Panel 7: Suffragettes in Surrey: Early Activism

Click on the image to see a larger copy of the original exhibition panel.

By 1908, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had been active for 5 years yet there had been little advance. Artist and Peaslake resident Marie Brackenbury captured the frustration in her cartoon ‘History Up To Date And More So By a Suffragette Pavement Artist’. The Liberal government continued to refuse women access to public meetings or meet with suffrage deputations, so the suffragettes turned to militancy. As the radical action increased so did their prison sentences. Marion Wallace Dunlop of Peaslake was the first to go on hunger strike in prison in 1909 and forcible feeding soon followed.

In 1911 a census of the population was due to be taken. The Women’s Freedom League (WFL) protested against this and many women defaced or refused to complete their census returns. WSPU members soon followed suit. One of those who defied the census by writing ‘No Vote, No Census’ across her return was Woking resident and WSPU supporter, Ethel Smyth. A successful composer, author and passionate sportswoman, Ethel had met and become enchanted by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1910. She suspended her musical career and for two years her uncompromising and energetic spirit fuelled the WSPU campaign.

Published cartoon sketch entitled ‘History Up To Date And More So. By suffragette Marie Brackenbury (SHC ref 6536/221.

Published cartoon sketch entitled ‘History Up To Date And More So. By suffragette Marie Brackenbury (SHC ref 6536/221).

Window smashing campaigns were organised by the WSPU against anti-suffrage MPs. Ethel taught Emmeline to throw stones in Hook Heath: ‘…I imagine Mrs Pankhurst had not played ball games in her youth, and the first stone flew backwards out of her hand, narrowly missing my dog.’ Ethel and Emmeline were arrested targeting Downing Street windows in March 1912. On the same protest Marie Brackenbury was arrested alongside her sister Georgiana and 71 year old mother, Hilda.

‘Cat and Mouse’ illustration by Kate Charlesworth, from Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, 2014

Ethel served five weeks of a two month sentence in Holloway Prison but perhaps her most enduring contribution to the cause was her rousing choral composition The March of the Women, published in 1911 and adopted as the WSPU anthem. An anecdote even recalls prisoners marching around the exercise compound singing The March of the Women whilst Ethel beat time with a toothbrush through her cell window.

Panel 1 – The March of the Women: Surrey’s Road to the Vote

Panel 2 – The Growth of the Suffrage Movement in Surrey

Panel 3 – Suffragists in Surrey: The Peaceful Protest

Panel 4 – Suffragists in Surrey: The Long Road to the Vote

Panel 5 – Suffragists in Surrey: The Great Pilgrimage

Panel 6 – Leading Suffrage Supporters in Surrey: Peaceful vs Militant

Panel 8 – Suffragettes in Surrey: Militancy Continues

Panel 9 – Suffragettes in Surrey: the Ultimate Sacrifice

Panel 10 – The Anti-Suffrage Campaign in Surrey

Panel 11 – Anti-Suffragists in Surrey: Active Women in the Community

Panel 12 – The March is Over: Women get the Vote!

Click here to read more about The March of the Women project

Click here to read The March of the Women blog

Explore more about Surrey’s road to votes for women and the county’s role in the national women’s suffrage campaign

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