Hi all, happy Friday!
A few weeks back I shared a post about my BTS visit to Vote and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition at Westminster Palace, London. It was really fascinating and for me, made a real change to the stereotypical displays that have been curated to celebrate the 100 years of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote in the UK. Many of the exhibitions I have visited have focused on the ‘popular’ suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davidson; displaying the same medals, banners and badges time and again. Whilst Vote and Vote did acknowledge these women and exhibit some similar objects, the curators were blessed with having the Parliamentary Archives to work from meaning a different set of political activists, specialist objects and original stories could be showcased which I was very relieved about!
The Great Pilgrimage was one of the largest peaceful suffrage demonstrations, with 50,000 women attending the rally in Hyde Park, London. This map shows routes taken by ‘pilgrims’ travelling across the country to London.
The Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, July 1913. LSE Libray, 10/54/097.
Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Astor chose this plain outfit, similar to a man’s suit, for the HOC so that she would be judged by what she said and not what she wore.
Nancy Astor’s Parliamentary Suit, 1919. Wool cloth suit (jacket and skirt), silk blouse and matching hat. (On loan from Plymouth City Council, Museum Galleries Archive).
On 28th October 1908, suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) visited the Ladies’ Gallery whilst male MP’s were discussing women’s suffrage. Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to grilles. A third woman, Violet Tillard lowered the ‘proclamation’ banner through the grilles so it could be seen in the chamber. Male suffragettes threw leaflets form their gallery. Matters and Fox couldn’t easily be unchained so the grilles were removed with them still attached. Alongside the banner were a metal grille and bolt clippers that were related to protests that day. A purchase order for the bolt clipper’s stated “In 1908, a “Porter’s easy bolt clipper” was obtained through H.M Office of Works to cut the chains with which the suffragettes might secure themselves to portions of the building”.
Left: Proclamation Banner, 28th October 1908. The Women’s Freedom League ‘proclamation’ was written by WFL founder Teresa Billington Greig. Copies were pasted up all over London. This one was pasted onto cloth and mounted on sticks for use in the Ladies’ Gallery protest. Parliamentary Archives: HC/SA/SJ/3/1
Favourite suffragette stories:
The exhibition told stories about suffragettes that have often been left out of suffrage narratives, highlighting women that contributed majorly to the fight for the vote but didn’t have the forename Emily or surname Pankhurst!
- Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. She played a major role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, as well as being heavily involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. Although Sophia’s primary focus as a British subject and goddaughter of Queen Victoria was women’s rights in England, she and her fellow suffragettes also promoted similar activities in the colonies. She was proud of her Indian heritage, but was not bound by allegiance to a single nation and sought to support the women’s cause in a number of countries.
- Paralysed from the waist down caused by contracting polio as a chid, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled suffragette who famously campaigned and protested in her hand tricycle; earning her the nickname ‘cripple suffragette’. She was involved in many of the protests lead by the WSPU and founded the Greenwich branch of the Party in 1910. As its first secretary she took part in the ‘Black Friday‘ demonstrations. Her disability did not hold her back, nor did it hold back the male police officers. They would often throw her out of her tricycle, leaving her on the ground, unable to get up. Throughout her activism, Rosa was sent to prison three times & force fed by prison guards like many other suffragettes.
I was so incredibly happy and inspired by this exhibition as it gave a refreshing insight into the suffrage movement; exposing hidden objects and stories that had been left out of many other displays. I left the exhibition feeling truly inspired knowing how much change can come from campaigning, protesting and fighting for what you believe in. I can openly say I would be a suffragist rather than a suffragette (I’m very scared about breaking the law or getting into trouble!) but this exhibition showed how both are necessary for change. Taking a stand, writing to MP’s, attending marches and vocalising your thoughts can support change. Nothing ever happens overnight, these women fought for decades for the first step but women’s continued fight went from no women > some women > all women being allowed to vote in the UK. Women’s voice in Parliament has changed the way women can engage with politics, the decisions that are made in the House of Commons and the rights we have as an equal sex. I am forever grateful to the women who fought and continue to fight for change and equality in the UK and around the world and will aspire to be more involved in politics in the future. We women are a force to be reckoned with and we will not stop fighting for equal rights!
Keep fighting the good fight & showcasing women in exhibitions!
Happy Museum Musings,