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The Suffragettes’ Legacy Lives On at the Museum of London

Nicola Kalimeris introduces the Suffragette collection at The Museum of London:

The Museum of London tells the story of London and its people, past, present and future. Many of the Museum’s collections unravel the capital’s turbulent past.

The Museum’s Suffragette collection, a small part of which is on permanent display in the newly opened Peoples’ City Gallery, is unrivalled. The collection focuses primarily on the activities of the militant wing ofthe Votes for Women campaign, most notably the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Emmeline Pankhurst.

At the heart of the collection are the papers and archive donated to the museum by the Suffragette Fellowship. The Fellowship was established in 1926 to keep alive the ‘suffragette spirit’. It created a unique archive of the militant suffrage campaign by encouraging suffragette prisoners to compile an account of their prison experiences and militant activity.

These accounts provide a highly personal insight into the day-to-day running of the WSPU and reveal how and why women became involved in the campaign. Although the collection does include some material relating directly to the Pankhursts, the emphasis is primarily on the lesser known Suffragettes, and many of the 1000 women who served terms of imprisonment for their militancy.

Highlights on display include:

  1. Suffragette banner composed of 80 rectangular pieces of linen sewn together and bordered by green and purple panels. The 80 pieces of linen are embroidered in purple cotton with the signatures of eighty Suffragette hunger-strikers who, by 1910, had ‘faced death without flinching’. The banner was first carried in the ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ procession in June 1910. Made in the style of a traditional friendship quilt it symbolises the spirit of comradeship that gave suffragette prisoners the strength and courage to endure hunger strike and force feeding.
  2. Surveillance photograph of the suffragette prisoner Frieda Graham. The Home Office commissioned the undercover photography of militant suffragettes from 1913. This surveillance photo of the suffragette prisoner Frieda Graham was taken as she exercised in the yard of Holloway Gaol. Such photos were used to identify militant suffragettes attempting to enter public buildings such as museums or art galleries. Frieda was imprisoned several times for militant activity. In May 1914 she received a six-month sentence for damaging five paintings at the National Gallery, but was released on 5 June after hunger striking and being force-fed.
  3. Silver hunger strike medal with presented to Emmeline Pankhurst to commemorate her hunger strike when serving a 9 month sentence in Holloway jail for ‘conspiracy to incite persons to commit damage to property’. The medal is inscribed ‘For Valour/March 1st 1912/Hunger Strike/Emmeline Pankhurst’.
  4. A silver brooch in the shape of hammer worn as a ‘badge of honour’ by Suffragettes who had taken part in window-smashing.
  5. A letter by Suffragette Kitty Marion written on prison toilet paper, dating to 1912.The letter includes a lock of Kitty’s hair which, she claims, was falling out due to police brutality at the time of her arrest.
  6. Prison bread that was removed as a souvenir from Holloway Prison by a released Suffragette.
  7. Window glass from Westminster Palace Hotel smashed by a protesting suffragette in 1911.


Five suffragettes holding a broken window pane: 1912

This picture shows five suffragettes holding a broken window pane, with Adela Pankhurst on the far left. From 1911 window smashing became an official tactic of the WSPU. Women who took part in this form of campaigning were quickly arrested and therefore not exposed to confrontational struggles with the police as had occurred on Black Friday. © Museum of London

‘Let them starve’ billboard: c.1914

Newspaper billboard issued by the Evening Standard with the headline, ‘Let them starve, views of public men, June 9’. This headline refers to the response of the authorities to the problem of hunger striking suffragette prisoners. It probably dates from 1914 when, in the summer of that year, the Home Office stopped releasing repeat suffragette offenders under the ‘Cat & Mouse Act’. This change of attitude was in response to the escalation of suffragette militancy, acts of arson and criminal damage. © Museum of London

China sugar bowl designed by Sylvia Pankhurst

China sugar bowl with the ‘angel of freedom’ logo designed by Sylvia Pankhurst in the suffragette tricolour of purple, white and green. The motif incorporates the initials of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and a winged angel with ‘Freedom’ written on a banner above her head. Part of a 13-piece tea service specially made for the Women’s Exhibition held at Princes Skating Rink in 1909. As well as being used in the refreshment room of the exhibition the sugar bowl and other items in the tea service were sold, either as individual pieces or as a whole set to raise funds for the WSPU. © Museum of London

Police cordon at end of Downing Street: 1908

Police cordon at end of Downing Street, 13 February 1908. On this day the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst led a deputation to the House of Commons. This demonstration resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Emmeline and each of the eight women accompanying her. © Museum of London

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About Museum of London

Museum of London
The Museum of London tells the story of London and its people, past, present and future. Museum of London, 150, London Wall EC2Y 5HN. 020 7001 9844. Nearest tube: St Paul's, Barbican, Moorgate. Open 10am - 6pm, 7 days a week.

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  1. It is clear that suffragists sought the vote for women by peaceful means, suffragettes would use violent methods, for example placing a bomb behind the coronation throne in westminster Abbey/

  2. Please remember that ‘suffragette’ was the derisive (as diminutive) term for ‘suffragists’ (what they called themselves). ‘Suffragette’ is an insult.

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