A colourful mob marches through the streets of London on their way to the Houses of Parliament, waving placards, shouting slogans and smashing windows. But these aren’t students on their way to the Conservative party headquarters—this is a scene from London’s past.
Three hundred protesters from all classes in society turned out on the afternoon of 18th November 1910 to protest after parliament blocked further debate on the issue of women’s suffrage. But as they tried to break through police barriers, the mood turned nasty, as the women were met with flailing truncheons and mass arrests. The police were accused of behaving with unnecessary brutality and the day became known as Black Friday, a landmark in the Suffragette movement to win public opinion.
Last night BBC4 aired the documentary Suffragette City as part of the History of the World series. It was the first TV programme to focus entirely on the Suffragette movement in 35 years. Presented by actress and activist Sheila Hancock, the film uses objects from the Museum of London to tell the story of the celebrated women’s movement. These seemingly innocuous items—a toffee hammer, a letterbox, some railings—all became politicised in the hands of the Suffragettes as they smashed windows, set fire to pillar boxes and chained themselves with handcuffs to the fence outside No 10.
The history of the Suffragettes is a long and brutal one, but ultimately it is a success story. In the words of historian and former Labour politician Roy Hattersley: “The Suffragettes are the only protest movement in the history of Great Britain that actually succeeded by violence.” And yet, given the backdrop of ongoing spending cuts and street protests, one is tempted to ask whether, although the Suffragette movement is over, it is really history?
This month the Fawcett Society, founded in the name of the early Suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett, is hoping to win a judicial review of the coalition’s spending review. They argue that it is women who will bear the brunt of the cuts unveiled so far. Many of the benefits to be cut or frozen—including the health in pregnancy grant, the SureStart maternity grant and child benefit—are those that more women than men rely on. Added to that, 65 per cent…