Women's Suffrage Pilgrimage

LSE Library

Explore the forgotten suffrage pilgrimage of 1913.

In suffrage history, 1913 is often remembered for suffragette militancy, and for the dramatic funeral procession for Emily Wilding Davison. However, somewhat forgotten, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) also organised a nationwide women’s suffrage pilgrimage involving women walking from all corners of England for a rally in Hyde Park on 26 July 1913.

The pilgrimage was intended to counter the militancy of the suffragettes, and show that women could be disciplined and law-abiding on a large-scale.

Ultimately, they hoped that Asquith would receive a deputation.

Inspiration for the Women’s suffrage pilgrimage must have come from a march that arrived in London from Edinburgh the previous autumn.

The ‘Women’s March’, involving a small number of women, was organised by Florence de Fonblanque in October 1912. They were known as the Brown women because of their brown dresses.

It had a spiritual overtone, which the NUWSS wanted to emulate for the 1913 pilgrimage.

A photograph showing the 'Women's March' in progress. You can see Mary Lowndes 'Edinburgh' banner which was designed for the NUWSS procession which took place in London in June 1908.

Katherine Harley initiated the idea of the women’s suffrage pilgrimage in April 1913. Her sister was Charlotte Despard, president of the Women’s Freedom League.

Katherine herself was treasurer of the West Midlands Federation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and then president of the Shropshire Society of the NUWSS. She was also active in the Church League for Women’s Suffrage.

Here is Katherine speaking at one of the suffrage pilgrimage meetings at Olton in the West Midlands.

The Women’s suffrage pilgrimage took much organising.

Pilgrims followed one of the major routes through the towns and villages of England towards London.

Some women followed the complete route over six weeks, others joined for a few days at a time. Some women brought their bicycles.

Altogether, large numbers of women, of all classes, were involved.

Pilgrims set up camps along the way.

The following oral histories, recollecting women's experiences of taking part in the pilgrimage, are part of the LSE Women's Library suffrage audio collection.

Helen Moyes' memories of the Women's Pilgrimage
Gwen Coleman's memories of the Women's Pilgrimage

Pilgrims were encouraged to wear a uniform.

It was suggested that marchers wear white, grey, black or navy blue coats or dresses, with either a white blouse or one the same colour as the skirt.

Hats were to be in the same colours, and worn with a raffia badge in the NUWSS colours of red, white and green.

They also had satchels with red, white and green ribbons on the shoulder strap and red band across the front.

These are instructions for women going on the pilgrimage.

A Women's Pilgrim bag in the NUWSS colours.

Open-air and indoor meetings took place along the way to promote the suffrage message. Many received warm receptions but there were many hostile encounters.

Edith Eskrigge was an official pilgrimage organiser for the Lancashire, West Cheshire and North Wales Federation of the NUWSS.

Here they are in Liverpool on 5 July 1913.

Marjory Lees and other members of the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society, travelling with a caravan, set off on 7 July along the ‘Carlise to London’ route.

Here the ‘Carlisle to London’ marchers have reached Thame in Oxfordshire.

About 20 pilgrims began their walk from Land’s End to London on 19 June 1913.

Mrs Annie Ramsay was encouraged by her daughter, Dr Mabel, to join the pilgrimage at Plymouth because she, herself, was busy with ‘too many babies due to arrive...’.

Annie intended to walk for just a few miles but ended up walking the entire route to London.

Dr Mabel joined the pilgrims as and when she could.

A group from Littlehampton set off on 19 July 1913 with Lady Maud Parry leading the way.

Her husband, Hubert, joined them together with Mrs Bertrand Russell and Julia Strachey.

They joined a group from Brighton before the walk to London.

Mrs Bertrand Russell, Mrs Merrifield, and four others walked the whole route.

Amelia Scott and other marchers from Kent followed the traditional Pilgrim’s Way.

They passed through the major towns of Kent before meeting in Tonbridge on 21 July for the march to London.

The Pilgrimage ended with a huge rally of 50,000 people in Hyde Park on 26 July 1913 starting at 5pm. Speakers spoke from 19 platforms, representing 19 Federations.

Edmund New wrote to Esther Clothier about the Hyde Park rally saying that he joined Alice Clark and, with Wilfrid Hind, carried the Street suffrage banner made by Esther.

The banner for the suffrage society in Street, Somerset, made by Esther Clothier.

The pilgrimage achieved its purpose and Asquith received a deputation on 8 August, the first suffrage deputation since November 1911. It brought about no change in government policy and this is Millicent's letter of disappointment.

In 1914, the Active Service League was founded to revitalise the suffragists' campaign.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google
Home
Explore
Nearby
Profile