Thursday, 11 April 2013

Suffragette City

The First World War proved to be a turning point in the advancement in Women’s rights, providing fresh opportunities for women, who found themselves drafted into new employment to replace the men sent off to fight. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act finally extended the vote to women over the age of 30, although it was another ten years before the voting age was lowered to 21, the same as men.

Prior to the war, the Pennine's own Nellie Abbott, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, ambulance driver and aspiring tank driver, was involved with the suffrage movement. Its members had campaigned long and hard for the Vote and were forced to resort to ever more extreme tactics in order to publicise their cause.

This  month sees the centenary of a Suffragette attack on Manchester Art Gallery, the kind of action which Nellie would have supported, if not actively participated in. On the 3rd April 1913, Emeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, was sentenced at the Old Bailey to three years penal servitude for inciting persons unknown to commit felony. In protest at the sentence, and in keeping with the Union’s motto, "Deeds, not words", a rash of militant actions took place across the country.

Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester

In Manchester, three women; Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester entered the art gallery just before closing and began attacking paintings with a small hammer, around which was tied a ribbon declaring, "Votes for Women" and "Stop Forcible Feeding".
"Two attendants ran into the Gallery and found three women, Lillian Forrester, Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta, running round, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable pictures in the collections. It had been well planned. Nowhere else in the Gallery were hung so many famous pictures, so close together."
 -Manchester Evening News April 14th 1913

They attacked and damaged thirteen works among which were: The Last Watch of Hero and Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton and The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker, works still on display today.

The Last Watch of Hero by Lord Frederic Leighton

Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton
The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker

The three women were arrested and brought to trial for malicious damage. Although all three protested that this was not a criminal but a political offence, Lillian Forrester was sentence to 3 months penal servitude, Evelyn Manesta to 1 month. Annie Briggs was acquitted.

Circulated police poster for Suffragettes Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manesta

Following this initial attack, paintings became a prime target for suffragettes - and not without reason:
"There is to me something hateful, sinister, sickening in this heaping up of art treasures, this sentimentalising over the beautiful, while the desecration and ruin of bodies of women and little children by lust, disease, and poverty are looked upon with indifference."

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