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12 museum objects documenting Women’s struggle for the vote 1

Museum Crush has teamed up with the People’s History Museum in Manchester to select 12 iconic museum artefacts that help tell the struggle of women to get the vote. Helen Antrobus, Programme and Events Officer at the People’s History Museum, talks us through these important objects

As the nation celebrates 100 years of some women getting the vote, it is more important than ever to look back on the campaigns that made this possible. From law-abiding suffragists to the militant suffragettes, thousands of women made their voices heard and took up arms to campaign for Votes for Women. Women are so often hidden from history, but in museums, galleries and archives across the country, the story of the suffrage movement has been preserved. The objects below represent some of the incredible moments and memories from the different campaigns.


Holloway Brooch, about 1908

a photo of a small portcullis styled brooch

The Holloway Brooch. © People’s History Museum

As a militant organisation, these brooches were regarded as medals of honour for bravery and valiance, which were awarded by the WSPU to imprisoned suffragettes. Sylvia Pankhurst’s design incorporates the portcullis of parliament with a convict’s arrow. The brooch was famously worn by Emmeline Pankhurst, demonstrating that, even as the leader of the campaign, she put herself through the same suffering as the foot soldiers of the movement.
From the collection of the People’s History Museum www.phm.org.uk


Votes for Women Sash, about 1910

a photo of a piece of cream fabric with votes for women printed in green across it

Votes for Women Sash © People’s History Museum

The message ‘Votes for Women’ was the slogan of many suffrage organisations, and was used on banners, brooches, aprons and dresses. It was even used to deface the 1911 census, when suffrage organisations decided to boycott the census. Painted silk sashes such as these were worn by women to show their support for the cause. Selling sashes also helped raised funds.
From the collection of the People’s History Museum www.phm.org.uk


WSPU Manchester Banner, about 1908

a purple banner with the words first in the figt founded by Mrs Pankhurst 1903

The Manchester suffragette banner in the Conservation Studio at People’s History Museum

The WSPU banner was a reminder even in its day of where the suffragette movement began. The banner, which carries the words Manchester First in the Fight, appeared on the platform alongside Emmeline Pankhurst, whose name it also features, in some of her most significant speeches. It was there when she spoke at the Heaton Park rally in Manchester (19 July 1908) to a crowd of 50,000 people and was first unveiled in Stevenson Square Manchester on Saturday 20 June 1908, by famed suffragettes Mary Gawthorpe and Rona Robinson. It is the work of renowned maker Thomas Brown & Sons, based in Manchester but working across Britain.
From the collection of the People’s History Museum www.phm.org.uk

Force-feeding equipment

a photo of a white ceramic funnel, rubber hose and two wooden plugs

© Galleries of Justice Museum

This particular set of force-feeding equipment was used at Walton Gaol, Liverpool to feed people against their will. The wooden object with the hole in the middle was used as a gag to keep the person’s mouth open. The rubber tube was threaded through the hole of the porcelain funnel, through the hole in the gag and down into the stomach. Liquid food was then poured into the funnel.

Force-feeding was used in British prisons against hunger-striking suffragettes from 1909 and against hunger-striking conscientious objectors during and after World War I.
From the collection of the National Justice Museum www.nationaljusticemuseum.org.uk


Sylvia Pankhurst’s typewriter

a photo of an old typewriter with a book resting on it

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Typewriter & The Suffragette Movement Book 3 © Pankhurst Trust

Sylvia used the typewriter to write The Suffragette Movement – An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (1931). She had it with her when she lived in the East End of London and then took it to Ethiopia with her. It wasn’t her only typewriter, but this is most likely the one that she would have used at home and to write editorial. Helen Pankhurst describes the typewriter as “the instrument through which Sylvia broadcast her message, which makes it invaluable”.
From the collection of The Pankhurst Centre www.thepankhurstcentre.org.uk

WSPU Holloway Prisoners suffrage banner

Rectangular. Purple, green and cream linen. Large rectangle pieced out of smaller rectangles, with the signatures of eighty women hunger-strikers embroidered in purple silk (a politicised version of the traditional 'friendship' quilt). 'Women's Social and Political Union' across the top in a Scottish art nouveau style. This banner was first carried in the From Prison to Citizenship procession in June 1910. It includes the embroidered signatures of 80 women

Suffragette banner ‘WSPU Holloway Prisoners’

A Suffragette banner for the ‘WSPU Holloway Prisoners’, in purple, green and cream linen. This banner was first carried in the From Prison to Citizenship procession in June 1910 and it includes the embroidered signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers who had ‘faced death without flinching’. Made in the style of a traditional friendship quilt it symbolises the spirit of comradeship that gave suffragette prisoners the strength and courage to endure hunger strike and force-feeding. Signatures include those of figures such as Emily Davison as well as ‘forgotten’ suffragettes.
From the collection of the Museum of London www.museumoflondon.org.uk


