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Art for Votes’ Sake: Visual Culture and the Women’s Suffrage Campaign

2 October – 20 December 2003

From oil paintings to embroidered aprons, suffrage art infiltrated British society. Yet the campaigners’ relationship with art was a complex one: when the time came to provoke a stronger reaction, suffragettes like ‘Slasher Mary’ vandalised paintings in public galleries.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act and 100 years since the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union (suffragettes), The Women’s Library will host Art for Votes’ Sake, the first exhibition to focus on the visual arts produced in the suffrage movement. Many men and women who fought to get women the vote were adept at using visual material for political ends. Suffrage art filled city streets during spectacular demonstrations; it entered the home as picture handkerchiefs and Vanity Fair fashion plates; and it adorned people’s bodies as button badges.

Art for Votes’ Sake presents a diversity of art forms used by campaigners, tracing the ways popular culture used and manipulated existing fine art traditions such as the Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts and Avant-Garde art movements.

The work of professionally trained artists turned activists, including Sylvia Pankhurst, will be on show alongside experimental posters and photo-journalism. There will be cartoons, which continued to play an irreverent role in popular politics throughout the campaign, and original drawings by suffragists and leading newspaper cartoonists. Two paintings by leading artists of the period that were vandalised by suffragettes will also be on display, alongside other material recounting those dramatic stories.

Women, whose embroidery was traditionally displayed in churches, stitched exquisite banners that expressed their political beliefs and brought their art
onto the streets. Other banners were made by men and by professional
artists, some using new printing technology to save money. They will hang together to create a remarkable display and include banners by various artists that celebrated women’s historical achievements to argue for their political and humanitarian rights.

The fine art on display will include work by Arts and Crafts artist Ernestine Mills, such as the outstanding enamel pendant decorated with the winged figure of Hope, presented to a suffragette who spent time in Holloway prison. There will also be a 1910 painting by Bertha Newcombe, who trained at the Slade, depicting an imagined reconstruction of the first suffrage petition being presented by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett to John Stuart Mill in 1866.

A rich array of material from The Women’s Library and other collections will be brought together, much of it for the first time. The early twentieth century was a crucial period for women’s changing roles in politics and in the art world. Art for Votes’ Sake will show how these stories ran hand in hand.

Art for Votes’ Sake is just one of a number of events and exhibitions taking place to mark this special anniversary year. The National Archives will display its unique material relating to the suffrage movement including police files and private correspondence. The March of the Women is at the National Archives from 6 October - 31 December.

• Established in 1926, The Women's Library at London Metropolitan University houses one of the greatest collections of women's history in the world. The new, award winning venue opened its doors to the public in February 2002. The collections include posters, banners, books, magazines, photographs and other materials and are a celebration of the women's lives they document.

• Exhibition opening hours: Monday to Friday 9.30am - 5.30pm (late night opening Thursday 8pm), Saturday 10.00am - 4.00pm, Sunday closed.

• The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University, Old Castle Street,
London E1 7NT, t: 0207 320 2222 or visit

For further information


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