What did the Suffragettes Do?



Rise Up, Women!


The word 'Suffragette' first appeared in the Daily Mail on 10 January 1906, to distinguish the women who used direct action to campaign for the vote from the peaceful 'Suffragists' who used constitutional methods.  


The Suffragettes' leaders were Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel.  


There are thousands of recorded incidents of Suffragette actions, but here are some of the important highlights:



All the quotes on this page are taken from the book by Andrew Rosen: Rise Up, Women!  

(Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974, ISBN 0 7100 7934 6)

1   Action Begins

[On the evening of 13 October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney] were seated towards the back of the Free Trade Hall.   Sir Edward Grey* was urging the return of the Liberals to office, when Annie Kenney shouted the question, phrased in advance by Christabel, `Will the Liberal Government give women the vote?'...   An uproar ensued, as Liberal stewards and plain-clothes police tried to remove the women from the hall and Christabel and Annie struggled against their ejection.   According to testimony given the following day by an Inspector Mather, the pair were informed, in the anteroom of the Free Trade Hall, that they were in the presence of police officers and that they were free to leave, but Christabel spat in the face of Superintendent Watson, and then spat in Mather's face and struck him in the mouth, saying that she wanted to assault a policeman.   The women were then ejected into South Street, where, according to Mather, Christabel again struck him in the mouth.  

(page 50)

* Edward Grey was the Foreign Secretary.  The women were taken to the Town Hall.     At the Town Hall, Christabel and Annie were charged with disorderly behaviour, and obstructing a footway by causing a crowd to assemble.   In addition, Christabel was charged with striking Inspector Mather twice and with spitting at Mather and Watson. 


2   Lobbying MPs

On 19 February [1906], three hundred East End women arrived as planned at St James's Station, and walked to the Caxton Hall carrying red banners.   After tea and buns in a back room, the women were `stage managed' to seats in various parts of the hall, which soon filled with women of all social classes.   Lady Carlisle was among those who came, and some wealthy ladies were later said to have arrived dressed in their maids' clothing to avoid recognition.   Before the proceedings began, the East End women sang `The Red Flag'*.   The meeting had been planned to coincide with the reading of the King's Speech*, and after Mrs Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, and Mrs Montefiore had all spoken, there was a lengthy wait to hear whether the new Government had included women's enfranchisement* in its programme.   When the news came that such was not the case, there were hisses and cries of `shame', and Mrs Pankhurst proclaimed: `We have risked our reputations, our limbs, and even our lives in the cause.   But there is nothing.'    Mrs Pankhurst then moved that the meeting resolve itself into a lobbying committee, and march to the House of Commons.   The women, a few of whom carried banners, walked through cold rain to Parliament Square, where, at the Strangers' Entrance, they were informed that only twenty women at a time would be admitted to the inner hall.   For almost two hours, those women permitted inside lobbied indifferent MPs, while the rest stood outside in the rain.

(page 60)

* The 'Red Flag' is the anthem of the Socialists.   The 'King's Speech' is the speech at the beginning of Parliament, in which the government sets out the laws it intends to make in the coming Parliament.   'Enfranchisement' refers to giving women the vote, and the fact that it was not in the Queen's speech indicated that the government did not intend to give women the vote.


3   Visiting the Prime Minister

On 9 March [1906], about thirty women went to 10 Downing Street and asked to see Campbell-Bannerman [the Prime Minister].   After remaining for almost an hour, they were asked to leave.   Irene Fenwick Miller thereupon rapped on the door, and Mrs Drummond managed to open it and rush inside.   They were both arrested.   Annie Kenney then jumped on to the Prime Minister's car, and began to address the crowd.   After refusing to descend, she too was arrested.   At Cannon Row police station, the three women were released without charge.

(page 65)

The women were not charged because Campbell-Bannerman did not press charges, as he wanted to keep the incident out of the newspapers.  He failed.


