Shades of Suffragette Militancy

How the Suffragette campaign inspired women of all backgrounds to rebellion.

Suffragettes welcoming Mary Phillips on her release from Holloway Prison (1908-08-23)Museum of London


The militant Votes for Women campaign attracted a broad range of women from all backgrounds. Mill girls, teachers, middle class housewives and their daughters, nurses, shop workers, actresses and artists all became Suffragettes. 

Suffragette leaders addressing a meeting at Caxton Hall on 'Black Friday' (1910) by L.N.A. PhotoMuseum of London

Women were often drawn to the movement having heard inspirational speeches by its charismatic leaders.

Suffragettes at the Oval Cricket Ground (1908)Museum of London

Others were attracted by the daring campaign tactics that pushed boundaries with regards women’s role in society.

The Suffragette Omnibus, March 1908 (1908-03-19) by Halftones LimitedMuseum of London

Militancy broadened the horizons of young women and provided opportunities for travelling and living away from their family home.

Suffragettes making banners (1910) by World's Graphic Press, LtdMuseum of London

Working together, committed women from a range of social classes, ages and backgrounds gained in self-confidence and believed that, with courage, they could become a force for change.

Suffragettes marching to Buckingham Palace (1914)Museum of London

Over 1,300 women were arrested for militancy. Many served multiple terms of imprisonment for the cause.

Norah Balls (1910)Museum of London

But there was no typical Suffragette, and not all felt comfortable undertaking extreme acts of militancy.

Votes for Women Newspaper advertising poster (1909) by Dallas, HildaMuseum of London

The story of each Suffragette’s militant journey was highly unique. Here are the stories of five of these women, represented in the Museum of London collections.

Lucy Minnie Baldock (1909-1912) by Schofield, AdaMuseum of London

Lucy Minnie Baldock

Minnie lived in West Ham and was one of the earliest London supporters of the Women's Social and Political Union. Politically active in the Independent Labour Party, her husband was a local ILP councillor in West Ham. 

Emmeline Pankhurst leading a deputation (1908-02-13)Museum of London

In January 1906, Minnie became Chairwoman of the newly formed Unemployed Women of South-West Ham. This group subsequently went to Caxton Hall and joined Emmeline Pankhurst in lobbying the House of Commons.

By February, the group had become the Canning Town branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Minnie Baldock became a salaried Organiser for the WSPU, working at both London headquarters and in regional areas including Bristol.

Minnie’s work as a WSPU Official often involved her spending time away from her husband and two sons. She also served two terms of imprisonment for militancy.

In 1906 she was one of the earliest Suffragettes to be arrested in London for a charge of disorderly conduct in Old Palace Yard in Westminster, for which she served a two month sentence.

In 1908 she was again arrested during the Suffragette ‘rush’ on parliament as she drove round Parliament Square shouting through a megaphone.

In 1911 Minnie was diagnosed with cancer and, although she survived, her militancy and involvement with the WSPU were curtailed.

Dorothy Louise Meihè (1908-1911)Museum of London

Dorothy Louise Meihè

Dorothy was born in West Norwood. Her Father, John, a Swiss Baltic timber merchant, died on a business trip in 1885. Dorothy was involved with her local Streatham branch of the Women's Social & Political Union, along with her English mother Fanny, her sister and her maternal aunt, Alice Ellen Wilson. 

Votes for Women bar brooch (c. 1910)Museum of London

The women focused their suffragette activity on fundraising for the cause and were never arrested or imprisoned for militant action. In 1911 they organised the curio and bric-a-brac stall at the WSPU Christmas Fair, held in the Portman Rooms.

Dorothy is also listed in the WSPU Annual Reports as a regular financial donor, contributing small amounts to the campaign ‘war chest’ between 1907 and 1913.

In later years Dorothy inherited her unmarried aunt Alice's estate with the understanding that, on her death, the residual money would be used to establish a scholarship for female medical students at the Royal Free Hospital, London. This scholarship continues today.

Handmade set of playing cards (1910)Museum of London

Emily Katherine Willoughby Marshall 

Emily, known as 'Kitty', was a skilled artist, having exhibited at the Royal Academy. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1907 and was arrested six times for militancy, serving three terms of imprisonment. She received her first sentence in Holloway in November 1910 after throwing a potato at the fanlight window over the front door of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill. She made these playing cards during her time in prison. 

