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The Very Visible Suffragettes

The greatest impulse of the suffragettes was to create a disturbance. To make themselves seen and heard so that the pressure mounting to give women the vote could no longer be ignored. Their deeds-not-words manifesto was the key to this, but also vital was the way in which news of these deeds spread, the massive publicity that was generated by their noteworthy tactics. The media coverage of suffragette activity was essential for the success of their campaign.

The tension between the more peaceful suffragists and the more vigorous suffragettes was certainly documented and often vilified in the mainstream press. Punch was particularly fond of depicting the suffragette as a withered and screaming harpy in its cartoons, suggesting that militant suffragettes were harming the suffrage cause rather than furthering it.

The University of Manchester Library holds a number of Women’s Suffrage Archives including those of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The  IWSA cuttings volumes are filled with cuttings documenting both suffragist and suffragette activity, many containing photographs.  This striking image is of Manchester’s own Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison uniforms. It is shocking and is designed to be: a powerful visual representation highlighting their commitment to the cause.

Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison uniform, 1913

In fact, the Pankhursts were masters of publicity. They understood the power of the media and regularly corresponded with the then editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott.  Deciding that support from mainstream media was not quite working for them the WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) took matters into their own hands and started their own newspaper in 1907, Votes for Women.

Front cover of Votes for Women, February 1918

The suffragettes were very aware of marking themselves out and what we may call their brand. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence who co-founded Votes for Women with her husband Frederick is credited as selecting the WSPU campaign colours: purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. Members of the WSPU were encouraged to wear these colours and could purchase badges and ribbon in these colours to show their support. Sylvia Pankhurst’s artistic background also influenced the look of the WSPU and she designed all manner of flags, banners and gifts for sale, and used her artistic skills to decorate halls and meeting rooms for the suffragettes. [1]

Images of Sylvia Pankhurst’s work Courtesy of Museum of London.

Come to see more material relating to suffrage and suffragettes displayed as part of our Women who shaped Manchester Exhibition, on until the 10th of March.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Imaging Team.


1 comment on “The Very Visible Suffragettes

  1. It is so inspiring to see women in society, who have contributed so much, who have fought against the odds, been treated as second rate citizens for their gender, herewith being promoted for the amazing human beings that they are.

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