6 min read

The Suffragette surveillance photos that tell the story of Votes for Women

a blck and white photo of woman woth long haor and a long coat over overalls walking in a yard

Surveillance image of the suffragette prisoner Grace Marcon, alias ‘Frieda Graham’. © Museum of London

A series of powerful Home Office surveillance photos are among the Suffragette artefacts going on display as the Museum of London prepares its major Votes for Women exhibition in 2018

The Museum of London will be drawing upon its unique Suffragette collection, the largest in the world relating to the militant campaign, to highlight the material and visual legacy of the Suffragette story in a major exhibition opening in February 2018.

The opening of the exhibition will mark the moment when, after over half a century of campaigning, a bill was passed that gave the first women the right to vote in the UK. Although the bill, introduced to a war weary nation, passed quietly into law it signalled that finally women’s role in public life and society was beginning to advance.

Exploring the Women’s Suffrage movement and its impact on society and politics between 1903 and 1914, the new exhibition will mine the collection to bring imagery, objects and the stories of individuals into the public, in many cases for the first time.

Among them will be a series of revealing undercover photographs, commissioned by the Home Office rom 1913. Many of them were taken in the exercise yard of Holloway Prison, where numerous suffragettes, including the movement figurehead Emmeline Pankhurst, were incarcerated.

Such photos were used to identify militant suffragettes attempting to enter public buildings such as museums or art galleries.

a photograph of three women in Edwardian dress walking across a yard

Surveillance photograph of Suffragette prisoners taking exercise in the yard of Holloway Prison. Taken by an undercover photographer working for the Home office. © Museum of London

a composite photo of two women in Edwardian dress walking across a yard

(L) Surveillance photograph of Mary Richardson c. 1914 and (R) Suffragette Gibson taking exercise in the yard at Holloway Prison. © Museum of London

One of the women photographed was Grace Marcon, the daughter of Canon Marcon of Norwich. In August 1913 she was arrested and charged with obstruction during a scuffle in Whitehall between the police and a group of Suffragettes led by Sylvia Pankhurst following a demonstration organised by the Free Speech Defence Committee.

Although found guilty she did not receive a custodial sentence and was ‘bound over’. Rearrested in October on a charge of obstruction and assault, Grace did, on this occasion receive a sentence of two months in Holloway.

In May 1914 Grace, using the alias Frieda Graham, was arrested for damaging five paintings at the National Gallery, including Giovanni Bellini’s The Agony in The Garden and Gentile Bellini’s Portrait of a Mathematician. Found guilty at trial she was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. Released on June 5, delirious from her hunger strike she cut off the long hair seen in the photograph.

Grace later went to Canada to marry the photographer Victor Scholey who took the original photographs of the Siege of Sidney Street, later returning to Norfolk in the 1930s as a single parent. She remained single for the rest of her life.

Grace is one of several women whose stories are told in the exhibition and programme of events which will focus on the stories of unknown Suffragettes that fought tirelessly with courage for the right to vote.

a photo of a woman in edwardian dress seated before a garden door

Photograph of the Suffragette Winefride Mary Rix. © Museum of London

a print of a watercolour of a seated Edwardian lady

Postcard with portrait of Louise M. Eates, drawn and signed by Glenn Hinshaw in 1906, produced as part of the women’s pro-suffrage campaign. © Museum of London

a portriat photographic postcard of a woman wearing a medal

Postcard with portrait photograph of Janie Terrero (1858-1944). © Museum of London

The Suffragette campaign with its motto ‘deeds not words’ believed in direct action and, at times, used extreme tactics. Through protest, disruption and damage to property that led to the arrest and imprisonment of over 1000 women, the Suffragettes’ impact on London life became a force to be reckoned with in the early years of the 20th century.

One of the women to be featured is Emily ‘Kitty’ Willoughby Marshall, who was arrested six times and imprisoned in Holloway three times for militant actions. Her first sentence came in November 1910 for throwing a potato at a window at the residence of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.

“it has been a privilege to delve deep into the archive to discover the individual stories of courage, comradeship and commitment”

Winefride Mary Rix, who, as a mother of a 12 year old daughter, was sentenced to two months hard labour for smashing a window at the War Office and Janie Terrero, a suffragist since the age of 18, who joined the militant Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 was imprisoned in March 1912 in Holloway for four months for window smashing. During her imprisonment she went on hunger strike twice and was forcibly fed until released a few days before the end of her sentence.

Beverley Cook, Social & Working History Curator at Museum of London, explained how the centenary commemoration has provided the opportunity “to take a fresh look at the Votes for Women campaign, its legacy and relevance to contemporary life”.

“As curator of the world’s largest collection of material relating to the Suffragette movement it has been a privilege to delve deep into the archive to discover the individual stories of courage, comradeship and commitment,” she added.

“The museum’s programme will provide a dynamic interpretation of the collection and bring many images and objects into public view for the first time.”

a photo of a medal with white green and purple ribbon

Suffragette prisoner’s silver hunger strike medal with purple, white and green ribbon. Presented to Emmeline Pankhurst to commemorate her hunger strike when serving a 9 month sentence in Holloway jail for ‘conspiracy to incite persons to commit damage to property’. The medal is inscribed “For Valour/March 1st 1912/Hunger Strike/Emmeline Pankhurst”.

A pink suffragette meeting ticket stub

A suffragette meeting ticket stub. © Museum of London

a photo of a flyer with mass meeting of Women Royal Albert Hall

A suffragette ticket flyer for an event at the Royal Albert Hall. © Museum of London

Among the other objects that help tell this story is the Suffragette prisoner’s silver hunger strike medal with its purple, white and green ribbon, presented to Emmeline Pankhurst to commemorate her hunger strike when serving a 9 month sentence in Holloway jail for ‘conspiracy to incite persons to commit damage to property’.

The medal is inscribed “For Valour/March 1st 1912/Hunger Strike/Emmeline Pankhurst”.

From 1909, suffragettes who served prison terms were awarded medals for their service to the cause. In imitation of military honours, the medals were attached to a ribbon in the purple white and green colour-scheme of the Women’s Social and Political Union. They were also engraved with the name of the recipient and the date of any hunger strike or force-feeding.

A newly commissioned film installation highlighting the individual commitment and courage of the lesser known Suffragette women, based entirely on the museum’s collections also opens on February 2 2018 and events include an adult and family friendly weekend festival on February 3 & 4 2018 to coincide with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, a Suffragette bus tour of London and an adult literary event on March 24 2018.

Votes for Women is at the Museum of London from February 2 2018 – January 6 2019. The Museum is free to enter. 

venue

Museum of London

London, City of London

Step inside Museum of London for an unforgettable journey through the capital’s turbulent past. The Museum of London tells the story of the world’s greatest city and its people. It cares for more than two million objects in its collections and attracts over 400,000 visitors per year. It holds the…