and the medal – a metal disc inscribed with name and date suspended from a military style ribbon – for those that went on hunger-strike. These were awarded with some ceremony. For instance, on 15 June 1912, after the sentences incurred by the window breakers had been served, Alice Singer wrote in her diary, ‘rousing meeting at Albert Hall. All the 1st and 4 March prisoners released to date marched in two specially reserved places. I wore my prison-gate brooch for first time.’ These decorations were very much treasured. I’ve already mentioned that Flora Drummond is wearing her hunger-strike medal in her portrait – and many of the other leaders – Mrs Pankhurst, Lady Constance Lytton, and Mary Gawthorpe are ones that come immediately to mind – made sure that when they are photographed their Holloway badge and/or hunger-strike medal is prominently displayed.
Interestingly, for all the significance given to prison uniform, many of the women who were imprisoned and on hunger-strike in 1912 and later – were able to wear their own clothes. This was after the government had passed a rule allowing them special treatment. These photographs were taken in the exercise yard at Holloway by a hidden photographer. They were wanted by Scotland Yard to send out to museums, galleries and other likely sites of suffragette attack. The photographs are interesting as in them we can see what women of the period looked like when not dressed up for the camera. I imagine that they may not have been very useful in identifying likely attackers – as presumably when approaching a gallery or some such place the women would be rather more carefully dressed – and have regained some of their lost weight. Some WSPU members would allow nothing – not even prison – to interfere with their standards of dress. .Janie Allan, a wealthy Scot imprisoned in Holloway, was remembered as ‘always correctly dressed for Exercise in hat and lemon kid gloves’
Grace Roe, Christabel’s deputy, was arrested in 1914 – wearing this rather becoming tailored suit.
Whereas Mrs Pankhurst, arrested a couple of months later while leading a violent protest outside Buckingham Palace, still retains something of her Parisian style. She took size 3½ in shoes – they look so dainty dangling there – belying all the crude postcard caricatures. In 1910 she had lost one in a scuffle with police – and it is now held by the Museum of London.
And it was to Paris that Christabel had escaped in March 1912 – just after the window-breaking campaign – to avoid arrest on a charge of criminal damage. She spent the final 2 and a half years of the campaign there – clearly very relaxed – while those who followed her militant policy were imprisoned and on hunger strike.
The WSPU campaign ended with the outbreak of war. It was the NUWSS, led by Millicent Fawcett, that in 1918 negotiated women – or at least women over 30 – to the ballot box – and to the opportunity of sitting in parliament.
So, to summarise, we have seen that the suffragettes did use dress as a weapon in their campaign. They were encouraged to dress in such a way as to define themselves as womanly – but united. To this end the WSPU attempted to impose its brand on its members – encouraging them to wear its merchandise and colours, both as they went about their daily life and when they took part in the society’s spectacular processions. The WSPU never sought to be at the avant-garde of fashion but the tailored look that became increasingly popular in the couple of years before the outbreak of war coincided with the increasingly physically-militant tactics of the suffragette campaign. Women could still be fashionable – and therefore womanly – yet present themselves in a more streamlined – less curvaceous – way than in the past. This more tailored silhouette echoed the increasingly masculine – physical force – argument that the WSPU was now professing.
I will end with an image we saw earlier – of the suffragette as a feminine warrior – a rather dainty Joan of Arc – as first depicted on the WSPU poster and here, to the right in the photograph, in the shape of a dress made by Leonora Cohen, a Leeds suffragette, to wear in 1914 to the Leeds Arts Club Ball. The paper designs, presumably cut from the poster, are pasted on the dress which is made of turquoise rayon. The dress, now preserved in Leeds City Museum, recently conserved – and rather more sophisticatedly displayed – is testament to the willingness of at least one suffragette to clothe herself in her cause.
This blog is based on a talk that I gave to the Costume Society in 2010.
All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement
Aileen Chevallier Preston was born in 1889 in co. Armagh, one of the 6 children of John Preston, who had been a captain in 4th Royal Irish Rifles, and his wife Edith (nee Chevallier), whose family lived at Aspall Hall, Debenham, Suffolk. Of her 5 siblings, two of her brothers died in childhood and a sister in 1905. Her father was for some years the resident magistrate in Athlone, co. Westmeath, before his death in 1907. In 1903 Mrs Edith Preston, was the Irish Ladies Croquet Champion, in 1906 won the UK Ladies’ Croquet Championship, and as late as 1915 was the holder of the Ladies’Championship at her local club, Roehampton.
After the death of Capt. Preston his widow, Aileen and her brother and sister moved to England and by 1911 were living at 11 Kew Gardens Road, Richmond. As head of the household Mrs Preston did complete the 1911 census form but wrote ‘Unenfranchised’ in the ‘Infirmity’ column against the entry for each female member, including the three young servants. Although we do not know whether Aileen Preston and her mother were at this time active members of any suffrage society, this amendment to the census form makes their attitude to women’s right to the vote quite evident.
As noted, Aileen’s mother was most definitely ‘sporty’, a star of the ladies’ croquet world; Aileen’s game was golf. I suspect that Mrs Preston encouraged a practical bent in her children. In 1914 Aileen’s younger brother was training as a civil engineer while, as she later explained in an interview in Votes for Women, she, too, had always taken an interest in machinery. In a delightful BBC radio interview (listen here), recorded in 1962, she explained how, to much derision, she entered a motor works in order to learn all about the workings of the internal combustion engine and the maintenance of a vehicle. It was only after she had acquired this knowledge that she took driving lessons, becoming the first woman to gain a Royal Automobile Certificate.
Now fully qualified, she placed an advertisement in the Morning Post, offering her services as a ‘Lady Chaffeuse’. The most appealing response came from’Mrs Pankhurst’s secretary (probably Mrs Mabel Tuke) and, after an interview, Aileen was hired to drive Mrs Pankhurst around the British Isles on a five-month-long campaign.
Although her mother was, as we have seen, in favour of ‘Votes for Women’, Aileen later remembered that ‘My family were livid. They thought I was going straight into the dark arms of Hell – to be going to that dreadful woman, as her chauffeur. It was an awful blow, but I thought it was the most wonderful job. At a pound a week it was wealth’ [From Raeburn, The Militant Suffragettes]. In the radio interview Aileen mentioned that the pay was ‘all found’, so presumably she had her board-and-keep while on the road, as well as the £1 a week.
