It's been a long time since women were finally given the vote in America and Britain, so long that many people (and sadly, many younger women) have forgotten the heroic efforts of the early 20th c. suffragists. These women risked their reputations, their bodies, and their lives for the sake of the cause. Desperation made them daring, and in Britain, the damage the caused and the threats they made were very real and unsettling.
The piled tables and chairs and charred ruins, above, are all that remained of the Tea House at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, (the landmark pagoda can be seen like a ghost to the left), London, after suffragists burned it to the ground, one hundred years ago in February, 1913. The postcard, below, shows the Tea House two years before the attack. Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry, suffragists linked to the Women's Social & Political Union, were arrested at the night of the fire, and found guilty of arson. Both were sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment in Holloway Prison, though neither woman served their full sentences; both staged hunger-strikes in protest, and became so ill that they were released early.
How much of a real terrorist threat were the militant suffragists? The story below is from The Times, April 5, 1913.
'WILD WOMEN' BURN AND SMASH FOR VOTE
PANIC IN THE PROVINCES
Great Country Houses Closely Watched – London Season Menaced by Restrictions on Visitors.
"Wild women," as the suffragettes are being styled, have been busy in the provinces today, following up the campaign of revenge for the imprisonment of Mrs. Pankhurst.
The grandstand of the Ayr race course in Scotland was burned and an attempt was made to destroy the grandstand of the Kelso race course, two men being caught just after they had started a fire.
Flower beds in Armstrong Park in Newcastle were devastated.
Londoners are beginning to be afraid that fear of the suffragettes will have a bad effect on the social season.
American women visiting here who wish to see the sights are complaining of their inability to do so, owing to the strict orders given to exclude women from the Tower and other places where suffragette raids are apprehended. As an instance of the precautions taken the jewel room at the Tower is entirely closed to the public.
Above: Tea House, Kew Gardens, destroyed by suffragettes. Bain News Service, c 1910-1915. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.
Below: Refreshment Pavilion and Pagoda, Kew Gardens, postcard, c. 1910. From Whatsthatpicture's flickr photostream.