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Vote 100: celebrating a century of female suffrage

2018 marks 100 years since women were first given the right to vote in Britain in parliamentary elections. Find out more about all the Museum of London is doing to mark this momentous occasion.

Beverley Cook

Votes for Womencurator

18 January 2018

100 years ago, women were able to vote in British parliamentary elections for the first time. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave some women over the age of 30 (and all men over the age of 21) the right to vote - a step on the path to full legal equality. The 1918 general election, held in December that year, was the first time that women were able to vote, and the first woman MP, Sinn Féin's Constance Markievicz, was elected.

This major milestone didn't just happen: it was the culmination of decades of determined, fearless campaigning by women and men across Britain, who faced ridicule, abuse, poverty, surveillance and arrest in their fight for the vote. We’ll be using the centenary celebrations to tell the stories of these Suffragettes, through events and displays that show off the world's largest collection relating to the militant Votes for Women campaign.

'An Anti-Suffrage Alphabet' was designed by Laurence Housman and edited by Leonora Tyson, the organiser of the Lambeth/Southwark Women's Social and Political Union. The verses, documenting disenfranchised women's unfair subordination, lampooned opponents of women's suffrage. The book includes stencilled illustrations in the suffragette colours of purple and green by a number of female artists including Alice B. Woodward, Pamela C. Smith and Ada P. Ridley. The book was produced to raise funds for the suffragette campaign. Advertised in 'Votes for Women' on 15 December 1911, it was marketed as a suitable gift for suffragette supporters. Leonora received book orders at her home address in Streatham, where she printed each edition by hand.

An Anti-Suffrage Alphabet, 1911

Designed by Laurence Housman, this book documents the unfar subjugation of disenfranchised women.

A poster advertising the weekly suffragette newspaper Votes for Women: 1909

A poster advertising the weekly suffragette newspaper Votes for Women, 1909

Hilda Dallas; ID no. 50.82/1110.

We already have many display cases chronicling the campaign for women's suffrage in our People's City gallery. We'll be adding to this with a special display running throughout 2018, telling the story of individual Suffragette courage and commitment and the power of comradeship and empowerment.

The centrepiece of this commemorative display is a newly commissioned film, which reveals more of our rich and unique Suffragette image collection to the public. However the film is not a traditional documentary – it is much more exciting and creative. Although it highlights key milestones in the campaign for female suffrage, it also considers the legacy of that struggle and its contemporary relevance. We've intereviewed people who share an interest in the Suffragette campaign but also work in the contemporary field of women’s and human rights.

Holloway medal presented to Emmeline Pankhurst:1912

Hunger strike medal presented to Emmeline Pankhurst, 1912

Featured in our new Vote 100 display

The items selected for display are some of the most iconic in the collection. All have a strong personal story and relate to named women who not only served terms of imprisonment for militancy but in many cases, went on hunger strike and endured the brutality of force-feeding. One of the most significant items selected is the hunger-strike medal presented to the celebrated Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. However the display is equally intended to reveal the story of unknown Suffragettes, such as Emily ‘Kitty’ Willoughby Marshall, Winefride Mary Rix, Janie Terrero and Louise Eates.

This display, which takes over our Capital Concerns space, will open on 2 February and run throughout 2018, closing in January 2019.

The film and display are one of three display strands of the commemorative programme. Between 1 February and 26 April our temporary display area Show Space will be taken over with a display looking at three key aspects of the campaign – Fundraising, Organising and Militancy. Here, for the first time will be displayed items such as a multiple arsonist’s scrapbook, and a cap worn by the Suffragette Organiser Flora ‘General’ Drummond.

Suffragette procession.

Suffragette procession, 1910

Photograph by Searjeant, H.

However you want to mark the centenary of female suffrage, we hope you'll join us at the Museum of London this year to celebrate Vote 100.