Her engagement began in April 1911, probably just after the Census. The WSPU had promised to put a hold on militant action in the run-up to discussion in Parliament of the Conciliation Bill; Mrs Pankhurst was using the time to spread the suffrage message throughout the country. in the radio interview Aileen gives a wonderful description of driving Mrs Pankhurst and her associates, together vast quantities of ‘literature’, over the un-tarmacked roads of Britain during that long, very hot summer. She tells just what it was like driving that car up and over the Kirkstall Pass.
For Aileen was driving a large, heavy Wolseley, given to the WSPU by Mary Dodge, an ardent suffrage supporter and heir to a US copper mining fortune. A ‘lady chauffeuse’ was every bit as responsible as a chauffeur for the very necessary running repairs and it was nothing to experience several punctures during the course of a day. There was always the danger that the low-slung petrol tank would rupture, caught by a stone on the rustic roads and, with the brakes working directly onto the tyres, there was always the danger of a blow-out while driving down a steep hill. Garages were few and far between; the ‘lady chauffeuse’ had to be resourceful, with nerves of steel.
Sometime after her engagement ended, Aileen Preston set up her own motor school. However, she maintained her link to the WSPU, and was the subject of an article in the 26 September 1913 issue of Votes for Women in which she mentioned that when setting out on her career she had had to overcome a good many difficulties and prejudices. It was for this reason that she thought other women would benefit from learning to drive and maintain a car at a school owned by a woman.
The school was based in St Mary Abbott’s Place, Kensington and, although giving lessons to what she termed ‘amateurs’ , Aileen was particularly keen to take pupils who wanted to take up motoring as a profession. As she told Votes for Women ‘The modern girl is admirable suited for the life, and as a chauffeur should receive a salary of 30s to £2 a week – the same, of course, as that paid to a man,’ She advertised regularly in Votes for Women and Common Cause through 1913 and 1914, until the outbreak of war. Business was so good that she took a partner, a Miss Carver.
Aileen joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and served from 23 October 1914 until 23 April 1915. She married John Graham-Jones (1880-1946), an army doctor, in July 1915 and was again advertising her motor school around this time. However from 25 April 1916 to 19 September 1916, she rejoined the VAD, hired as a ‘Chauffeuse”. She was put in charge of the first autonomous women’s ambulance unit, based at a hospital in northern France, in charge of 13 women drivers, and was mentioned in despatches.
Aileen’s daughter was born in July 1917 and a son in 1920. By 1939 she and her husband, now retired, were living at Lower Bockhampton, Dorset, and she was a member of the Dorchester ARP. She must have maintained contact with other erstwhile suffragettes and was interviewed by Antonia Raeburn for her book, The Militant Suffragettes (1973)
All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement
Two snapshots – taken at the rally by John Collins, Kate Frye’s husband.
Here’s an excerpt from Kate’s diary entry for the day, as reproduced in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary (now out of print).
Saturday July 3rd 1926 [London: Flat C, 57 Leinster Square]
[After lunch] changed, off with J[ohn] – bus to Marble Arch and walked to Hyde Park Corner. Sat a little then saw the procession of women for Equal franchise rights and to the various meetings and groups. Heard Mrs Pankhurst and she was quite delightful. Also saw Ada Moore – getting very old. Saw Mrs Despard 82 and walked all the way. And the Actresses’ Franchise League.
The tiny snapshots show women and men walking into Hyde Park, with banners. If anyone else was taking photos that day, they do not seem to have made their way into public collections. Very good – very scarce. £20 the two together.
Do email me if you’re interested in buying these shadows of the past. email@example.com
While undertaking some research for a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago at the Royal College of Nursing I encountered an intriguing mystery. What happened to Nurse Pine’s ‘suffragette medal’.
Nurse Catherine Pine (1864-1941) was the Pankhurst family’s special nursing attendant – she had cared for Mrs Pankhurst’s son, Harry, who died in her nursing home in 1910. She ran the nursing home at 9 Pembridge Gardens, Notting Hill, and it was here that many suffragettes were taken after release from prison after hunger striking.
Mrs Pankhurst was among the many who recovered from imprisonment in the care of Nurse Pine. Although the authorities never dared force feed Mrs Pankhurst, she was desperately weakened by successive hunger strikes. See here for a photograph of Nurse Pine tending Mrs Pankhurst.
In her will Nurse Pine left what she described as her ‘suffragette medal’ to ‘the History Section of the British College of Nursing.’. Now the term ‘suffragette medal’ is usually used to describe a medal given by the WSPU to those who went on hunger strike – and I knew that there was no evidence that Nurse Pine was ever imprisoned – so began to wonder ‘what did she mean by her “suffragette medal”?’
Delving a little further I came across a note in a March 1942 issue of the British Journal of Nursing that tells us that ‘A few months ago we announced that the late Sister Catherine Pine had bequeathed to the British College of Nurses the priceless historic Medal and Bars bestowed upon her by the late Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, for her devoted services to her when released from durance vile. As time goes on this gift we may hope will be valued at its true worth by women all over the world.’
Could this have been a medal specially struck for Nurse Pine? Perhaps it was. If so, I wonder what the ‘Bars’ represented? Did they commemorate the number of times she admitted to Mrs Pankhurst to her nursing home? That really does seem very fanciful.
In terms of the suffragette campaign, the description ‘Medal and bars’ usually refers to a ‘hunger strike medal’, with bars added for each subsequent hunger strike.
The only explanation I could think of was that it was Mrs Pankhurst’s own medal – given to Nurse Pine in thanks. Noting that the British College of Nurses (an organisation that was not the Royal College of Nursing) closed in 1956, I wondered what had happened to Nurse Pine’s bequest.
Now, in the same 1942 issue, the British Journal of Nursing recorded that:
Miss Mary Hilliard, a gentle, very valiant suffragette, has bestowed as a gift to the College the fine linen handkerchief, signed by and embroidered by all the gallant women who suffered imprisonment for conscience sake, in support of the enfranchisement of women in Holloway prison in March 1912. It displays 67 signatures embroidered in various colours, and all that remains is to offer a warm vote of thanks to Miss Mary Hilliard, R.B.N.A., and to await the time when this historic gift can he suitably framed and placed in the History Section of the British College of Nurses, where its unique value will be appreciated.’