Surveillance photograph

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

The Home Office commissioned the undercover photography of militant suffragettes from 1913. This surveillance photo of the suffragette prisoner Frieda Graham was taken as she exercised in the yard of Holloway Gaol. Such photos were used to identify militant suffragettes attempting to enter public buildings such as museums or art galleries. Frieda was imprisoned several times for militant activity. In May 1914 she received a six-month sentence for damaging five paintings at the National Gallery, but was released on 5 June after hunger striking and being force-fed.
From the collection of the Museum of London www.museumoflondon.org.uk


Brass grilles from the Ladies’ Gallery in Parliament

a composite photo showing a man with a moustached removing iron grilles and a photo of a brass plaque next to a grille set in a stone window

(Top) The removal of the Grille, August 23 1917 and the location of the grille today in the central lobby. © Parliamentary Archives

In the late 19th and early 20th century, women who wanted to sit in on debates in Parliament were resigned to the Ladies’ Gallery, a small, stuffy room high above the Houses of Commons, with windows filled with heavy brass screens designed partly so they could see and hear but not take part in the discussions, and partly so they were not a ‘distraction’ to the men below.

When the campaign for women’s suffrage picked up steam, more suffragists, and later militant suffragettes, began to use the room, keen to hear the debates that were to decide their futures. The room was the scene of several protests, suffragettes would shout through the offending grille, and fly flags and banners from the gallery windows, two women even chained themselves to the grille. In 1917 the grille was finally removed, and is now on display in Central Lobby . The first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons did so two years later.
From the collection of the Parliamentary Archives www.parliament.uk/business/publications/parliamentary-archives/


Representation of the People Act

a photo of a thick unbound folio of papers with An Act written on the front page

Representation of the People Act. 1918 © Parliamentary Archives

The Act that finally paved the way to female suffrage, the Representation of the People Act of 1918 made its way through parliament and was formally approved on the 6th February, 1918. The act granted the vote to all men aged over 21, and to women aged over 30 who could meet a property qualification of £5 (or were married to men who could). It would be another 10 years before women were granted equal voting rights to men, when the 1928 Equal Franchise Act was passed.
From the collection of the Parliamentary Archives www.parliament.uk/business/publications/parliamentary-archives/


Photograph of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

Sophia Duleep Singh selling the Suffragette in 1913. Courtesy of the British Library Board

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and god-daughter  of Queen Victoria was an active suffragette, and was often seen selling the WSPU’s newspaper The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace where she lived in an apartment given to her as a grace and favour by the Queen. She was a firm supporter of women’s rights, refusing to pay tax until women were given equal voting rights to men. In November 1910, Singh was among a group of suffragettes who went to the House of Commons to protest. The protest, known as Black Friday, was put to a violent end by the police who assaulted around 200 of the protesters, resulting in many injuries and the death of Emmeline Pankhurst’s sister Mary Jane Clarke, described by a fellow suffragette as the cause’s first martyr.
From the collection of the British Library www.bl.uk


Suffragette postcards

an anti suffragette postcard with a cartoon of a woman with her tongue held by a vice

Peace at last. Courtesy of Glasgow Women’s Library.

These suffragette postcards from the collection of Glasgow Women’s Library illustrates how viscous the war between suffragettes and anti-suffragists became, and how hard both sides fought for and against the cause. The attempt to silence women through gagging or holding or harming their tongues was a popular theme, with many designs disturbingly expressing joy in the forced silencing of women. The light-hearted manner of violent messages they contain and, while not always explicitly damning the suffragettes, they make their message clear through other means – in this example the green background and purple and white dress (the suffragette colours).
From the collection of the Glasgow Women’s Library womenslibrary.org.uk


NUWSS Banner, 1908-1914

photograph of square red banner with white painted writing reading 'National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies - Law-Abiding - No Party'

Banner for the National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies, from the Women’s Library Suffrage Banners Collection (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Founded in 1897, and led by prominent suffragist Millicent Fawcett, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies combined two large societies and welcomed others to join. By 1913 more than 500 regional women’s suffrage societies had partnered with the union, resulting in more than 50,000 members.

The NUWSS were a democratic and law-abiding union, with no political ties. They chose to share their views through peaceful meetings, demonstrations, and the lobbying of MPs over militant resistance and violence. Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant WSPU group split from the NUWSS in 1903, frustrated that peaceful protest and marching did not appear to be having the desired effect.
From the collection of the Women’s Library www.lse.ac.uk/Library/Collections/Collection-highlights/The-Womens-Library


People's History Museum

Manchester, Greater Manchester

There have always been ideas worth fighting for. Join a march through time at the People's History Museum following Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries. Meet the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who fought our battle for the ballot. Gather amongst their magnificent banners and discover how time…

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