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.
Suffragettes' leaders were Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter
are thousands of recorded incidents of Suffragette actions, but here are
some of the important highlights:
the quotes on this page are taken from the book by Andrew Rosen: Rise
and Kegan Paul, 1974, ISBN 0 7100 7934 6)
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
where, accordingto Mather,
Christabel again struck him in the mouth.
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.
19 February , 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.
'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.
Visiting the Prime Minister
9 March , 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.
women were not charged because Campbell-Bannerman did not press charges,
as he wanted to keep the incident out of the newspapers. He failed.
Shouting Out in the House of Commons
25 April  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
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.
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.
3 p.m. on 23 October , 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
'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
A Violent March
WSPU completed plans to march from the Caxton Hall to Parliament on 13
February , the day after the King's Speech. In the north
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.
13 February the `Women's Parliament' met at
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':
up, women! for the fight is hard and long;
in thousands, singing loud a battle song.
is might, and in its strength we shall be strong,
the cause goes marching on.
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 footseized 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.
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.
of the women arrested were given 14-day prison sentences.
The Mass Meetings of 1908
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...
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.
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',
late, Mrs Pankhurst walked on stage, to her followers' great delight.
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
there were over 300,000 people, The
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
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
that the majority of those present had been `drawn by curiosity, as well
as by interest in the remarkable personalities of the movement.' The
that `the great majority were there simply from curiosity and love of
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.'
was leader of the Conservative Party, and Asquith became the Liberal Prime
Minister in 1908.
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.
Costume and Pageantry
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', forthe
"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.
working class women would have been able to afford the costume Mrs Pethick-Lawrence
The 'Rush' on Parliament, 1908
had been completed for the next raid on Parliament, to be held on 13
October . 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
Social and Political Union
RUSH THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
TUESDAY EVENING, 13th
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
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
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 ,
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
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.
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.
Heckling Government Ministers
5 December , 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].
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.)
22 June , 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.
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'.
29 June , 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
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.
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.
The First Hunger-Strike
2 July , 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.
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
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
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.
Haldane was the Liberal Secretary for War in the Liberal
Emily Wilding Davison in Prison
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
Home Secretary ordered her release, and admitted that a `grave error of
judgment' had been made.
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
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'.
was not hurt, and did not press charges. Theresa Garnett was
sent to prison for a month for disturbing the peace.
21 November , 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.
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
15 December  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.
WSPU did not at first support this kind of violence and Votes for Women
Emily Wilding Davison's deed brief mention on an inside page.
WSPU had always announced militant demonstrations well in advance.
On 1 March , 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.
The First Incident of Arson
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
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.
13 July , 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:
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....
Craggs subsequently received nine months' imprisonment. She was,
however, released after a hunger strike of eleven days.
Another Arson Attempt
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 , 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.
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.
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
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
asking the Government to grant women the vote...
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.
new tactic was very unpopular, and lost the Suffragettes a lot of support.
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:
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.
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.
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
Emily Wilding Davison
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
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.
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!
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:
the trial which began on 22 May , 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
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
Attacks on Works of Art
courtroom disruptions of the last week of May  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
May 1914, the police began a policy of 'harrying' the Suffragettes,
raiding offices and houses, and making a large number of arrests.]
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?'
The Last Action
police finally vacated [the Suffragettes' Offices], and Mrs Pankhurst
attempted to resume work there on 9 July . 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.
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.