In fact I know that that embroidered handkerchief is now housed in Priest House, the museum of the Sussex Archaeological Society in West Hoathly, Sussex, and so I emailed the Custodian to enquire how it had arrived with them. He was able to tell me that it had surfaced at a West Hoathly jumble sale around 1970 where, in fact, nobody had bought it and it was rescued off a bonfire at the last minute. I must say I can’t see such an artefact being a jumble sale wallflower nowadays. However, nobody knows by what means the handkerchief ended up in West Hoathly after the closure of the British College of Nurses.
The archive of the British College of Nurses is held by King’s College University of London and their archivist has kindly checked for me and nothing resembling Nurse Pine’s’ suffragette medal’ is held by them.
So were the contents of its ‘History Section’ scattered when the British College of Nurses closed? What happened to Nurse Pine’s medal? Is it, in fact, one of the two medals presented to Mrs Pankhurst that are now held in public collections – one in the Houses of Parliament and one in the Museum of London?
This also doesn’t seem to be the answer. Neither of the medals has added ‘bars’. The one held by the Museum of London was given to Mrs Pankhurst in recognition of her hunger strike in Holloway beginning on 1 March 1912 and Beverley Cook, the Museum’s curator, tells me that, although the provenance is a little unclear, it is likely to have arrived at the Museum in 1950 along with the rest of the Suffragette Fellowship archive.
The other medal awarded to Mrs Pankhurst is not a ‘hunger strike’ medal – it predates the employment of the hunger strike – but commemorates her imprisonment in Holloway in October 1908 after being convicted for inciting crowds to ‘Rush the House of Commons’. It is now held by the Parliamentary Art Collection in the House of Commons – see here.
Could there have been a third medal awarded by the WSPU to Mrs Pankhurst? She certainly went on more than one hunger strike and would have merited ‘bars’, which the Museum of London medal doesn’t have. Could she then have ‘bestowed’ this on Nurse Pine? Or did she, indeed, have a medal made specially for Nurse Pine? As I said, it’s all a bit of a mystery. If anyone knows the answer I shall be delighted to hear from them.
Whatever the truth, it is rather sad that the British College of Nurses does not seem, in the event, to have taken care of the gift that they hoped ‘will be valued at its true worth by women all over the world.’ However, Nurse Pine’s collection of photographs, now held in the Museum of London, most definitely is treasured.
You can read more about Nurse Pine in her entry in my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, Routledge.
This summer is passing so quickly that I realise that I’ve missed – by two weeks or so- the 100th anniversary of Kate Frye’s final involvement with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. Still – better late than never -it would be a pity not to record an eye-witness account of the final ‘suffrage’ procession, which had morphed into one claiming for women a ‘Right to Work’ for the war effort.
Kate has been married for six months and is now ‘Mrs John Collins’ – but ever since the wedding John has been based at army camps on the east coast so she is, as before, living alone in her digs at 49 Claverton Street, Pimlico.
You can read about Kate Frye’s work as an organiser with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.
Saturday July 17th 1915
A very dull morning and it just started to rain as I went out. I was prepared for wild weather as the wind too was very fierce – a short grey linen dress – a woollen coat to keep me warm – Aquascutum – boots and rubbers – a small cap tied on – and an umbrella. It was fortunate I was so prepared as it turned out a wicked day and rained till 4 o’clock.
I went by bus to Westminster and walked along the Embankment to see if there were any signs of preparation but it was pouring by then so there was nothing. I went to Slaters in the Strand and had some lunch and back on the Embankment by one. There from the paving stones sprang up marshalls and assistant marshalls (I was a marshall with a broad red sash) all like me hurrying to posts. Mine was 101 and only 100 were given out – so I claimed mine and stood behind the last soldier with 101 until nearly 3.30.
But the rain kept the people away who would have filled the last of the 125 sections and we marshalls and assistant marshalls had very little to do. Our section commander never came along at all so we had to organise ourselves. Miss Barnes of the Knitting Dept came along to be in my section. She is a thoroughly good sort. Just before 3.30 we discovered if we were to march we must arrange ourselves – so a few people did one thing – a few another. I ran down the line telling people to come along and so we caught up with the front.
Banners and bannerettes were hastily pulled out of carts and we were off. I went up and down giving directions and making us as trim as possible. We were a motley crew but we had some fine banner bearers and the greater number of us looked very neat in rainproof coats. And so off again on the great Women’s Patriotic Procession organised by Mrs Pankhurst and led by her. Mr Lloyd George received a deputation of women concering Munitions. Mrs Chapman [president of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage] walked all the way in the first section and went in with the deputation.
It was a long and interesting procession but would have been longer had the weather been better. But the rain stopped about 4 o’clock and actually just as I got back to the Embankment at 6 o’clock the sun came out. The procession started off at 3.30 sharp. There were no end of Bands and they helped one tremendously. The route was long – Embankment, Whitehall, Cockspur St, Pall Mall, St James, Piccadilly, Park Lane, Oxford St, Regent’s St, Haymarket, Northumberland Avenue on to the Embankment again when we gave up banners and those who could went along on to hear Mr Lloyd George speak from a balcony looking over the Embankment. I saw him watching the whole thing from there as we went along.
Such a crowd to watch us all along the route and the Clubs packed with people. At intervals tables with ladies taking signatures of women ready to do munition work. It was very inspiring and invigorating and though I felt very tired and seedy before I think the walk did me good. I was a bit stiff and glad to sit down. I made my way to the Strand and had some tea.
Kate Frye (1878-1959) – was resurrected by ITV who put her (played by Romola Garai) in a series – The Great War: The People’s Story – and commissioned me to write her life. This story of an ordinary Englishwoman will appeal to all those interested in a real life lived – from the palmy days of Victoria to the New Elizabethan age. For more details read here.
I was asked the other day to speak briefly on Woman’s Hour about Mary Richardson, the suffragette who took a hatchet to the Velasquez painting, The Toilet of Venus -known as The Rokeby Venus , while it was on display in the National Gallery in March 1914. You can listen to the resulting piece – which includes a clip from a 1957 Woman’s Hour interview with Mary Richardson – here.