4   Shouting Out in the House of Commons

On 25 April [1906] Kier Hardie* was to present to Parliament a Resolution (not a Bill, but a Resolution expressing the sentiment of the House) `That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that sex should cease to be a bar to the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise.'   Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel were convinced that the Resolution would be talked out* by anti-suffragist MPs, and they decided to stage a protest.   On 25 April, twelve WSPU members obtained seats in the Ladies' Gallery.   As predicted, an anti-suffragist, Samuel Evans, began to talk out Hardie's Resolution, using all the old familiar arguments....   As the end of the time alloted for debate drew near, the women in the gallery, infuriated, shouted `We will not have this talk any longer', `Divide, divide', `Vote, vote, vote', `We refuse to have our Bill [sic] talked out', and so on.   Debate was briefly disrupted, but police soon cleared the gallery, and the Resolution was then talked out.

(pages 63-64)

* Kier Hardie was the leader of the Labour Party, which at that time supported Votes for Women.   In parliament, each motion was given only a certain time for debate, so opponents at that time could 'talk out' a bill - going on at huge length so that there was no time for other people to put their point of view, and the debate had to be abandoned.   Keir Hardie was angry that the Pankhursts had destroyed his motion, and eventually the Labour MPs split with the Suffragettes.


5   Disrupting Parliament

At 3 p.m. on 23 October [1906], groups of suffragettes began to arrive at the Commons. Only about thirty well-dressed women were admitted to the lobby - a separate contingent of working-class women was forbidden entrance.   As news of the suffragettes' arrival spread, the lobby became filled with curious MPs.   After the request for [support] had been refused, Mary Gawthorpe mounted a settee beside Lord Northcote's statue and began a speech, while other women gathered around her.   Tumult followed.   Mary Gawthorpe was seized by the police, and, as other speakers took her place, they too were arrested, amidst shouting and scuffling...

       At Westminster police court the following day, ten women* were charged with `using threatening and abusive words and behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace'.   The women refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the court, on the grounds that it carried out solely man-made laws, and during their trial they neither cross-examined the police nor called witnesses in their own defence.    They were found guilty, and ordered to agree to keep the peace for six months, or be imprisoned for two months in the Second Division*, that is, imprisoned as common criminals.    All chose imprisonment.

       The imprisoning of ten women, several of whom were widely known well outside suffrage circles, for demonstrating noisily for women's enfranchisement in the lobby of Parliament, brought the WSPU more sympathy, funds, and new members than any previous imprisonment.


* The ten were Mary Gawthorpe, Mrs Pethick-Lawrence, Annie Kenney, Mrs Montefiore, Adela Pankhurst, Teresa Billington, Mrs How Martyn, Irene Fenwick Miller, Mrs Baldock, and Mrs Anne Cobden Sanderson  

The 'First Division' of prisons was reserved for 'political prisoners'.   The outcry caused by the imprisoning of the women as 'common criminals' led the government, on 31 October, to announce that Suffragettes would be treated as 'political prisoners'.   This accommodation was withdrawn later, when the Suffragettes started their arson campaign.


6   A Violent March

The WSPU completed plans to march from the Caxton Hall to Parliament on 13 February [1907], the day after the King's Speech.   In the north of England, WSPU organizers sought out women willing to go to prison, and arrangements were made for their brief stay in the homes of London suffragettes.   Two days before the demonstration the WSPU held secret meetings at which 200 delegates were divided into fourteen groups, and each group was provided with a leader.

       On 13 February the `Women's Parliament' met at 3 p.m.   Tickets for the Caxton Hall had been sold out well in advance...   Amidst great excitement, a resolution condemning the omission of women's suffrage from the King's Speech was passed, as was a motion that the resolution be taken to the Prime Minister.   Then Mrs Pankhurst's cry `Rise up, women!' was answered by shouts of `Now!' and a procession of about 400 women was formed.   Mrs Despard led the marchers out into bright sunshine, and some of them sang, to the tune of `John Brown':

Rise up, women! for the fight is hard and long;

Rise in thousands, singing loud a battle song.

Right is might, and in its strength we shall be strong,

And the cause goes marching on.

When the first contingents reached the green beside Westminster Abbey, the police announced that the procession could continue no further.   The women refused to halt.   As they went forward, mounted policemen began to ride through their ranks, in an attempt to break up the march, and constables on foot seized women and shoved them down side streets and alleys.   The struggle continued for several hours, as bedraggled women hurled themselves again and again against the police.   Fifteen women managed to reach the lobby, where they were promptly arrested.

       By 10 p.m. the melee had ended. For the first time, arrests had not been confined to a handful of VVSPU leaders - fifty-one women had been arrested in addition to Mrs Despard, Sylvia, and Christabel.

