The suffrage banners of Mary Lowndes

LSE Library

Take a look at the banners which featured in the procession organised by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies on 13 June 1908.

13 June 1908
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) chose 13 June 1908 for its second major London demonstration (the first was in February 1907), ending with a rally in the Royal Albert Hall. This poster publicised the procession. It used the image of the bugler girl, calling its comrades to the banner. This image was later used on badges and sent to local suffrage groups. 

The Artists’ Suffrage League, founded by Mary Lowndes in 1907, was commissioned by the NUWSS to design and produce banners for this June procession.

Many of these designs are contained in Mary Lowndes’s album, with watercolours and swatches of fabric to be used.

The organisers also wanted the procession to be representative of suffrage societies from around the country. This leaflet shows the order of the procession.

Regional banners
The procession began with banners and bannerettes from the provinces, in alphabetical order.

Many local banners have not survived but we have many of the designs for them in Mary Lowndes’s album.

This is the design for Leeds. The fleece, three stars and owls are used on the Leeds coat of arms. Rather than using the Latin motto of the city of Leeds, a new motto was created, ‘Leeds for Liberty’.

The local societies were followed by a group of colonial and foreign representatives, many of whom were passing through London on their way to an international conference in Amsterdam.

There are banners for Lucy Stone and Susan B Anthony, two American suffragists.

Behind the International Delegates banner were representatives from Russia, Hungary and South Africa.

Medical women
The next section was followed by medical women and university graduates. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Elizabeth Wilks, Flora Murray and Elizabeth Knight would have walked with this banner. 

Also represented were female medical pioneers. Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898. She usually withheld her name from petitions but she did sign a petition against suffragette imprisonment.

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first British woman to qualify as a doctor.

Instead of the Rod of Asclepius (a snake entwined around a rod – the symbol associated with medicine) the snake is around a lamp, and associated with knowledge and life.

Edith Pechy Phipson was one of the first women to qualify as a doctor after Elizabeth Garrett.

She had been one of the leaders of the Mud March in February 1907.

She had died on 14 April 1908, so this banner must have been a tribute to her.

University graduates
Female graduates from UK universities followed next wearing their academic gowns. Here is Mary Lowndes’s design for London graduates.

This is the design for the Cambridge alumnae.

Press reports noted that these women did not wear academic gowns because the university still refused to grant degrees to women, a position that remained until 1948.

Mrs Christiana Herringham provided pale blue silk for this banner from her travels in India.

Writers' banners
Business women were next. The Shorthand Writers’ banner used a quote ‘Speed - Fight on!’, which comes from the epilogue to Robert Browning’s Asolando.

Mary Lowndes designed a banner for the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. It was worked by Mrs Christiana Herringham and the word ‘Writers’ was substituted for ‘Scriveners’.

Among the women behind this banner were Cicely Hamilton, Evelyn Sharp, Beatrice Harraden and Elizabeth Robins.

Other banners celebrating women writers were ones for Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.

Famous women from history
Banners commemorating famous women of the past followed. Joan of Arc was a heroine of both the constitutionalists and militant societies. This banner was designed by Barbara Forbes, secretary of the Artists’ Suffrage League. Millicent Garrett Fawcett later wrote a short essay on Joan of Arc and reproduced the crown and crossed swords, emblems used on the banner, in her publication. 

St Catherine of Siena was another woman visionary who combined piety with politics.

The banner was probably designed by Mary Lowndes. Siena’s colours are black and white, and the lily is a symbol associated with St Catherine.

Katharine Bar-lass (Katharine Douglas) tried to save King James I by putting her arm in place of a missing locking bar in a door.

This event took place in Perth and perhaps women from there walked behind this banner.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett endorsed the work of Mary Wollstonecraft by writing a preface to an edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1891, the first for 40 years.

Women scientists
Female scientists were recognised too. Caroline Herschel was an astronomer who discovered five new comets.

Mary Somerville was a scientist and mathematician. She had signed the 1866 women’s suffrage petition.

Caroline and Mary were jointly elected as the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835.

Mary Kingsley was a traveller and explorer, although no supporter of women’s suffrage.

19th-century suffrage campaigners
This banner recognised some of the 19th-century suffrage campaigners, with the exception of Mary Carpenter who was an educationalist.

Josephine Butler had signed the 1866 women’s suffrage petition, but then decided to concentrate her efforts on the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts from the 1860s to 1880s.

She died in 1906, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett hailed her as “the most distinguished Englishwoman of the nineteenth century" in the biography she later wrote on Josephine.

Lydia Becker, a 19th-century suffragist, was represented by the pick and shovel of the pioneer.

She had worked for over 20 years for the cause and founded the Women's Suffrage Journal</>.

This photograph from 1912 shows the Lydia Becker banner in procession in Oldham, worked slightly differently to the design.

Unfortunately, the banner no longer exists.

Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

Women's professions
The professions continued with the artists, the musicians and the actors. This is the banner for ‘Music’.

Jenny Lind was a Swedish opera singer.

Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann were among the founding members of the Royal Academy.

Both had banners, although the one for Angelica has disappeared.

Mary Moser was a famous flower painter, as depicted on her banner.

Nurses walked behind this banner to Florence Nightingale - a heroine in her own lifetime. The banner received much press attention.

Women Farmers and Gymnasts were next, followed by the Homemakers, and then Working Women.

Female members of political parties followed. This is the design for the Liberal Women of Marylebone.

May Morris, daughter of William Morris, was a member of the Fabian Society and she designed this banner for the Fabian Women’s Group on 13 June 1908.

The Women’s Freedom League (WFL) processed next. It had been in existence for less than year and its banner depicted Holloway where many of its members had been imprisoned. That banner does not survive, but this WFL banner was designed by Mary Sargant Florence in 1909.

The hosts of the procession, the London Society of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, closed the procession, with the banners of its many constituencies.

The procession ended at the Royal Albert Hall. Here are crowds outside, with the banner for Doncaster clearly visible, and one for Fanny Burney behind.

In a letter to Millicent Garrett Fawcett on 22 June 1908, Philippa Strachey praised Mary Lowndes: “She really is splendid. Besides being responsible for the plan of making the procession into a pageant, she actually designed nearly all of the banners herself which I think is a wonderful achievement. Her organising capacities are just as remarkable...."

Mary Lowndes’s ideas for making banners were published in September 1909. She saw it as a skill: “It is not a placard…a banner is a thing to float in the wind, to flicker in the breeze, to flirt its colours for your pleasure, to half show and half conceal a device you long to unravel: you do not want to read it, you want to worship it.”

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