Looking again at Mary Richardson’s story – as she tells it in her suffragette autobiography, Laugh a Defiance – I was interested in a brief mention she made of the house from which she set out for the National Gallery on that fateful day – Tuesday 10 March 1914. It was a house in which she had been given shelter when she was let out of Holloway the previous October under the terms of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, after going on hunger strike. She continued to live there clandestinely – as a ‘mouse’ – evading the police.
As she tells it, this house in Doughty Street in Bloomsbury had once been the home of Charles Dickens but was now under the charge of a ‘Mrs Lyon’. Investigation reveals that in 1914 the house that was Dickens’ home from 1837-9 and is now the Charles Dickens Museum was, together with number 49, a boarding house run by a Miss Jane Lyons. Mary Richardson wrote that she knew immediately that it was to Dickens’ house that she had been brought. Indeed she would have, for as she left the motor car that had carried her from Holloway she would have seen this plaque, which had been placed on the front of 48 Doughty Street by the LCC in 1903. Once settled into the boarding house doubtless she would have heard from Miss Lyons more about the famous connection that gave cachet to the establishment.
Number 48 Doughty Street was acquired by the Dickens Fellowship in 1923 and opened as the Museum in 1925. Interestingly the Museum has quite recently acquired number 49 – so that the two houses are now interlinked as they presumably were when Mary Richardson was given shelter in Miss Lyons’ boarding house. When Mary Richardson made her acquaintance in 1914 Miss Lyons would have been 78 years old. She may well have been given the honorary title of ‘Mrs’ and it isn’t particularly surprising that Mary Richardson had, 40 years or so later, slightly misremembered her surname. The only information that Mary Richardson offers about ‘Mrs Lyon’ was that she had once been housekeeper to Benjamin Disraeli. Could that have been true?
Jane Lyons had been born in Plymouth in 1836, one of the eldest in a large family – of possibly 12 children. Her father, Moses Lyons (who also gave his name on various censuses as ‘Lewis Lyons’ and ‘Morris Lyons’) was a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries – that is, he was qualified as a doctor and practised as both a doctor and as a dentist. He had been born in Coventry c 1811; his mother had been born in Russia. The family were probably Jewish in origin – although there is no evidence that they practised that religion. One sister, certainly, was married in a Congregational church. In 1871 the Lyons family was living in the Islington area of Birmingham and Jane Lyons worked with her mother and five of her sisters in the family’s stationers shop.
By 1881 Jane Lyons had come to London and on the night of the census, 3 April 1881, was living in a boarding house at 72 Gower Street in Bloomsbury, described as an ‘annuitant’. So it doesn’t appear that she was Disraeli’s housekeeper at the time of his death – which occurred 16 days after the census was taken. But I suppose it is not impossible that she was so employed at some time during the previous decade.
By 1891 Jane Lyons was housekeeper at ‘Brunswick House’, 56 Hunter Street, Bloomsbury. Here lived 45 boarders – all women – most of whom were working – as teachers, typists, clerks, and artists.
Ten years later, in 1901, Jane Lyons was the proprietor of a ‘Private Hotel and Boarding House’ at 48 & 49 Doughty Street. Here, on the day of the census, she had 24 boarders – all women – again clerks, teachers and typists (and a stockbroking nephew). By 1911 Miss Lyons’ clientele had slightly changed – now numbering a good half-dozen men among her boarders.
Miss Lyons, as a single woman running her own business, was very much the type of woman we might expect to support the ‘votes for women campaign’ – perhaps as a member of the Tax Resistance League. But from Mary Richardson’s evidence she went that bit further and gave active support to those who were evading the police. According to Mary, while she was living at number 48 Annie Kenney, who was also on the run, stayed for a time in Miss Lyons’ boarding house. I wish I knew more about Miss Lyons.
In Laugh a Defiance Mary Richardson relates that she had planned her attack on the RokebyVenus in advance – presumably while living under Miss Lyons’ roof. Indeed she states that she had sought approval from Christabel Pankurst for her plan. But never once in Laugh a Defiance can I find any mention of the fact that since March 1912 Christabel had been living in Paris. Mary Richardson refers to her as though she were living close by, convenient for consultation. I find it difficult to believe that in those febrile months in 1914 Mary Richardson was in such close contact with Christabel. Did she, 40 years later, feel it necessary to justify her actions by implying that she was always ‘acting on orders’?
The sequence of events ran like this. Mrs Pankhurst was arrested in Glasgow during the evening of Monday 9 March – after something of a battle with the police at a meeting in the St Andrew’s Hall. Around her was a bodyguard of women – one of whom was Mrs Lillian Dove-Willcox, with whom Mary Richardson was closely associated.
After one of her hunger strikes Mary had recuperated at Lillian’s cottage in the Wye Valley and their friendship seems to have lasted all Mary’s life. Symbol Songs, a collection of poems she published in 1916 contains ”The Translation of the Love I Bear Lillian Dove’ – and it was Lillian (by now, after remarriage, Mrs Lillian Buckley) who wrote Mary’s obituary for the Suffragette Fellowship newsletter. It wouldn’t surprise me that if the ‘Rokeby Venus’ plan had been shared with anyone, it had been shared with Lilian Dove-Willcox, who travelled back from Glasgow on the train in which Mrs Pankhurst was being escorted by the police.
However the train stopped at a station short of Euston and Mrs Pankhurst was taken off it and driven straight to Holloway in order to avoid the suffragette crowds that were awaiting her at the terminus. The news of her arrest was in the Tuesday morning papers. I don’t really want to add any (quite gratuitous) speculation to Mary Richardson’s already rather unreliable memoir, but I’m going to anyway.
Could Mary Richardson have seen Lilian Dove-Willcox early that Tuesday morning and heard first-hand of the dramatic events in the St Andrew’s Hall? And dramatic they were. It was a violent scene – with clubs wielded by the women and a gun – loaded with blanks – fired by Janie Allan, a wealthy Scottish supporter. A report from the front line, made by a close friend, or even the knowledge that such a friend had been involved in such a battle could have been the real catalyst for choosing this day of all days for putting her plan into action. Doughty Street is only a short distance from Euston. Although Mary Richardson says in a radio interview that she was in the National Gallery as early as 10 am, The Times report, Wednesday 11 March, mentions that she was there at 11 .
