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New Markets

Marketing strategies were a feature of the Women's Social and Political Union's (WSPU) genius (see Suffrage and Uses and Abuses of Property). The idea of the Union Colours - purple for valour, white for purity and green for youth, was launched in time for a mass demonstration in central London on 21 June 1908, 'Women's Sunday'.

All women were urged to wear at least one item in the 'Colours', a ribbon for hat or waistband, a scarf, belt, buckle, or badge, available to buy from WSPU offices to advertise and identify the Cause.

In London's Hyde Park (see Personal Freedom and Public Space) 80 women speakers on 20 platforms urged 'Votes for Women'. 'The Times' estimated the crowd at half a million.

A replica 1909 Womens Social and Political Union badge in the Union colours
A replica 1909 Women’s Social and Political Union badge in the Union colours © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England Archive

Perhaps the turnout and the sale of thousands of scarves that day, prompted department stores (see The Fashion for Shopping) to produce and sell jewellery and clothing in 'the Colours', such as blouses bearing 'Votes for Women' displayed in their windows.

In pursuit of the female customer Dickins and Jones, Regent Street, London W1, Peter Robinson, Oxford Circus, London W1, Whiteley's of Ladbroke Grove, London W2, Frederick Gorringe, Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1, Burberry's, Haymarket, London SW1 and other leading stores took lavish advertisements in the pages of the suffragettes' paper, 'Votes for Women.

Ironically, this money must have helped finance the WSPU's own new chain of shops (see 'Suffrage').

Peter Robinsons, Oxford Circus, London epitomised the grandeur and scale of the Victorian department store
Peter Robinson’s, Oxford Circus, London epitomised the grandeur and scale of the Victorian department store. Built 1912 by Sir Henry Tanner and extended for Peter Robinson in 1924, the building is listed Grade II. © Peter Holcroft (2002). Source Historic England Archive

If businesses thought this might protect them from attack they were mistaken. Smashing the massive department store windows became a symbolic act, as Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) declared in February 1912, "The argument of the broken pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics".

In March 1912, Marshall and Snelgrove, Burberry's, Gorringe's, Liberty, Regent Street, London W1 plus Swan and Edgar, 49 Regent Street, London W1 were among the hundreds of premises that suffered the suffragette hammer.

Libertys grew from the Aesthetic and Arts and Craft movements, selling clothes for the New Woman in those styles
The remarkable Liberty’s, Great Marlborough Street, London grew from the Aesthetic and Arts and Craft movements, selling clothes for the New Woman in those styles. Built 1922-25 and richly detailed inside and out, it is listed at Grade II*. © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive EH (1924)

Backlash

Outraged letters to 'The Times' and cartoons in 'Punch' about 'the manly woman', as they termed the New Woman (see Women Only), gradually fuelled a backlash.

Lady Harberton (1843/44-1911) was a founder of the Rational Dress Society, an organisation trying to free Victorian women from unhealthy, restricting clothing such as the corset.

In 1898, Lady Harberton was refused entry to the Hautboy Hotel, Woking for lunch because of her cycling outfit which consisted of a shortened divided skirt.

The Hautboy Hotel, Ockham built by William, first Earl of Lovelace in 1864
The Hautboy Hotel, Ockham built by William, first Earl of Lovelace in 1864 is listed at Grade II. © Jim Buckley (1999) Source Historic England Archive

More serious, in the following century, was the means used to control political activity in public places. After a suffragette, Helen Ogston (1883-?), used a dog-whip to defend herself from assault at the Albert Hall (see Suffrage) in 1908, Lloyd George banned women from all his public meetings by introducing the Public Meetings Bill.

Similarly, the Metropolitan Police refused the WSPU access to Hyde Park, and the Queen's Hall landlords refused the WSPU further rentals. Sylvia Pankhurst's (1882-1960) East London Federation of Suffragettes was barred from Bromley Public Hall, Bow Road, London E3 in 1913.

They protested by marching to 13 Tomlins Grove, London E3,  the house of a Conservative councillor who voted for the ban. As a suffragette started her speech, mounted police charged the crowd injuring women and children.

The following year, the First World War would provide the rallying point for women demanding to be allowed to help the war effort.

By taking over the jobs of those men who went to fight, women's lives were transformed - as the 'The War-Worker' of December 1918 described. 'To-day she may smoke, she may wear trousers, she may crop her hair short, she may live alone in flats, she may walk the streets…No one stares at her or interferes with her or thinks any the worse of her.'

Bromley Public Hall, Bow, London used for East London suffragette meetings
The Italianate Bromley Public Hall of 1879-80 by A. & C. Harston was used for East London suffragette meetings. Listed Grade II. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England Archive
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Visible in Stone - New markets

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Map detailing the A-G arrival points in London and demonstration routes to Hyde Park with the sites of 20 platforms for speeches, 1908. © & source The Women’s Library.
  • Zelie Emerson, a suffragette, led the 1913 protest to Councillor John Le Manquais’ home, 13 Tomlins Grove, London. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England.NMR.

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