The history of the women’s suffrage movement is a perfect match for our radical and historical interests here at the Radical Tea Towel Company. No wonder we have several designs inspired by the movement on our products – here we explain the background.
Our suffragette ‘Women’s March’ design was inspired by Margaret Morris’s cover for the song sheet of ‘The March of the Women’, the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. It was composed in 1910 by Ethel Smyth with words by Cicely Hamilton. Smyth dedicated the song to the Women’s Social and Political Union. In January 1911, the WSPU’s newspaper, ‘Votes for Women’, described the song as “at once a hymn and a call to battle.” Like most things in life, you can listen to a recording on YouTube!
The song was first performed on 21st January 1911 by the Suffrage Choir, at a ceremony in London to celebrate a release of activists from prison. Emmeline Pankhurst introduced the song as the WSPU’s official anthem. It was also performed at a rally in 1911 at the Royal Albert Hall where Smyth was ceremonially presented with a baton by Emmeline Pankhurst.
A famous rendering of it took place in 1912 at Holloway Prison, after many women activists were imprisoned as a result of a window-smashing campaign. The conductor Thomas Beecham visited Smyth in prison and reported that he found the activists in the courtyard “…marching round it and singing lustily their war-chant while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush.”
At the suggestion of some of our customers, at the end of last year we launched a hugely popular Emmeline Pankhurst tea towel. Pankhurst was a political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement. In 1999 Time magazine named her as one of the ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’, stating: “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” Historians disagree about the effectiveness of her military tactics, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain.
2013 was, of course, the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Davison who, on June 4th 1913, was trampled by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby as she protested for women’s right to vote. It has been a matter of debate since then whether she had gone to Epsom to martyr herself or simply to make a protest, as Clare Balding’s informative TV documentary Secrets of a Suffragette concluded.
Our tea towel and fridge magnet feature a design taken from the cover of ‘The Suffragette’, a newspaper edited by Christabel Pankhurst, and published on June 13th, a day before the funeral procession in London. It portrays Emily on the racecourse in the form of an angel.
Women finally gained limited voting rights in 1918 and the same rights as men in 1928.
Do we still fully appreciate the impact these great women have had on society today? Let us know your views in the comments below.