Suffragette Branding

Museum of London

How the Women's Social and Political Union used events and branded merchandise to raise funds for their campaigning.

The Women’s Social and Political Union was underpinned by a strong financial foundation. Raising funds for the campaign ‘war chest’ was a key responsibility of all Suffragettes. These funds were needed to raise the profile of the campaign print propaganda pamphlets, organise meetings,  and pay full-time Organisers to spread the Votes for Women message around Britain.

Local WSPU branches organised garden parties, afternoon teas, bazaars, and fairs that relied on members’ established skills of baking, sewing and embroidery, and their experience of charity fund-raising.

From WSPU headquarters a range of merchandise - including games, badges, ribbons and postcards - was produced and sold, via mail order and at WSPU high street shops. In London alone there were 19 such shops, staffed by willing volunteers.

The Pank-a-Squith board game was first advertised in Votes for Women on 22 October 1909. The game depicts the suffragettes' struggle with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and the Liberal government.

By rolling the dice, players attempt to move a Suffragette figure from her home to the Houses of Parliament, her course being hindered by a number of obstructions along the way.

The game was distributed and sold through the network of high-street shops run by the Women's Social and Political Union. As well as raising funds for the campaign, it brought the Votes for Women debate into the domestic drawing room and was popular with the whole family.

Suffragette tea set
One of the most attractive and desirable pieces of merchandise commissioned by the WSPU was the Suffragette tea set, with its trumpeting angel design by Sylvia Pankhurst. 

This was one of several symbolic designs and logos Sylvia created for the WSPU, all part of the Suffragette movement’s unique visual identity.

This was one of several symbolic designs and logos Sylvia created for the WSPU, all part of the Suffragette movement’s unique visual identity.

Women's Exhibition
This tea service had its origins in the spectacular Women’s Exhibition and Sale of Works in the Colours. This two week exhibition took place at the Prince's Skating Rink in Knightsbridge, in May 1909. Most of the objects for sale were decorated in the Suffragette colours of purple, white and green. The exhibition combined three key WSPU priorities: raising funds, recruiting members and raising the profile of the campaign.

Over fifty stalls, decorated in purple, white and green, sold items made and donated by Suffragettes or local businesses, keen to appeal to the female consumer.

Stalls were organised and manned by local WSPU branches, including the Millinery Stall, run by the Kensington branch, with donations of hats from leading London stores including the department store Liberty.

To capitalise on the fund raising potential of the event, every stall was expected to display goods with a value of at least £100 (worth almost £10,000 by 2018 values).

The tea service was designed for use in the refreshment stall. Staffed by young volunteers, dressed in green dresses and white muslin aprons with a purple ribbon, this was the most successful and popular of the 50 stalls, taking a total of £600 over the two weeks.

As the Votes for Women newspaper noted: ‘a good idea is to make up parties for tea...One must have tea somewhere – why not at Prince’s? Invite your friends to meet you there for tea’.

At the close of the exhibition, additional funds were raised by selling the tea services - either as individual pieces or whole sets.

Hence many have survived beyond the exhibition, and are still to be found in museums and private collections.

At the Museum of London we hold a sugar bowl, teapot, and cup and saucer.

Many visitors to the exhibition were, according to Votes for Women, previously ‘strangers to the militant cause’.

Many were encouraged to pay the entrance fee after seeing the promotional processions that took place in the days leading up to the event, including the street performances by the newly formed Women’s Drum and Fife Band.

Regarded as a huge triumph by the organisers, the Women’s Exhibition raised in total over £5,000 for the Suffragette 'war chest', and recruited over 250 new members.

Similar large fund-raising bazaars followed, in Glasgow in 1910, and London in 1911, but none quite matched the scale, spectacle, innovation and success of the Women’s Exhibition of 1909.

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