The English Suffragette movement

Composed of about 40 images, the exhibition tells of the struggle for women's right to vote, a phenomenon that began in the second half of the nineteenth century in Anglo-Saxon countries. The movement for equal political rights spread out rapidly throughout the West and particularly in Great Britain, the United States and New Zealand. But the photos of English militants are the ones which are more easily found in today's historical archives, a demonstration of how much the history of feminism owes to their movement. The same term "suffragettes", before defining all the women of the world who demanded universal suffrage, was coined for them for the first time by the British newspaper Daily Mail as a denigratory label. But instead of rejecting it, the English feminists took to it and started referring to their mates in the same terms.


 The suffragettes were mainly educated women of the middle bourgeoisie - increasingly culturally emancipated but frustrated by their economic and social condition, a golden oppression very well described by the 19th century English literature. They asked for equality in political rights with men. Beside the request of the vote, they also supported the claim of equal civil rights and the possibility of carrying out the same professions as men in a logic of autonomous emancipation. But if the protests of the suffragettes in America and New Zealand always had peaceful characters, in England they radicalized and took on even violent forms. During the so-called "War of Shop Windows" of 1912, many shops in London were damaged by suffragettes with stones, bars and even small explosive devices. In 1913 the English suffragette movement also had its martyr: the young Emily Davinson, who was overwhelmed and killed by a horse of King George V during a protest demonstration at the Epsom Derby. 


The militants in prison, following that episode, began a hunger strike that shook the country. The suffragettes won their war five years later: in 1918 the British Parliament in fact approved the proposal of voting limited to the wives of the heads of households over the age of 30. And finally on 2 July 1928 the suffrage was extended to all English women. The recognition of the right to vote in England was a strategic victory of incredible value for the European feminist movement. The "Vote and Freedom" exhibition, far from being exhaustive on the subject, wants to show all the passion and drama of what was the struggle of English women to get it.


Curated by:

Alessandro Luigi Perna

A production of:

Eff&Ci - Facciamo Cose (We Do Things)


Pictures of:

Heritages Images / AGF

Mary Evans / AGF

background photo of the page © Heritage Images / A.G.F.