As part of our Voting for Change project, the Library has just made an exciting joint purchase with the People's History Museum. It's a (much-folded!) serviette produced as a souvenir of the huge Votes for Women demonstration and rally held in London on 18 June 1910. It shows the order of the procession as well as depicting prominent suffragettes, including the Pankhursts and Annie Kenney.
Splendidly, three minutes of film footage survive of the demonstration - watch online at http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-demonstration-of-suffragettes-1910/. In the clip you can see one of the bands which is noted on the serviette as playing in the march, followed by a group of 617 women, dressed in white and carrying long silver poles with an arrow at the top, to represent the hundreds of women who had already been imprisoned, many going on hunger strike and being forcibly fed. The demonstration was subsequently known as the 'From Prison to Citizenship' procession. Something between 10,000 and 15,000 women formed a briskly-walking two-mile long procession through central London, with large crowds spectating.
The march took place at a time when a Conciliation Bill was going through Parliament, which supporters of women's suffrage hoped might help them in their goal. The Women's Social and Political Union staged the demonstration, in conjunction with the Women's Freedom League, in support of the Bill.
Annie Kenney wrote in her memoir Memories of a Militant [of which the Library has a copy] about the occasion: ‘Representatives came from all over the world, the saying in other countries being: “once British women have won, we also shall win.” We had almost a thousand women graduates. Women graduates always, I noticed, awed the public. A woman in cap and gown roused great admiration. Forty bands played triumphant music. Banners made the procession gay and bright’. The range of banners included the goddess Diana, carried by athletes, Writers' Suffrage League banners bearing the names of female authors, and a new huge hunger strikers' banner embroidered with the signatures of eighty women prisoners.
Lisa Tickner, in her book The spectacle of women, writes about the day: 'It was a massive, impressive and very festive spectacle... The women were old hands now at something still novel and daring three years before. They had redefined the limits of decorum, and by turning the city streets into a festival they had discovered how to make them comfortably their own. For the duration of the procession at least, the spectators were converted to their presence if not always to their cause'.
So what of that cause? The Conciliation Bill passed its second reading in Parliament in July but MPs then voted to refer it to a Committee, essentially stopping it in its tracks. Despite further protests in 1910, culminating in the so-called Black Friday of 18 November when police used excessive force against suffragettes attempting to get past them to protest in Parliament - with male by-standers joining in the brutality - women ended the year apparently no nearer their goal of suffrage. And it would be eight years, and a range of tactics including guerilla warfare, later before (some) women finally got the right to vote.
Crawford, Elizabeth. Blog post Suffrage stories.
Kenney, Annie. Memories of a militant. London, 1924. Shelfmark: Hall display case (B09).
Tickner, Lisa. The spectacle of women: imagery of the suffrage campaign 1907-1914. London, 1987. Shelfmark H28.
PS 31.1.18 - it has been decided that this item will not be a joint purchase but will be bought by, and stored at, the People's History Museum as part of our Voting for Change project acquisitions.