(pages 80-81)

Most of the women arrested were given 14-day prison sentences.


7   The Mass Meetings of 1908

Both Balfour* and Asquith* had asked for proof that women really wanted the vote. In response, Christabel formulated a `comprehensive plan of campaign' designed to demonstrate the existence of wide support for women's suffrage.   The plan was announced in the January 1908 issue of Votes for Women: Women's Parliament would meet in the Caxton Hall on 11, 12 and 13 February. Then, on 19 March, the WSPU would sponsor the first women's suffrage demonstration ever held in the Albert Hall.   Finally, on 21 June the Union would hold a mass meeting in Hyde Park...


Like several previous meetings, the Women's Parliament of 11-13 February 1908 was timed to take place just after the King's Speech; once again, the Government's failure to include women's suffrage in its programme would be followed by a march from the Caxton Hall to Parliament.   The march which took place on 11 February was much like previous marches, save that the WSPU hired two furniture vans and had them driven to the public entrance of the House of Commons; upon arrival, twenty-one women concealed inside the vans threw open the doors and rushed into the lobby, from which they were speedily ejected.   By the end of the day, fifty-four women had been arrested.   Forty­eight of them subsequently received two months in the Second Division. ..


On 19 March... over 7,000 people filled the Albert Hall, in what the WSPU claimed was the largest meeting of women ever held under one roof.   Mrs Pankhurst was not expec­ted to appear on the platform, for her sentence was to run until 20 March.   [The government] decided, however, to release Mrs Pankhurst and her fellow-prisoners one day early `so that they could take part in a large and legitimate demonstration', and, somewhat late, Mrs Pankhurst walked on stage, to her followers' great delight.


On 21 June, 30,000 marchers wended their way to Hyde Park.   Keir Hardie, Bernard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, Mrs Thomas Hardy, and Mrs H. G. Wells were among those who rode in four-in-hand coaches at the heads of processions.   The march also included forty bands.   An immense throng gathered in the park - the Daily Chronicle estimated there were over 300,000 people, The Times thought there were from 250,000 to 500,000, and Votes for Women claimed: `it is no exaggeration to say that the number of people present was the largest ever gathered together on one spot at one time in the history of the world.'

       In order to accommodate the crowd, the twenty platforms had been placed about 100 yards apart. In the centre of the demonstration area was a large furniture van.   The roof of the van served as a conning tower, from which the proceedings were directed by the blowing of bugles.   The crowd, which was tightly wedged around each platform, was fairly orderly, but there were disturbances at three platforms...   The Daily Chronicle believed that the majority of those present had been `drawn by curiosity, as well as by interest in the remarkable personalities of the movement.' The Times claimed that `the great majority were there simply from curiosity and love of diversion. '

       At the close of events in Hyde Park, a resolution was carried (by acclamation) `that this meeting calls upon the Government to grant votes to women without delay.'

(pages 98-105)

* Balfour was leader of the Conservative Party, and Asquith became the Liberal Prime Minister in 1908.


8   Self-Denial Week

In order to raise funds, Mrs Pethick-Lawrence had designated 15-22 February 1908 as self-denial week.    During this week, WSPU members were to do without luxuries such as cocoa, coffee, and tea, perform extra work, or use other means to raise funds for the Union.   John Galsworthy, H. W. Nevinson, and E. V. Lucas all donated autographed copies of their books to be sold.

(page 100)


9   Costume and Pageantry

Aware of the impact of costume and pageantry, [in 1908] Mrs Pethick­Lawrence invented WSPU colours - purple, white, and green - and asked marchers to wear white dresses with favours of purple or green*.   White, Mrs Pethick-Lawrence later wrote, stood for `purity in public as well as private life', green stood for `hope', for the "green fire" of a new spring tide' that had `kindled life in a movement apparently dead', and purple stood for `dignity', for `that self-reverence and self-respect which renders acquiescence to political subjection impossible'.   At the direction of Mrs Pethick-Lawrence, 700 purple, white and green banners were made, each eight feet by three feet.   Each banner would be borne on two six-feet-long poles.

(pages 101-102)

* Few working class women would have been able to afford the costume Mrs Pethick-Lawrence designed.