Mary Richardson is not explicit as to whether she had already purchased her weapon of choice – a butcher’s chopper – although she does state that she bought it in the Theobald’s Road – a main road close to Doughty Street .However, because, as she repeatedly explains, she fixed the chopper into her sleeve with a chain of safety pins (though I can’t quite work out how the first in the chain was attached to the chopper??) it seems unlikely that she would have undertaken this rather cumbersome exercise on her way to the National Gallery, suggesting that she had the chopper already primed, as it were, in her room in the boarding house.
In another BBC radio interview, broadcast on 23 April 1961 – click here to listen to it – Mary Richardson revealed that she had chosen the Rokeby Venus because she hated women being used as nudes in paintings – she had seen the picture gloated over by men, and she ‘thought it sensuous’. In the 1957 Woman’s Hour interview she mentioned that she felt the painting was held in high regard because it was so financially valuable (it had cost £45,000 when purchased in 1906), whereas Mrs Pankhurst’s life counted for nothing. Presumably she was unaware that it was a fellow suffragist, Christiana Herringham, who had been the driving force in the setting up of the National Art Collections Fund – the organization that bought the painting for the nation.
In the later interviews Mary Richardson doesn’t mention that Mrs Pankhurst had only just been rearrested – but tells the story as though Mrs Pankhurst had been held for a long time, on hunger strike, in a damp underground cell in Holloway – and that her life was in danger. But, as we see, Mrs Pankhurst could have barely reached Holloway by the time Mary set out from number 48.I have mentioned that Mary Richardson’s Laugh a Defiance is an unreliable memoir. At the most basic level the account she gives of her involvement in the suffragette campaign is not chronologically accurate – rather she presents a series of incidents, in each of which she takes a starring role. I have little doubt that the purpose of Laugh a Defiance was to raise funds. It doesn’t appear that Mary Richardson was ever in full-time employment and, although she had presumably inherited some money from her family, at the end of her life the income must have dwindled. At the time of her death in 1961 she was living in a single room – in Hastings. Obviously in order for such a book to sell it did have to be packed with dramatic incident.
I can find no reviews of the book in contemporary newspapers or magazines – or, to be accurate, in ones that are now digitized. The only quote used in its publicity by the publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, was a remark by C.V. [Veronica] Wedgwood who on the radio programme, The Critics, described it as ‘A document – ingenious and absolutely genuine’. Well, yes, ‘ingenious’ is perhaps the word to describe Laugh a Defiance for although Wedgwood was an historian she clearly had not interrogated the accuracy of the ‘document’.
Leaving aside quibbles about who did what, when or where, the book contains laughable examples of ‘cod history’ – such as when Mary in Holloway describes her view onto what she describes as the site, in Elizabethan times, of the banqueting hall of the Earls of Warwick. Doubting very much that those Earls had ever had a London home in Parkhurst Road, Holloway, I did a little research to try to discover what had been in Mary Richardson’s mind. The answer: that when the prison was built in the mid-19th century the architect copied the design of the gatehouse from Warwick Castle. Such is the way that the most innocuous facts become corrupted and I’m certain that Mary Richardson’s suffragette autobiography contains many more such elisions and half-truths. Rubbed up and polished, they presented a dashing and easily digested history designed to appeal to the general reader.
I have always wondered what her fellow suffragettes made of Mary Richardson’s Laugh a Defiance – and of her two broadcasts. The Suffragette Fellowship, the organization to which many former members of the WSPU and the Women’s Freedom League belonged, was by no means devoid of factional infighting. Certainly she appears to have felt quite at ease when, a couple of years after the book was published (but before the radio programmes were broadcast), she attended a Suffragette Fellowship reunion at Caxton Hall (you can watch her here on a Pathe newsreel as she shows her very distinctive hunger-strike medal to a policeman. I wonder if any comments were made about the accuracy of her recollections?
For instance, as far as I can discover, no member of the WSPU ever mentioned that Mary Richardson was, as she claimed, at the Derby watching Emily Wilding Davison as she stepped into the path of the King’s horse. Why was such a valuable first-hand account not written up in The Suffragette or Votes for Women? Why was she not called as a witness at the inquest? In her telling the expedition to Epsom was not clandestine – rather she was following an order from Headquarters to go there to sell The Suffragette. She doesn’t go so far as to say that she accompanied Emily Davison but somehow out of the seething Derby crowd – the hundreds of thousands that swarmed over Epsom Downs – she was able to spot Emily and position herself at the opposite side of the track at Tattenham Corner. Exciting reading – but is it history?
However, Mary Richardson’s account in Laugh a Defiance of her attack on the Rokeby Venus accords very accurately with the contemporary newspaper reports. There was, of course, no need to dress up that drama – for she was (with Venus) undoubtedly the star of that particular episode.
As this is a blog post – not an academic article – I will allow myself another flight of fancy. I live not far from Doughty Street and am a regular passenger on the No 38 bus that runs along Theobalds Road. By 1914 this bus route had been in operation for a couple of years and, unless Mary Richardson walked to the National Gallery, may well have carried her as far as Cambridge Circus, bringing her within striking distance, as it were, of the Gallery. It is these gossamer connections – the layers of history through which we pass – that continue to amuse me. If I were sufficiently fanciful I could link Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus to both the number 38 bus, on which, incidentally, I travelled part of the way to my date with her in the Woman’s Hour studio, and to Charles Dickens, the shade of whose footstep she touched as she made her determined way over the threshold of 48 Doughty Street that March morning.
P.S. Coincidentally another nude, George Clausen’s Primavera, attacked by Maude Kate Smith in the RA Summer Exhibition in 1914, was sold by Christies on 17 June 2014, the day after my Woman’s Hour piece – for £92,500. You can listen to Miss Smith describing how she attacked the painting in a recording held by the Women’s Library@LSE.
PPS Readers who have been kind enough to visit from the Persephone Books website and are of a ‘Persephone mind’ (although equipped with non-Persephone technology – ie an e-book reader) will, I hope, find a GOOD READ in the life of Kate Parry Frye – who was very much a ‘Persephone’ woman. Read all about her here.
