When women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries wanted change, they took action. It led to the formation of groups that put women’s right to vote as the focus. Known as suffragettes and suffragists, the members of these women’s organizations often came together publicly to make their voices heard.
Here we take a tour using Street View, to explore the places that played their part in the women’s movement and the ways in which these women used public spaces, government buildings and their own dwellings to express their political points of view.
62 Nelson Street, Manchester
62 Nelson Street was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her family for over eight years. The significance of this particular residence is that in 1903, it played host to the very first meeting of the Suffragettes, specifically the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
The group was founded in reaction to the less militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Emmeline and the women that followed, were disappointed at the lack of success found by its tactics of lobbying and persuading politicians through meetings. The WSPU wanted action, and became notorious for breaking windows in prominent buildings, and for the night-time arson of unoccupied houses and churches. By 1908, all the Pankhursts had moved to London to be at the centre of the growing campaign. The house has since become The Pankhurst Centre, which celebrates the history of these women.
Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London
In May 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst and another 56 suffragettes were arrested outside Buckingham Palace as she attempted to deliver a petition to King George V. The women clashed with the 1,000-strong police cordon, with both sides hitting out at each other with batons. The violence led to some women having to be taken away in ambulances. Many of the arrests made by police were aided by several citizens also restraining the women.
Reports of the incident said that members of the Royal Household had gathered to watch the scenes in the palace grounds, but it was believed the King and Queen took no notice of the protests.
HM Prison Holloway, Islington, London
Originally built in 1852 as the City House of Correction, Holloway Prison housed both male and female inmates until it became a female only prison in 1902. A large number of convicted suffragettes were imprisoned there including Emily Wilding Davison, who was arrested several times for various crimes including arson. Many suffragette inmates went on hunger strike during their imprisonment in protest of being treated like a criminal instead of a political prisoner. One notable case was Marion Wallace-Dunlop, who, after 91 hours of fasting was released from prison.
Between 1971 and 1985 the prison was completely rebuilt on the same trace, leaving no trace of the Victorian buildings that once housed these women. In 2016, the Holloway Prison permanently closed, and campaigns about what to do with the building are still ongoing. Since May 2017 feminist group Sisters Uncut have occupied the prison to demand the government fund domestic violence services and that the old building be turned into a women's center.
10 Downing Street, Westminster, London
During the women’s movement, 10 Downing Street, AKA the Prime Minister’s official home became a regular target of protest for the suffragettes. For instance in January 1908, members of the WSPU chained themselves to the railings outside 10 Downing Street. Later that year, suffragettes Edith New and Mary Leigh threw stones and broke windows, resulting in two months imprisonment at Holloway. And in March 1912, Emmeline Pankhurst, and three other WSPU members threw stones and broke four windows. Their arrest and conviction also resulted in a two month prison sentence.
Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London
As the home of the British government, the Houses of Parliament became a frequent location for protests and demonstrations by Suffragettes. In 1910, one of the most violent episodes in the struggle for women’s suffrage occurred here. On 18 November, 300 women were assaulted by police in what was to become known as Black Friday. The trouble began when the women tried to storm the Houses of Parliament after finding out the PM Asquith had declined passing a bill for women to have the vote. It sparked a campaign of destruction across the country that included window smashing and arson.
In 1918, women got the right to stand as MPs for the first time. A record 208 women MPs were elected to the House of Commons at General Election 2017, a record high of 32%. As of January 2018 there are 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords. There are currently six women in Cabinet including the Prime Ministers, which is 26% of the total 23 permanent Cabinet posts. While not a complete 50:50 split, a female presence is being felt more and more and feels radically different compared to 100 years ago.
Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom, Surrey
Emily Wilding Davison gave up her teaching job in 1909 to commit herself full time to the suffrage movement. On 4 June 1913, Davison famously left the enclosure at Epsom Racecourse and walked onto the track during the running of The Derby. She was knocked down by the king’s horse and died of her injuries four days later.
Her motives still remain unclear, but following her death Davison was considered a Martyr to the suffragettes and was given an elaborate funeral procession at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury, London before being buried at her family plot in Northumberland.
2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London
Millicent Fawcett was president of the NUWSS, the less militant suffrage group that aimed to achieve women’s suffrage through peaceful and legal means. Fawcett lived here on Gower from over half her life after moving here in 1884, after the death of her husband.
She lived here for 45 years up until her death with her sister Agnes Garrett, a fellow suffragist and interior designer who founded the Ladies Dwellings Company, an organisation which set out to provide single-sex accommodation for professional women. While living on Gower Street, Fawcett was able to see her years of campaigning pay off as in 1928 she witnessed women finally achieve the right to vote on the same terms as men. A blue plaque was unveiled in 1954, to commemorate her achievements.
Caxton Hall, Westminster, London
Caxton Hall is a building on the corner of Caxton Street and Palmer Street in Westminster, London. The Grade II listed building is notable for its many historical associations, which include it being used as the meeting place for the ‘Women’s Parliament’ set up by the WSPU, the first taking place in 1907.
These meetings were held at the beginning of each parliamentary session with a subsequent procession to the Houses of Parliament and an attempt (always unsuccessful) to deliver a petition to the prime minister in person. Caxton Hall’s role in the suffrage movement is commemorated by a bronze scroll sculpture nearby in Christchurch Gardens.
4 St James’s Square, Westminster, London
4 St James’s Square was home to Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in Parliament, who held her seat for over 25 years. Born in Virginia, USA, Astor travelled to England in 1904 and two years later married Waldorf Astor, a wealthy newspaper proprietor and Member of Parliament for Plymouth. Waldorf was forced to give up his seat in the House of Commons after he was elected to the peerage following the death of his father and he promoted his wife as a candidate and she won with 51% of the vote.
In her time at the house, Astor gave dinner parties for 50 people at a time, threw a couple of balls a season for up to 600 guests, and held receptions for as many as 1,000. During World War II the house was damaged by bombs and requisitioned, then was finally sold in 1946. It signaled the end of Astor’s political career and the tradition of a great London house as a centre of political influence. A blue plaque was added to the residence in 1987.
Hyde Park, Kensington, London
In 1908, Hyde Park played host to a demonstration that became known as ‘Women’s Sunday’, the first grand-scale meeting to be organized by the WSPU. The demo saw the largest number of people gathered in Hyde Park for a political purpose at that time, with up to half a million people in attendance.
The event was organized by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, the WSPU's treasurer, and featured the WSPU colors—purple, white and green—for the first time in public. Women were asked to wear white dresses, and leading up to the event shops sold clothing targeted at attendees. In the two days before the event, over 10,000 scarves in the suffragette colors were sold at two shillings and elevenpence each and men wore ties in the colors. Trains were specially chartered to bring in thousands of suffragettes from all over Britain. Among the brass bands, suffrage singers, and banner parades, were 20 temporary platforms erected in a circle around the park for 80 speakers to address the crowds.
Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London
Trafalgar Square was the site of many suffrage rallies during the years of campaigning, including one in 1915 where Christabel Pankhurst addressed huge crowds about funding the war (which had begun just a year previously) and guards in khaki uniform kept a watchful eye on the procession that followed.
Today, the square still retains signifiance as it has also been used as a meeting place by the Women's Liberation Movement and played host to the 100,000-strong Women's March in January 2017.