10   The 'Rush' on Parliament, 1908

Plans had been completed for the next raid on Parliament, to be held on 13 October [1908].   This time, Mrs Pankhurst said, a deputation would `enter the House, and, if possible, the Chamber itself'.   To advertise the event, Christabel had thousands of handbills printed, as follows:

Women's Social and Political Union


Men & Women



ON TUESDAY EVENING, 13th October, 1908 at 7:30

What Christabel meant by `rush' was not clear.   Asked to explain, she said, `By rushing the House of Commons, the suffragettes mean going through the doors, pushing their way in, and confronting the Prime Minister.'...

       On 8 October, in the WSPU offices, Christabel gaily showed the new flyers (`Have you seen our new bills?') to an Inspector Jarvis.   The police also procured some copies being handed out in Trafalgar Square .   Four days later, summonses were issued against Mrs Pankhurst, Christabel, and Mrs Drummond, alleging that they were `guilty of conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace in circulating . . . a certain handbill calling upon and inciting the public to do a certain wrongful and illegal act, namely, to rush the House of Commons'.   On 13 October, after eluding the police for a day, the three women presented themselves for arrest at 6 p.m. , just before the demonstration.   (They had spent most of the day sitting in the Pethick-Lawrences' roof­-garden, reading newspapers.)

       That evening, about 60,000 people gathered in the vicinity of Parliament Square .   Five thousand constables had been placed on special duty, and they completely cordoned off the square.   As on previous occasions, groups of suffragettes tried to force their way past police lines, and were arrested for trying to do so.   During the course of the evening, twenty-four women and thirteen men were arrested, and ten persons were taken to hospital.    Lloyd George, who was accompanied by his six­year-old daughter Megan, saw parts of the struggle.   One woman - Keir Hardie's secretary, Mrs Travers Symons - managed to enter the floor of the House while debate was in progress. Mrs Symons said a few words before being taken out.

pages 110-111

The women argued in court that 'rush' did not imply violence or any illegal act.   However, the judge found them guilty and bound them over to keep the peace.


11   Heckling Government Ministers

On 5 December [1908], in the Albert Hall, about seventy WSPU members heckled Lloyd George*.    Some of the women had managed to procure front row seats, and removed their cloaks to reveal mock prison garb.   The first heckler, Helen Ogston, had come armed with a dog-whip, to ward off handling of the sort meted out by stewards at previous meetings.   As stewards forced her out of the hall, she flicked at them with the whip.   (Her actions went beyond the purview of existing WSPU policy, and were received rather coolly by Christabel and F. W. Pethick-Lawrence.)   During the rest of the evening, the heckling was so persistent that it took Lloyd George two hours to deliver a twenty-minute speech.    Many of the hecklers were ejected roughly, emerging with cuts, bruises, and torn clothing. In his speech, Lloyd George had nothing new to offer; he merely endorsed Asquith's [policy].

(page 113)

* Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer.   He was a brilliant politician, and he knew quite well that the Suffragettes intended to heckle him.   He let the women ruin his speech because he had decided to allow them to 'let them break up their own meeting...   I have no desire to speak by gracious permission of Queen Christabel'.   (He realised that the Suffragettes actions were harming their cause as much as helping it.)


12   Grafitti

On 22 June [1909], Marion Wallace Dunlop, a sculptress, attempted to print an extract from the Bill of Rights* on the wall of St Stephen's Hall of the House of Commons.   Ejected without being arrested, she returned on 24 June and used indelible ink to stamp the quotation on the wall. This time she was arrested.

(page 118)

* The quote which she wrote ran: 'It is the right of the subjects to petition the King, and all committments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal'.


13   Breaking windows

On 29 June [1909], the usual meeting in the Caxton Hall began with martial music played by the new fife and drum band; the musicians wore purple uniforms, adorned by green sashes and white braid.   Subsequently, a small initial deputation set out, led by Mrs Pankhurst and composed of eight women, two of whom were elderly.   The police conducted the little group to the door of the Commons, where Chief Inspector Scantlebury, the stout, red-faced head of the police attached to Parliament, gave Mrs Pankhurst a large envelope.   The envelope contained a letter from Asquith's private secretary, stating that the Prime Minister would not receive the deputation.   Mrs Pankhurst threw the letter to the ground, saying that she would not accept it - she and the ladies accompanying her were subjects of the King and had come in the assertion of a right.'   As the police began to push the women away, Mrs Pankhurst lightly struck Inspector Jarvis in the face three times.   He told her she was striking him for a purpose, and that he would not be perturbed...   After Mrs Pankhurst gave Inspector Jarvis two stronger blows and another woman knocked off his hat, arrests were obtained.