Millicent Fawcett wearing a pendant given to her by the NUWSS in recognition of her service
Because of copyright issues, I don’t feel able to show you the portrait of Mrs Pankhurst that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. But I wonder how many of you know without looking here which one I mean?
As I thought, a great many. That is doubtless because the portrait is on permanent display.
Mrs Pankhurst’s presence is also kept before us in the shape of her statue in Victoria Tower Gardens, right next to the House of Commons.Both of these images are not where they are by chance. Immediately after her death former suffragettes determined to memorialise their leader in this time-honoured tradition – a portrait painted for the national collection and a statue erected in a prominent and relevant position.
Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Mrs Pankhurst is remembered.
But what of Mrs Millicent Fawcett, whose method of campaigning for the vote for women differed from that of Mrs Pankhurst, but who was in many ways the more effective politician. Indeed, it was she who finally delivered ‘votes for women’.
Mrs Fawcett has no statue. The National Portrait Gallery’s only painted portrait of Mrs Fawcett is this one by Ford Maddox Brown that depicts her as the tender young wife of Henry Fawcett, the blind politician. Incidentally this painting hangs, not in London, but in Bodelwydden Castle. UPDATE: the portrait was moved back to the main London gallery in 2018.
Tate Britain does hold this portrait of Millicent Fawcett, painted at the end of her life by her friend Annie Swynnerton. Mrs Fawcett is shown wearing academic dress, her honorary degree robes from St Andrews.
This painting is permanently in storage. It was shown at the Royal Academy in 1930 and, after being bought for the nation as a Chantrey Bequest purchase, has never been seen in public since. When I was writing Enterprising Women I arranged to see the painting in the Tate’s store. There was no difficulty – beyond making an appointment – in gaining access – but how very different from saying ‘hallo’ to Mrs Pankhurst every day, if one so chose, in the National Portrait Gallery.
Why can’t this portrait be brought out of storage and, if it doesn’t fit into the Tate Britain hanging policy, be transferred to the National Portrait Gallery where it would admirably complement Mrs Pankhurst?
Mrs Fawcett was not, of course, without staunch memorialising supporters. But, rather than a statue, they put their efforts into a building – Women’s Service House in Marsham Street, Westminster – and named the large hall inside for Mrs Fawcett. Financial exigency has long since separated the building from the women’s movement (although we are thankful that it has been given a new lease of life by Westminster School). For many years Millicent Fawcett’s name was synonymous with the wonderful library that originated in Women’s Service House but was at the beginning of the 21st century given the much less resonant name of The Women’s Library.
However Mrs Fawcett’s lifelong work for the women’s cause is still commemorated in the vigorous efforts of The Fawcett Society. I am sure, sensible woman that she was, she would much rather that that was the case than that her portrait should hang in the National Portrait Gallery. And, yet, knowing how responsive the public is to the visual image, I do wish she might be allowed to share Mrs Pankhurst’s limelight.
Because it would be too ironic to devote a post to bemoaning the lack of visual representation of Mrs Fawcett, here she is, wearing an National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies badge.
Read much more about Millicent Fawcett – and all the Garretts – in Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle
and when in London visit the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery.
UPDATE: And if there were to be a statue of a woman in Parliament Square (see here) to commemorate the women’s suffrage campaign, why should it not be of Millicent Fawcett?
MUCH LATER UPDATE: And there is now, of course, a remarkable statue of Millicent Fawcett now standing in Parliament Square, unveiled in 2018. So she is definitely becoming more visible.
In the past – very suffragette -month the following guest posts commissioned from me have appeared:
For the No 10 website: We Wanted to Wake Him Up: Lloyd George and Suffragette Militancey
For the OUP Blog: Why is Emily Wilding Davison remembered as the first suffragette martyr?
For the British Library Untold Lives Blog: Emily Wilding Davison: Perpetuating the Memory
I also took part in Clare Balding’s Secrets of a Suffragette (Channel 4 TV), can be heard talking about Kate Parry Frye and Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral procession on Parliamentary Radio, and took part in the ‘Women’s Rebellion’ programme in Michael Portillo’s Radio 4 series 1913: The Year Before. To listen to the last two see under ‘Links’ – to the right.
In Night and Day, set in 1910, Virginia Woolf writes explicitly of the suffrage campaign. She places the office of her suffrage society, the ‘S.G.S.’, in the heart of Bloomsbury, in Russell Square. Mary Datchet works there (‘From ten to six every day’) in an office on the top-floor of a large house ‘which had once been lived in by a great city merchant and his family’. When Mary Datchet is found ‘lost, apparently, in admiration of the large hotel across the square’, she could in fact have been looking at not one but two imposing hotels – the Russell and the Imperial.
A house with just such a view, number 23, on the north-western corner of the square, belonged to Sir Alexander Rendel, grandfather of Ellie Rendel, close friend of Ray Strachey. Although by 1910 the offices of the main women’s suffrage societies were in real life based either in Westminster, where Ray Strachey was busy working for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, or around the Strand, Russell Square had indeed, in the later years of the 19th century, been a centre of the movement. The northern corner of the Hotel Russell (perhaps the very hotel on which Mary Datchet’s gaze rested) had replaced 8 Russell Square, where Dr Richard Pankhurst, his wife Emmeline, and their young family had lived from 1888 to 1893.
It was here, in the 1890s, that the Pankhursts’ art-furnished double drawing room had provided a useful gathering place for conferences of the Women’s Franchise League, a society aimed at winning the vote for women. The most lavish of these conferences, held over three days in December 1891, was illustrated in the Graphic and reproduced 40 years later in Our Mothers (ed. Alan Bott & Irene Clepahane), a book owned by Virginia Woolf and consulted by her when writing Three Guineas.
The chief founder of the Women’s Franchise League was Mrs Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, one of the 19th-century’s most active workers for the women’s Cause. Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, was in touch with Mrs Elmy on at least one occasion, for it is she he thanks for the information he used when compiling the entry for the Dictionary of National Biography on her brother, Joseph Wolstenholme.
The latter was, until his death in 1891, an intimate of the Stephen household; the two men had met at Cambridge where, before an unfortunate marriage, Wolstenholme had been a fellow of Christ’s College. Noel Annan describes a dinner in Wolstnholme’s rooms at Christs’ at which Leslie Stephen took issue with the opinions held by his dining companions. He accused them of ‘drivelling radicalism’ and joked: ‘to give women votes – why, it might save the Church of England for a quarter of a century’.
