Friday 11 April 2008

Wednesday 2nd April 2008 - Suffragette City

Today’s walk is all about The Suffragettes. So onwards with Suffragette City

We set off as usual, from Holborn Tube Station and headed towards Bloomsbury Square. We were there to see Vernon Place, which is a very short road indeed! It was here that the headquarters of The Men’s Society for Womens Rights was founded in the 1860s. At that time women were politically excluded from so much - from studying at university, from taking up professions such as doctors and of course they had no vote. The society was founded by a group of enlightened gentlemen who believed women should be allowed all such rights. They also sought to combat sexual abuse of women and children. They even issued a publication , an extract of which stated that men were often “...sexually depraved degenerates who are spewed out nightly from Tap Rooms and the like...” my not a lot changes does it - just exchange Tap Rooms for bars, pubs and clubs!

In the years that followed many societies were founded in support of women’s suffrage (the right to vote) and these included the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and in 1889 the Women’s Franchise League.

In 1887 seventeen of these individual groups joined together to form the National Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). They held public meetings , organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature.

Womens Freedom League

Women's Suffrage League

In 1897 Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Suffragists and then in 1903 she help to form a new organisation - the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). This was a much more militant organisation who were not willing to restrict themselves to conventional methods previously used. It was at about this time that the Daily Mail coined the term ‘Suffragettes’ which was a very negative and derogatory term.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Christabel Pankhurst

Anyway, back to our walk - we next visited the parish church of St. George, Bloomsbury. It was here that the funeral of Emily Davison was held on Saturday 14th June 1913. She was a famous suffragette who threw herself in front of the King’s horse, Anmer on 4th June 1913. The service was held here because the Reverend Baumgarten was the only prepared to officiate at the service.

1913 Derby - Anmer and Emily Davison

The funeral was organised by the WSPU and 6000 women marchers, then brass bands played Chopin’s Funeral March m- there was a lso a banner showing Joan of Arc, and three laurel wreaths placed on her coffin with the words “She died for Women”. One protester, threw a brick at the coffin. The cortege moved on to King’s Cross Station and thence to Morpeth for burial in the family grave.

Our next stop is Barter Street where in 1907 the Women’s Freedom League was founded by Charlotte Despard, Edith How-Martyn and Teresa Billington-Grieg. They objected to the way that the Pankhursts, (Emmeline and her daughter Christabel) were making decision without consulting members. They also felt several wealthy women, such as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were having too much influence. Like the WSPU the WFL was a militant organisation that was willing to break the law. Over 100 of their members were sent to prison after refusing to pay taxes or taking part in demonstrations. However they were a completely non-violent organisation and opposed the WSPU’s campaign of vandalism against private and commercial property, and in particular opposed the WSPU’s arson campaign.

We then walked on to Bury Place where the WFL headquarters moved two years later. There was an Emily Davison Club there to protect her memory. In fact the WFL remained open until 1961.

We then walked back to Kingsway and stopped opposite what is now The Pitcher and Piano. However, apart from the ground floor the building is largely unaltered since October 1912 when the WSPU moved their headquarters there. They had to move from their previous headquarters following an argument with their landlord. There are three large windows across the building at first floor level. Below these windows were the words ‘Votes for Women’ and the letters WSPU above. It is in fact possible to see where the letters used to be although I am not sure where you are able to see that from the photograph below. This building also had a Emily Davison Club. Every inch of space was utilised in the building which was constantly raided by police. In 1913 all the senior staff were arrested and public opinion seemed to turn against them. In fact copycat attacks were made against other suffragette sites throughout the country.

Our final stop was down in Clements Inn. In a building on the site of which is part of the London School of Economics stood the previous headquarters of the WSPU, from 1906 to 1912. A plaque (seen below) commemorates this. In 1908 the Women’s Press was also situated in this building. They produced a large variety of items such as badges, scarves, books and pamphlets and were really the first organisation to effectively market themselves.

Emmeline’s other daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst was the designer who created the brand and image of the WSPU, but she was expelled from the society as she objected to her mother and sister ‘s anti Labour Party views.

Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence fell out over the violence. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was considered the ‘grandfather’ of the suffragettes and stood bail for many of the suffragettes who were arrested. The question often asked was “Are you a ‘Peth’ or a ‘Pank’?”

In the end the WSPU disbanded during World War . Due to the labour shortage during WWI the government were forced to recruit women who proved their worth, working in factories and on the land. At the end of the war the Representation of People Act 1918 gave women over 30, who were householders or wives of householders the vote. It was a further ten years before universal suffrage gave everyone over 21 the vote.


Hels said...

I have read all the text based histories of the Suffragette movement, in Britain and in Australia, but never got a sense of location. Even now, when I was writing about the WSPU shops in Britain, I was still grateful for your images and specific locations.

Thanks for the link
Art and Architecture, mainly

Viola said...

Next time I go to London I will definitely do this walk! I love to read about the Suffragettes but I never got a sense of location either. Thank you very much!

London is my favourite city although I can't go there very much so I am pleased to find your blog.