       A prolonged melee followed in which 3,000 police were engaged, and 108 women and 14 men were arrested...   The scrimmage was watched by a number of MPs, some of whom climbed the railings of Palace Yard to obtain a better view.  

       At nine o'clock, a group of thirteen women, using small stones wrapped in brown paper, began to break windows at the Privy Council, Treasury, and Home Offices.   To avoid injuring anyone within, pieces of string had been tied to the stones, which were swung against the windows while held by the string, and then dropped through the holes.   The window-breakers were arrested immediately.

(pages 118-119)

This was the largest disturbance so far - the previous worst had been in 1907, when there were 74 arrests.   At first, the WSPU disowned the action, but later gave it their approval.   Rosen points out that the action involved destruction of property, but this first attacked was limited, and only against government property.


14   The First Hunger-Strike

On 2 July [1909], Marion Wallace Dunlop was sentenced to one month in prison for defacing the wall of St Stephen's Hall on 24 June.    She asked to be treated as a political prisoner, and placed in the First Division. Her request was denied.    Three days later, without the foreknowledge of the Union's leaders, she began a hunger strike.    After refusing all food for ninety-one hours, she was released from prison.

(page 120)

Later, the hunger-strikers were force fed.   When this caused a public outcry, the government passed the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Health Act (1913) which allowed it to release the hunger-strikers before they died, but then re-arrest them as soon as they had become stronger again.   This Act was called the 'Cat-and-Mouse' Act, after the way a cat will sometimes release and re-capture a mouse it has caught.


15   Attacking Politicians

Only the most serious of the many incidents of the late summer and autumn of 1909 need be described here.    Knowing that Haldane* was to speak in the Sun Hall in Liverpool on 20 August, the WSPU rented a house adjoining the hall, and during Haldane's speech suffragettes in the house threw bricks at the hall's windows.   On 5 September, as Asquith was leaving Lympne Church, he was accosted by three WSPU members, Jessie Kenney, Elsie Howey, and Vera Wentworth.   One of the three struck him repeatedly.   Later that day, the same trio approached the Prime Minister's party on a golf course....   That evening two stones were thrown through one of the windows of the house in which Asquith was dining.

        On 17 September, Asquith spoke in the Bingley Hall in Birmingham. The hall was surrounded by police, and no women were admitted to the meeting.   Earlier that day, Mary Leigh and Charlotte Marsh, the WSPU's regional organizer for Yorkshire, had equipped themselves with axes and climbed on to the roof of a house near the hall.   During the meeting they chopped slates from the roof and threw them down at the police and at Asquith's motor car.   A policeman standing in the crowd below was badly cut by a slate, and a detective who climbed on to the roof had slates thrown at him and was knocked down to a lower building.   When a hose was turned on the women, they called out, holding fast: `Will you see that Mr. Asquith receives us if we surrender?'    The police eventually climbed on to the roof and arrests were made.    In the meantime, a suffragette in the crowd below, Mary Edwards, assaulted several policemen.    Subsequently, at the police station, she broke every pane of glass in her cell.   Later that day, as Asquith returned to London by train, two WSPU members threw a metal object at the train and broke the window of a compartment in which passengers were seated.   That evening, two other WSPU members entered the Birmingham Liberal Club armed with an axe and did £3 worth of damage to the windows.

(page 122)

* Viscount Haldane was the Liberal Secretary for War in the Liberal government.  


16   Emily Wilding Davison in Prison

[In November 1909], prison treatment of a different kind was accorded to a less prominent suffragette.   Emily Wilding Davison, a tall, slender, red-haired girl, with a London BA, attempted to forestall further forced feeding - she had already fasted for five days and been forcibly fed for three - by barricading herself into her cell in Strangeways Prison.   Visiting magistrates voted that she be dislodged by water shot into the cell from the nozzle of a hose.   She stood her ground, and the authorities eventually had to break into the cell.  

(page 125)

The Home Secretary ordered her release, and admitted that a `grave error of judgment' had been made.