There were many reasons for objecting to the vote for women but Joseph Wolstenholme was not to be swayed. In 1870 he and two other fro Cambridge subscribed to the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage, the most radical of the women’s suffrage societies, founded by his sister in 1865.
Whatever differences they might have had on such subjects, Leslie Stephen remained an affectionate friend, inviting Joseph Wolstenholme to share the Stephen holiday each summer in Cornwall and reminiscing about these visits in the Mausoleum Book in which he alludes to Wolstenholme’s ‘Bohemian tastes and heterodox opinions’. Quentin Bell has suggested that the character of Augustus Carmichael in To the Lighthouse was based on that of Joseph Wolstenholme. Carmichael and Wolstenholme certainly shared a taste for opium. Carmichael does not, however, reveal his opinion on women’s suffrage.
Virginia Woolf included memories of ‘The Woolly One’ (as Wolstenholme was fondly known to the young Stephens) in A Sketch of the Past and mentions in 22 Hyde Park Gate, that George Duckworth thought ‘old Mr Wolstenholme not one of the “nice people”‘.
So we can recognise that, as Mary Datchet’s eyes gazed across Russell Square from the S.G.S. office, threads of association spooled forth linking her and her creator to two of the most influential activists for women’s suffrage. It would be a mistake, however, to identify the ‘S.G.S.’, the acronym never elucidated, with a women’s suffrage society.
In 1910 Virginia Stephen offered her services to the People’s Suffrage Federation (P.S.F.), a society formed in October 1909 to promote adult (not merely female) suffrage and to remove the property basis as the qualification for citizenship.
To her friend and teacher, Janet Case, Virginia wrote in a letter dated 1 January 1910: ‘I don’t know anything about the question. Perhaps you could send me a pamphlet, or give me the address of the office …You impressed me so much the other night with the wrongness of the present state of affairs that I feel that action is necessary.’
So it was that Virginia Stephen spent a short time working in an office in Mecklenburgh Square, addressing envelopes for the P.S.F., while absorbing details that were to be transported across Bloomsbury to the office of the S.G.S. As the adult suffrage for which the P.S.F. was committed was also known as ‘universal suffrage’, perhaps we could unravel the initials of Mary Datchet’s society and reconstruct them as ‘The Society for General Suffrage’.
All things pass away and, as Mrs Pankhurst’s double drawing room made way for the terracotta splendour of the Hotel Russell, so the ‘Virginia Woolf Burger and Pasta Bar’ that at the beginning of the 21st century nestled in the hotel’s northern corner where once the members of the Women’s Franchise League held earnest debate, is, alas, no more. How suitable, then, that the hotel’s new dining room is named ‘Tempus’, with Night following Day in the diurnal rhythm that sweeps us onward while Mary Datchet still stands, ‘lost in admiration’, gazing out across Russell Square.
This is the ‘Holloway Brooch’ presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had undergone imprisonment. As such it is now a very desirable addition to any suffrage collection. If you are hoping to own one of your own, I have one for sale – see https://wp.me/p2AEiO-1CV
The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU in the Albert Hall on 29 April 1909. It was held to coincide with the meeting in London of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The presence on the platform of a large number of ex-WSPU prisoners and,to honour their sacrifice, the ceremonial presentation to them of the first ‘Holloway’ brooches was designed to make an international impression.
The brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst. The portcullis symbol of the House of Commons, the gate and hanging chains are in silver, and the superimposed broad arrow (the convict symbol) is in purple, white and green enamel. Some of the brooches, but by no means all, are marked with dates of imprisonment.
The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue of 16 April 1909, described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’. However, in April 1909 WSPU prisoners had not yet begun using the hunger strike as a tool in their battle with the authorities. In recognition of that, which was considered the greater sacrifice, the WSPU instituted the hunger strike medal, the first of which was presented four months later.
Mrs Pankhurst chose to be photographed wearing her ‘Holloway’ brooch in this photograph- as, 65 years later, did the elderly suffragettes, Leonora Cohen and Grace Roe . The latter two, like many other women, had received both of the WSPU accolades.
Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Spring 1908 – Suffrage Hope – WSPU in Albert Hall ‘a little too theatrical but very wonderful’
Another extract from Kate Frye’s manuscript diary. An edited edition of later entries (from 1911), recording her work as a suffrage organiser, is published as Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary.
Kate’s MP, Henry Yorke Stanger, was the promoter of the current Enfranchisement Bill – the latest in the long line that stretched back through the latter half of the 19th century. Despite, as Kate describes, the bill passing its second reading, the government eventually refused to grant facilities to further the debate. However, that blow was yet to come as Kate records in these entries details of the suffrage meetings she attended in February and March 1908. She had the knack of always being present on the great occasions – and on 19 March was in the Albert Hall to witness the rousing – and profitable – reception given to Mrs Pankhurst on her release from prison.
Miss Harriet Cockle, was 37 years old, an Australian woman of independent means, lving at 34 de Vere gardens, Kensington.
Mrs Philip Snowden – Ethel Snowden (1880-1951) wife of the ILP politician, Philip Snowden.
Mrs Clara Rackham (1875-1966) was regarded as on the the NUWSS’s best speakers. In 1910 she became president of the NUWSS’s Eastern Federation, was founder of the Cambridge branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, and was sister-in-law to Arthur Rackham, the book illustrator.
Margery Corbett (1882-1981- later Dame Margery Corbett-Ashby) was the daughter of a Liberal MP. At this time she was secretary of the NUWSS.
Mrs Fanny Haddelsey,wife of a solicitor, lived at 30 St James’s Square, Holland Park.
Mrs Stanbury had been an organiser for NUWSS as far back as 1890s.
