Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Wild Women" Suffragists Commit Arson for the Vote, 1913

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Isabella reporting,

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.
    As a result of the continued activity of the militants, special precautions are being taken to protect the famous country houses of England. Chatsworth and Haddon Hall are guarded night and day, and a strict watch is being kept over the Shakespeare memorials at Stratford.
   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.


Simon Jones said...

Great post. I particularly like the line 'Flower beds in Newcastle were left devastated!'

Yoko Bonobo said...

"Londoners are beginning to be afraid that fear of the suffragettes will have a bad effect on the social season."

Oh ! Quelle horreur !

All humor aside, I don't know if it occurred in England but some American suffragettes who went on hunger strikes while imprisoned were actually forcefed with rubber tubes !

Thank you for reminding us of these brave women.

Anonymous said...

I do not see how violence and arson were thought to be a means to show the world that females had the sense and ability to vote. It would seem to be counter productive to me.
Yes I do feel that these were terroristic attacks and only proved women could be as stupid and violent as men.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately governments rarely respond to peaceful activism. The suffragettes resorted to violence when peaceful methods failed. One gun-toting sufragette and patriot was Countess Constance Markievicz who was sentenced to death for her open rebellion against British Rule in Ireland in 1916 and was a prisoner in Holloway Prison when elected to Parliament. You can read about her here:

angela shikany said...

My daughter is going to the suffragette parade in D.C. in March commemorating the centennial of the original. Of course we didn't actually get the vote until 1920. We still wouldn't have the vote if the suffragettes hadn't literally put their lives on the line tofight for it.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.

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