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Friday, 15 March 2013

Sepia Saturday - Women on the Warpath

Sepia Saturday encourages bloggers to record their family history through photographs.

This week's prompt featured the Potddam Conference of 1945 when the leaders of Britain,  USA and Soviet Russia met in the aftermath of war.

I decided to follow the political theme with a postcard of a suffragette meeting in Hawick in the  Scottish Borders in 1909.  
A suffragette meeting, at Towerknowe, Hawick in the Scottish Borders, 1909.
Note - the number of men there.
Photograph by permission of Scottish Borders Council Museum & Gallery Service
 from the Hawick Museum Collection.
We tend to associate suffragette marches with London  and the cities, but the scene above   was in the small mill  town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders (population  in 1911 - 16,877,  where women were an integral part of industrial life in the manufacture of tweed and knitwear.
The main source of documentary  information on early local suffragette activities in the Borders was "The Kelso Chronicle", regarded as a bastion of reform. 

The earliest reference to women's suffrage in the Borders  were found  in a report published by the newspaper  in 1871, with  a public meeting held in Hawick in the Exchange Hall in 1873.  Although suffrage bills in 1870, 1886, and 1897 had been presented to Parliament,   all were  defeated.
Many of the Border towns were aligned to the law-abiding National Union of Suffrage Societies.  However the 20th century saw a dramatic change in the campaign  with a new militant form of protest.   By  1903 Emeline Pankhurst, believed that years of moderate speeches  about women's suffrage had yielded no progress and with her daughters Adela, Christabel and Sylvia,  she founded the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU)  dedicated to "deeds, not words".   The WSPU had a charismatic leader, who inspired an almost fanatical devotion to the cause.  It also adopted a public identification  with its colours - Violet, Forest Green and White (symbolising Votes for Women), which they used as ribbons, sashes and badges on  their white dresses.   
Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst  (LOC)
Emmeline Pankhurst  - http://foter.com/Suffragettes/

In February 1909 "The Hawick News" had a headline which read "Suffragette Invasion" - the occasion the campaign for the Border Burghs election. Emmeline Pankhurst addressed a crowded meeting in  Hawick Town Hall on 27th February 1909.  A piper marched around the platform  and the audience sang the local song "Votes for Women".

Rise, ye men of Border burghs.
Show yourself in your true colours
As you've done in days gone by
Stand by British Liberty
"Votes for Women" loudly defying
Stubborn foes you'll put to rout
Vote  and keep the Liberals out

"The Hawick Epxress" of February 26th 1909 reported that "The Suffragists are extremely busy in connection with the elections and have taken  a shop on the High Street as their headquarters,,,,,the window is smartly decorated with suffragette literature and pictures  and they are reported to be doing a roaring trade in the sale of "Votes for Women" badges".

 Mrs Pankhurst returned to Hawick in August 1909 when she called on women to join a large demonstration in Edinburgh. 
In the Borders, more militant protest hit the headlines in April 1913 when the "The Kelso Chronicle" of April 1913 proclaimed   "Militant Suffragism coming Near Home". 
"There was considerable commotion in Kelso on Saturday morning when it became known that a couple of women, presumably suffragettes, had been caught red handed in an attempt to destroy by fire the new stand which had been erected in the paddock at the Racecourse.......The fire was subdued before any damage could be done and the the suffragettes arreste3d.......In the walk down to Kelso Police Station, the Ladies beguiled the time by giving lusty voice  to the suffragette song " March On. 
The women  were conveyed to Jedburgh and apprehended before the  Sheriff.   A big crowd collected in the vicinity of  the court room to catch a glimpse of the daring but mischeiveouly disposed females." 

The protesters  were committed to prison and taken by train to Edinburgh,  They  were found guilty as charged and sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Carleton Jail, Edinburgh.  However they were liberated within a week having gone on hunger strike.  The terms of their temporary release  stated that they must return after a stipulated number of days - an instance of the infamous "cat and mouse"  policy.
Emmeline Pankhurst died in 1928,  the year when women  were granted equal voting rights with men.  It was  the  part women played on the home front during  First World War that was widely regarded as the  major factor in the  change of attitude to their right to vote.
But Emmeline's  role  is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain - and the Scottish Borders played its  part. 
With grateful thanks to local historian Gordon Macdonald
for his research  on this topic in his work
" Universal Suffrage - A Borders Perspective"

Click HERE to find the views of other bloggers on  this week's theme.


  1. There were a lot of brave women doing amazing things. Thank-you!

  2. I'll always be fascinated by the Suffragette movement (even though I had to study it for school History). It's important to remember that these brave women didn't just live in London.

  3. I must admit I know little about the Suffragette movement so you have expamnded what little I knew.

  4. My friends and I portrayed suffragists in a 1890s themed parade once. It was the year of the US election where Bush was reelected and the information slips we were handing out with historical information on women's rights to vote were suspiciously accepted, haha. I think people feared we were politicos in petticoats. :-)

  5. I too was surprised at how many men there were in the crowd in that first picture, and wonder whether the speaker was being jeered or taunted. However, it appears from what you have written that the crowd in your neck of the woods were probably particularly well enlightened.

    We had our own "Emeline Pankhurst" in the form of Kate Sheppard, who appears on our $10 note, and of course New Zealand was the first country to introduce unversal suffrage in 1893.

  6. Interesting history. It is sad that they had to resort to "deeds, not words".

  7. Glad someone was there to move the struggle forward with "deeds,not words". Very good photo of the rally and it is interesting to see how many men are there.

  8. Sometimes I wonder where we would be today, if not for some and most all of those brave and incredibly strong women!

  9. As I started reading your fascinating post I found myself thinking "you hear so little about the Suffragettes outside of London and places like Manchester - and then I discovered that you were having the same thoughts. It is important that such local history is being recorded, we too often think of small towns and villages being isolated from the great historical movements - they were not. thanks for reminding us

  10. Very interesting photo. Yes, why so many men?

    I hope Mrs. Pankhurst died after hearing equal rights were granted to women and not before. What a brave woman.


  11. Excellent post!!!
    People tend to forget that it was not so long ago
    that women got the right to vote.
    Feminism doesn't seem that active nowaday,
    but it was certainly an important factor in the 20th century.


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