17   Attacking Churchill

The most serious incident of the late autumn of 1909 took place on 13 November in the Great Western Station in Bristol, when Winston Churchill, who had just alighted from a railway carriage, was attacked by a suffragette wielding a riding-switch.   Theresa Garnett, a member of the WSPU, broke through the cordon of private detectives surrounding Churchill, gripped his coat, and hit him in the face with her hand.   For a moment, Churchill grappled with her as she shouted, `Take that, you brute! You brute! I will show you what English women can do." Charged with assaulting Churchill with a whip, she said, `Has it hurt him much?

(page 126)

Christabel Pankhurst wrote: `Moved by the spirit of pure chivalry, Miss Garnett took what she thought to be the best available means of avenging the insult done to womanhood by the Government to which Mr. Churchill belongs'.   Churchill was not hurt, and did not press charges.   Theresa Garnett was sent to prison for a month for disturbing the peace.


18   Mass Window-breaking

On 21 November [1911], Mrs Pethick-Lawrence led the usual deputation from the Caxton Hall to Parliament Square.    The women who met at 7 p.m. at 156 Charing Cross Road did not march with the deputation.    Instead, armed with bags of stones and hammers supplied to them at the WSPU shop, the women went singly to break windows at Government offices and business premises.    Windows were smashed at the Home Office, Local Government Board, Treasury, Scottish Educational Office, Somerset House, National Liberal Federation, Guards' Club, two hotels, the Daily Mail and Daily News, Swan and Edgar's, Lyon's, and Dunn's Hat Shop, as well as at a chemist's, a tailor's, a bakery, and other small businesses.    Two hundred and twenty women and three men were arrested.    The WSPU had never before attacked premises connected with neither the Government nor the Liberal Party.

(page 154)

The window-breakers did not receive sentences longer than those previously meted out for milder forms of militancy: the majority of those convicted received sentences of one month or less. Twenty women who had done more than £5 worth of damage received longer sentences of two months in prison.   On 16 February 1912, Mrs Pankhurst declared that: 'the argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics'.   However, window-breaking caused many women to leave the WSPU, including Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the pioneer women doctor.


19   Postboxes

On 15 December [1911] Emily Wilding Davison, one of the Union's more erratic members, set three postboxes ablaze by lighting pieces of linen saturated with paraffin and thrusting them through the letter slots. She said, afterwards: `I did this entirely on my own responsibility... ' Emily Wilding Davison was sentenced to six months in prison.

(page 156)

The WSPU did not at first support this kind of violence and Votes for Women gave Emily Wilding Davison's deed brief mention on an inside page.


20   Shop-Windows

The WSPU had always announced militant demonstrations well in advance.    On 1 March [1912], for the first time, the Union struck without warning: about 150 women were given hammers, told exactly which windows to break, when to break them, and how to hit panes low so that glass would not fall from above.    At 5.45 p.m. in Oxford Street, Regent Street, the Strand, and other prominent thoroughfares, well-dressed women produced hammers from handbags and began to smash windows.    The firms whose windows were damaged included Burberry's, Liberty's, Marshall & Snelgrove, and Kodak.    Foreign firms were not exempt - windows were broken at the offices of the Canadian Pacific, the Grand Trunk Railway, and Norddeutscher Lloyd.    Police arrested 124 women.    The damage was estimated at £5,000.  Mrs Pankhurst was among those arrested.

(page 157)


21   The First Incident of Arson

On 3 March 1912, Ellen Pitfield, a forty­five-year-old midwife afflicted with incurable cancer, entered the General Post Office and set fire to a basket of wood shavings saturated with paraffin.   Her attempt at arson was purely symbolic, for she immediately proceeded to attract attention by throwing a brick through a window of the building.  

(page 158)

Ellen Pitfield's actions were not supported by the WSPU.   On 19 March, she was sentenced to six months in prison, having been carried to court from a bed in the prison hospital.   Released in May, she died on 6 August.