Silver Hunger Strike medal presented to Emily Katherine Willoughby Marshall (1912) by Toye & Co. and Moore, JosephMuseum of London

In 1911 Kitty spent 10 days in prison for her part in a deputation to the House of Commons.

The following year, in 1912, she was sent to Holloway with over 200 other suffragettes for taking part in the window-smashing campaign.

Kitty went on hunger strike during this second period of imprisonment, and was awarded this medal by the WSPU.

Silver chain-necklace with engraved medallions (1912)Museum of London

Kitty was part of Emmeline Pankhurst's bodyguard, who were trained in jujitsu and carried Indian Clubs to protect the Suffragette leader.

In 1913 Kitty, in her role as bodyguard, was again arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the re-arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst at the London Pavilion.

As a married suffragette, Kitty's involvement in the campaign was dependent on the support of her husband Arthur.

A solicitor, Arthur proved very useful to the militant Votes for Women campaign and regularly acted on behalf of arrested suffragettes.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1913)Museum of London

Sophia Duleep Singh

The daughter of an Indian Maharajah, Sophia Duleep Singh was first converted to the militant Votes for Women cause when visiting the home of the Suffragette Una Dugdale. Sophia became a regular speaker at branch meetings of the Richmond Women’s Social and Political Union, and was regularly seen selling Suffragette newspapers outside the entrance to Hampton Court Palace, where she had an apartment. 

Warrant for the confiscation of goods (1911)Museum of London

In November 1910 Sophia took part in the notorious deputation to the House of Commons, known as 'Black Friday’, that resulted in a violent confrontation with the police.

Sophia was also a member of the Tax Resistance League. Formed in 1909 by female taxpayers, the League organised a campaign against the injustice of having to pay tax without having representation in parliament.

She was twice fined for her refusal to pay tax. This document records the seizure of her possessions for non-payment.

Photograph of a diamond ring owned by Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1910)Museum of London

In 1910 the authorities seized her diamond ring for non-payment. The ring was returned to her after being purchased by a fellow member of the League at a government auction.

In 1914 a pearl necklace and gold bangle were seized from Sophia and sold at auction at Twickenham Town Hall.

Sophia remained loyal to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst after 1914, taking part in the Women's War Work Procession in 1915.

On the death of Emmeline Pankhurst in 1928, Sophia became president of the committee in charge of providing flowers for her memorial statue.

Leonora Tyson (1908-1912) by Connell, LenaMuseum of London

Leonora Tyson 

Leonora joined the Women’s Social and Political Union with her mother Helen and sister Diana in 1908. The following year Leonora became Honorary Secretary of the Streatham branch of the WSPU and in 1910, Organising Secretary of the Lambeth branch. As well as attending weekly meetings on Streatham Common, Leonora was an effective fundraiser for the campaign, organising Streatham's contribution to the Women's Exhibition of 1909. 

An Anti-Suffrage Alphabet book (1911) by Housman, LaurenceMuseum of London

Leonora also edited the Anti-Suffrage Alphabet by Laurence Housman.

Advertised in 'Votes for Women' on 15 December 1911, it was marketed as a suitable gift for Suffragette supporters.

Leonora received book orders at her home address in Streatham, where she printed each edition by hand.

In 1911, Suffragettes boycotted the national census, refusing to register their names: “If women do not count, neither shall they be counted.”

Leonora took part in the boycott by spending census night, along with other Suffragettes, at her local WSPU branch shop at 5 Shrubbery Road, Streatham.

Silver hunger strike medal presented to Leonora Tyson (1912)Museum of London

Leonora was bilingual, her father being German. In October 1911 she represented the WSPU at the Women's Congress in Hamburg.

The following year she returned to Germany for a speaking tour on female suffrage.

In March 1912, Leonora served her only prison sentence for militancy. Sentenced to two months hard labour for breaking windows at Government Offices, she went on hunger strike and was force-fed.

Prison medallion presented to Leonora Tyson (1912)Museum of London

From her prison letters in the Museum of London, Leonora indicates that she went on hunger strike from Sunday 14 April at 4pm, and was first force-fed on Wednesday 17 April at 5pm.

Leonora was released from prison on 8 May 1912.

On 10 May, along with three fellow released Suffragettes, she attended a Prisoners’ Reception at Streatham Town Hall, organised by the Streatham WSPU branch, where she was presented with a specially commissioned medal of valour.

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