Suffragette City

Surveillance photographs of suffragettes imprisoned in Holloway, National Archives.

Surveillance photographs of suffragettes imprisoned in Holloway, National Archives.

How much do you know about women's struggle to get the vote more than a century ago? There's an opportunity to find out more at the London Pavilion this month. Once a pivotal site for the suffrage movement, it's to host an immersive exhibition that will focus on the hard choices the women involved faced. Organised in partnership with the National Trust and the National Archives, Suffragette City will give visitors the opportunity to walk round historical recreations of the headquarters of the Women's Social and Political Union (WPSU), a tea room and the cold, lifeless interior of a police cell. 

The exhibition draws on original photographs, police reports and witness statements held by the National Archives that  highlight the lives of well-known suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, As Rowena Hillel, Education and Outreach Officer for The National Archives says

 “It’s ultimately about challenging people’s perceptions. I think our records really challenge the idea that there were these isolated acts by hysterical women, with evidence that it was actually an incredibly skilled and planned out campaign.”

However, the exhibition focuses on the lesser-known story of Lillian Ball, a dressmaker and mother of three from Tooting, South London. She was arrested for getting involved in a window-smashing campaign in March 1912 that involved around 150 women in London’s West End. She received a very harsh sentence including two months of hard labour in prison, where she was blackmailed and coerced by police officers to give evidence against some of the key leaders of the movement. The National Archives have an amazing statement where she describes the organisation of the WPSU in real detail and outlines what happened to her throughout the campaign. It stresses how an ordinary woman like her had to make really difficult decisions in extraordinary circumstances.

Why not go and see it if you're in London between 8th and 25th March?