22   Nuneham House

On 13 July [1912], in the early morning hours, a P.C. Godden, of the Oxfordshire Constabulary, apprehended one of two women who were standing near the wall of Nuneham House, the country residence of Lewis Harcourt, one of the Cabinet's leading `Antis'.   The constable impounded a basket and a satchel, which together contained a bottle and two cans of inflammable oil, two boxes of matches, four tapers, nine 'pick-locks', twelve fire-lighters, a hammer, an electric torch, and `a piece of American cloth smeared over with some sticky substance.'   In the bag of the apprehended woman, Helen Craggs, was a note, addressed to `Sir', which said:

I myself have taken part in every peaceful method of propaganda and petition ... but I have been driven to realise that it has all been of no avail, so now I ... have done something drastic....

(page 169)

Helen Craggs subsequently received nine months' imprisonment.   She was, however, released after a hunger strike of eleven days.


24   Another Arson Attempt

Five days after the attempt to burn Harcourt's house, a more serious incident occurred.   Mary Leigh had already been arrested nine times, and had spent over fifteen months in jail.   On 18 July [1912], in Dublin, Mary Leigh threw a hatchet into a carriage in which Asquith and Redmond were riding.   She escaped.   That evening, she and Gladys Evans tried to set fire to the Theatre Royal, where Asquith had just seen a performance.   The two women ignited the curtains behind a box, threw a flaming chair down into the orchestra, and set off small bombs made of tin cans.   They did not try to evade arrest, and were subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.

(page 170)

After prolonged hunger strikes, Mary Leigh was released on 21 September and Gladys Evans on 3 October, on licences that restricted their movements and activities. Substantial and prolonged legal complications followed, and the cases were eventually allowed to drop, though the two women had between them served but sixteen weeks of their five-year sentences.


25   Letter-destroying

On the evening of 26 November 1912... WSPU members poured acid, ink, lampblack and tar into postal pillar boxes in the City of London, the West End, and a host of provincial cities. Thousands of pieces of mail were destroyed.    In Newcastle alone, 2,000 letters were damaged.    The destruction was carried out secretly, and the perpetrators escaped arrest, but Mrs Pankhurst made clear to the public the Union's advocacy of and responsibility for the deeds committed.

       Letter-destroying marked the completion of a fundamental change in the aim of militant tactics. In earlier years, the WSPU had sought to enlist public support by evoking sympathy for its cause.    The effort to win public support had reached its zenith with the great demonstration of June 1908.    Now the public was to be coerced into asking the Government to grant women the vote...   The new tactic also differed from previously employed tactics in that it was completely indiscriminate: persons of all political opinions, women as well as men, could be affected.

(pages 183-184)

The new tactic was very unpopular, and lost the Suffragettes a lot of support.


26   Guerrillists

During the final week of January 1913, Mrs Pankhurst said that the suffragettes were `guerrillists', warranted in employing all the methods of war; human life would be held sacred, but `if it was necessary to win the vote they were going to do as much damage to property as they could.'


       On the last day of January 1913, the WSPU began a concerted campaign of destruction of public and private property.   Within the next three weeks, slogans were burned on to putting greens, a jewel case was smashed at the Tower, telegraph and telephone wires linking London and Glasgow were cut, an orchid house was burned at Kew Gardens, windows were smashed at London clubs, the refreshment house at Regent's Park was destroyed by fire, and at Harrow a railway carriage was set ablaze.'   Most of the perpetrators escaped arrest, but the WSPU leaders made no secret of the Union's responsibility for the deeds - on 10 February, Mrs Pankhurst said:


We are not destroying Orchid Houses, breaking windows, cutting telegraph wires, injuring golf greens, in order to win the approval of the people who were attacked.   If the general public were pleased with what we are doing, that would be a proof that our warfare is ineffective.   We don't intend that you should be pleased.


At 6 a.m. on 18 February, a bomb set by Emily Wilding Davison and accomplices wrecked five rooms of a partly-completed house that Lloyd George was having built near Walton Heath, Surrey.

(pages 188-189)

Mrs Pankhurst had not known beforehand that the explosion was planned, but on 19 February she said that she had advised, incited, and conspired, and the authorities need not look for the women who had plated the bomb because she herself accepted full responsibility for the deed.   On 24 February, she was arrested for procuring and inciting women to commit offences.


27   Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison had always been one of the Union's more erratic members. She had been the first to set a letter box ablaze, in December 1911, though doing so was not at the time sanctioned by WSPU policy. Subsequently, while in prison, believing that a martyrdom would benefit the Union, she had tried to kill herself by jumping from a balcony. At Lincoln's Inn there had been some scepticism regarding the seriousness of her intentions; she was regarded by some of the WSPU staff as a self-dramatizing individualist insufficiently capable of acting within the confines of official instructions.