Tuesday February 25th 1908 [London-25 Arundel Gardens]
We got home at 5.15 and had tea. Then I did my hair and tidied myself and Agnes and I ate hot fish at 6.30 and left soon after in a downpour of rain for the Kensington Town Hall – we did get wet walking to the bus and afterwards. We got there at 7 o’clock to steward – the doors were opening at 7.30 and the meeting started at 8.15. I was stewarding in the hall downstairs and missed my bag – purse with 6/- and latch Key etc – very early in the evening which rather spoilt the evening for me as I felt sure it had been stolen. It was a South Kensington Committee of the London Society for Woman’s Suffrage and we were stewarding for Miss Cockle. It was a good meeting but not crowded but, then, what a night. Miss Bertha Mason in the Chair. The speech of the evening was Mrs Philip Snowdon, who was great, and Mrs Rackham, who spoke well. The men did not do after them and poor Mr Stanger seemed quite worn out and quoted so much poetry he made me laugh. Daddie had honoured us with his presence for a little time and had sat on the platform – so I feel he has quite committed himself now and will have no right to go back on us. We were not in till 12.20 and then sat some time over our supper.
Wednesday February 26th 1908
Before I was up in the morning Mother came up in my room with my bag and purse and all quite safe. It had been found and the Hall Door Keeper had brought it. I was glad because of the Latch Key. Daddie generously had paid me the 6/- which I was able to return.
Friday February 28th 1908
Mr Stanger’s Woman’s Suffrage Bill has passed the second reading. I had to wait to see the Standard before going to my [cooking] class. That is very exciting and wonderful – but of course we have got this far already in past history. Oh! I would have liked to have been there.
MargWednesday March 11th 1908
To 25 Victoria Street and went to the 1st Speakers Class of the N.[ational] S.[ociety] of W.[omen’s] S.[uffrage]. I was very late getting there and there was no one I knew so I did not take any part in the proceedings and felt very frightened. But Alexandra Wright came in at the end and I spoke to Miss Margery Corbett and our instructoress, Mrs Brownlow. And then I came home with Alexandra from St James’s Park station to Notting Hilll Gate.
Thursday March 12th 1908
Mother went to a Lecture for the NKWLA [North Kensington Women’s Liberal Association] at the Club and Agnes and I started at 8 o’clock and walked to Mrs Haddesley [sic] for a drawing-room Suffrage Meeting at 8.30. Agnes and I stewarded and made ourselves generally useful. The Miss Porters were there and a girl who I saw at the Speakers’ Class on Wednesday. Alexandra was in the Chair and spoke beautifully – really she did. And Mrs Stanbury spoke. Mrs Corbett and Mrs George – all very good speakers. Mrs Stanbury was really great and there were a lot of questions and a lot of argument after, which made it exciting. It was a packed meeting but some of the people were stodgy. Miss Meade was there with a friend – her first appearance at anything of the kind she told us and she said it was all too much for her to take in all at once. The “class” girl walked with us to her home in HollandPark and we walked on home were not in till 11.45. I was awfully tired and glad of some supper and to get to bed.
Mrs Pankhurst had been arrested on 13 February as she led a deputation from the ‘Women’s Parliament’ in Caxton Hall to the House of Commons. She was released from her subsequent imprisonment on 19 March, going straight to the Albert Hall where the audience waiting to greet her donated £7000 to WSPU funds. Kate was there.
Thursday March 19th 1908
I had a letter in the morning from Miss Madge Porter offering me a seat at the Albert Hall for the evening and of course I was delighted….just before 7 o’clock I started for the Albert Hall. Walked to Notting Hill gate then took a bus. The meeting was not till 8 o’clock but Miss Porter had told me to be there by 7 o’clock. We had seats in the Balcony and it was a great strain to hear the speakers. It was a meeting of the National Women’s Social and Political Union – and Mrs Pankhurst, newly released from Prison with the other six was there, and she filled the chair that we had thought to see empty. It was an exciting meeting. The speakers were Miss Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs Pethick Lawrence, Miss Annie Kenney, Mrs Martel and the huge sums of money they collected. It was like magic the way it flowed in. It was all just a little too theatrical but very wonderful. Miss Annie Kenney interested me the most – she seems so “inspired” quite a second Joan of Arc. I was very pleased not to be missing so wonderful an evening and I think it very nice of Miss Porter to have thought of me. She is quite a nice girl of the modern but “girlie” sort – a Cheltenham girl and quite clever – but very like a lot of other girls. Coming out we met, strangely enough, Mrs Wright and Alexandra (Gladys was speaking at Peckham) and after saying good-bye to Miss Porter I walked home with them as far as Linden Gardens. Got in at 11.30 very tired indeed and glad of my supper. Mother was waiting up.
Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford
For a full description of the book click here
Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.
ISBN 978 1903427 75 0
Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – firstname.lastname@example.org (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.
In a previous post on Suffragette Jewellery I commented on the danger of assuming that any piece of jewellery that a dealer described as ‘suffragette’ had, in fact, anything to do with the suffragette movement. However it is still possible to discover items the provenance of which cannot be doubted.
Below is one such.
The image for this original painted miniature portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is derived from the photograph of her by the Kensington photographer, Martin Jacolette (see below). In it she is wearing a Holloway brooch, which dates the photograph to no earlier than April 1909.
The portrait miniature is very pleasingly painted and, although no artist’s signature is visible, I did wonder if it might not be by one of the Brackenbury sisters (Georgiana’s much later portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is in the National Portrait Gallery). The portrait is set in a metal pendant, on the back of which is inscribed ‘Presented to Mrs Marie Leigh Drum Major by the N.W.S.P.U. Drum and Fife Band in memory of her courageous fight for woman’s freedom December 1909’.
In the autumn of 1909 Mary Leigh had been forcibly fed while serving sentences in Winson Green and Strangeways prisons and in December an action for damages was brought on her behalf by the WSPU against the Home Secretary. The WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, reported that, on 16 December 1909, ‘Ushered to the strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” , played by the WSPU Band, Mrs Leigh, the Drum Major received a royal welcome at St James’s Hall. Looking rather pale but as determined as ever, she delivered a stirring address.’ As Christabel Pankhurst, who was presiding, commented, ‘The Government did not know with whom they were dealing.’ The pendant was probably presented on this occasion.
The pendant, which has its original chain, has set around its edge three little stones – one white, one purple and one green. In this case the choice of stones clearly did have WSPU relevance. The pendant is in its original box – similar in material to that used for the hunger strike medals. Contemporary painted portraits of Mrs Pankhurst are exceedingly rare and with this particular provenance – unique. I have never seen another pendant like this, but wonder whether Mary Leigh was the only recipient of such an object. Might there be others waiting to be discovered?