Christina Broom, Press Photographer

Museum of London

Through the lens with pioneering photographer Christina Broom, who documented the suffrage campaign.

Christina Broom
Christina Broom was probably the first female press photographer. In 1903, at the age of 40, she took up photography to support her family – her husband Albert being unable to work due to a sporting injury. Christina and Albert had one daughter, Winnie, and lived at 38 Burnfoot Avenue, Fulham. Christina’s photographic career began with a borrowed box camera. Self-taught, she became a commercial photographer, publishing her images as postcards. 

Christina’s earliest images were topographical views of London.

In 1904 she also became official photographer to H.M. Household Brigade, a role she kept until her death.

Between 1908 and 1912, Christina and her assistant and daughter Winifred captured the spectacular processions, fundraising exhibitions and fairs of both the militant Suffragette and constitutional, law-abiding Suffragist movement.

The striking photographs were made into postcards for sale, often at suffrage fairs and WSPU shops countrywide.

Several public institutions, including the Museum of London, hold many of the surviving original glass negatives of Christina’s work.

1908
The first suffrage event photographed by Christina was the Procession of 13 June 1908, organised by the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). 

The following month she was present at ‘Women’s Sunday’ organised by the militant Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU).

Christina, who was less than five feet tall, managed to manoeuvre a tripod and a heavy half-plate box camera through the packed Hyde Park crowd into a good position within two or three feet of platform 6 – one of 20 such speaker’s platforms.

Her images capture the comradeship of the platform speakers and their supporters.

One of Christina’s images of Platform 6 depicts a policeman peeping into the edge of the shot, keen to be included.

Above the face of every woman is a hat – mortar-boards worn by the university women, or heavily decorated structures with ribbons, feathers and artificial flowers.

These would have been in the newly-launched purple, white and green colour scheme of the WSPU.

1909
In 1909 Christina photographed two key suffrage events in London. In April, she captured the beautiful Pageant of Women’s Trades and Professions, organised as part of the International Woman Suffrage Conference.

The Conference, held at the Royal Albert Hall, included delegates from over 20 nationalities, the English representatives being led by Millicent Fawcett.

The pageant of 'voteless' professions and tradeswomen took place on the evening of Tuesday 27 April.

It comprised, as depicted in these images by Broom, contingents of women workers carrying emblems symbolic of their trade marching to the conference venue at the Royal Albert Hall.

In May 1909 Christina and Winnie Broom attended the Women’s Exhibition organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union.

As well as photographing some of the 50 fundraising stalls in the exhibition hall and taking photographs of the Suffragette leaders Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, they also photographed the street processions advertising the event.

1910
During June and July 1910, Christina and Winnie photographed three key processions. These events brought together women from a number of suffrage organisations in support of the proposed Conciliation Bill, which would have granted some women the vote. 

The images capture the spectacle of women from a range of backgrounds, travelling to London from all over the country, to demonstrate peacefully in the capital throughout the summer months.

One of the most iconic images taken by Christina during the 23 July 1910 rally to Hyde Park is that of the Suffragette Organiser Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Marsh.

She is pictured standing self-confidently amongst a mainly male crowd, carrying the great silk standard of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

1911
In 1911, Christina captured the spectacle and pageantry of the Women’s Coronation Procession, organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union a week before the Coronation of King George V.
Women's Freedom League
Christina’s glass negative collection at the Museum of London also reveals that she photographed a number of events organised by the Women’s Freedom League, including the International Suffrage Fair in November 1912, and the League’s Green, Gold and White fundraising fairs.

Christina photographed events organised by both the law-abiding constitutional Suffragists and the militant Suffragettes.

Her apparent non-allegiance to any specific suffrage organisation may suggest her key interest in the campaign was its commercial potential as one of London’s key visual attractions during the early years of the 20th century.

Unlike other press photographers Christina did not photograph the scuffles and confrontations between the police and Suffragettes but rather focused on spectacular, picturesque events that could be published as popular postcards.

Like other men and women in business, she understood the influence of the female consumer and was keen to harness the spending power of the suffragists and suffragettes.

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