       On 3 June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison and her flat-mate decided to attend the Derby the following day, and disrupt the race by suddenly waving the WSPU colours before the horses

at Tattenham Corner. At the Derby, Emily Wilding Davison did not wave the colours from the rail as planned, but, instead, dashed on to the course and was run down by the King's horse, Anmer. Her skull was fractured, and she died five days later without having regained consciousness.

(pages 198-199)

Historians think that Emily Wilding Davison did not intend to kill herself on 3 June 1913 - she had bought a return ticket to the races - but perhaps just wanted to create a sensation.   However, she DID believe that a martyrdom would help the cause - she had written: 'The glorious and inscrutable Spirit of Liberty has but one further penalty within its power, the surrender of Life itself. It is the supreme consummation of sacrifice, than which none can be higher or greater.   To lay down life for friends, that is glorious, selfless, inspiring!


28   June 1913

Perhaps in part as a result of, the death of Emily Wilding Davison, in June 1913 the Holy War of the WSPU resulted in £54,000 worth of damage:




Est. Value (£)

3 June


Rough's Boathouse







Muswell Hill

cricket pavilion



Hurst Park

racecourse stand



East Lothian




Rowley Regis

parish church







St Andrews

Batty's Marine laboratory




Ballikinrain Castle



Leuchers Junction

railway station






(page 201)


29   Disrupting Courtrooms

At the trial which began on 22 May [1914], court­room disruption was adopted as WSPU policy; the accused women refused to acquiesce in a trial based on laws made by men alone.   One woman refused to walk into court and had to be carried, another wrestled with officers, another threw a boot at the magistrate, and others shouted incessantly.    Eggs and a bag of flour were thrown from the galleries.    Despite the uproar, most of the defendants were dismissed, and the longest sentence given was four months.    Hunger and thirst strikes followed, and all of the prisoners were released within a few days.

(page 234)


30   Attacks on Works of Art

The courtroom disruptions of the last week of May [1914] were accompanied by a rash of attacks on museum collections.    On 22 May, five paintings in the National Gallery and one painting at the Royal Academy were damaged.    On 23 May, a glass case holding a mummy was smashed at the British Museum.    To avoid further damage, the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Wallace Collection were all closed until further notice, and the British Museum announced that in future women would only be admitted with a ticket issued on receipt of a letter from a person `willing to be responsible for their behaviour.'

(page 234)


31   Assaults

[In May 1914, the police began a policy of 'harrying' the Suffragettes, raiding offices and houses, and making a large number of arrests.]


As a result of the great pressures being brought to bear on the WSPU, a series of noisy and often violent incidents occurred in late May and June.    On 22 May, George V was attending a matinee at His Majesty's Theatre when one woman shouted, `You Russian Tsar!' while another climbed on stage and began a speech.    On 3 June, an irate feminist felled the editor of the Belfast Evening Telegraph with an unexpected blow.    Expelled from his office, she proceeded to the office of the editor of the Belfast Newsletter and struck him too.    (He had angered her by urging those who found suffragettes marring golf courses to take the law into their own hands.)    In London, on the same day as the Belfast assaults, two women used a dog whip to assault Dr Forward, the medical officer of Holloway Prison, where forced feeding was being carried out.    The following day a woman who had managed to gain entrance to a Court function suddenly fell on her knees before the King, and cried in a loud shrill voice, `Your Majesty, won't you stop torturing the women?'

(page 235)


32   The Last Action

The police finally vacated [the Suffragettes' Offices], and Mrs Pankhurst attempted to resume work there on 9 July [1914].    She was arrested at the door.    Re-imprisoned, she hunger-struck and was released on 11 July, exhausted and suffering from gastric disturbance and a high fever.    Five days later, on 16 July, she tried to attend a WSPU meeting at Holland Park Skating Rink.    An attempt was made to carry her into the hall on a stretcher, but before she could enter she was re-arrested and taken away in a police ambulance.   

       The meeting at the Holland Park Skating Rink on 16 July 1914 was the last major meeting held by the WSPU before the out­break of the Great War.

(pages 238-239)