Monday, 30 January 2012

Suffragette postcards

It’s hardly a secret, but the cultural evolution of the suffragettes is a topic that I’m constantly reading around, researching and evolving. There are never fewer than three suffrage novels and non-fiction books by my desk, and my review library of books is growing really quite huge now. But that’s not to say that I don’t want to know of more suggestions (please let me know in the comments section) – I far from have them all!

But I’m taking a detour into suffrage postcards at the moment. The imagery of the suffragettes was famously the most successful ever deployment of colour for a political cause. The purple, white and green colour scheme of the suffragettes was iconic and legendary. And this translated into the many postcards issued both by the WSPU and the anti-suffrage movement. Today, I’ve ordered a copy of Ian McDonald’s 1989 book Vindication: A Postcard History of the Women’s Movement, and can promise that a review will be posted soon.

Another important factor was the ubiquity of postcards in the early 1900s. With same-day postal deliveries, writing a short message on the back of a picture postcard made these highly collectible cards the emails of their day. Many suffragettes also used postcards to share coded information about meetings and protests with each other in ingenious ways.

This is still something I’m only in the early stages of researching, but I wanted to share three particularly interesting images that I found today.

A postcard from 1916

 The first postcard is a cartoon of a girl from 1916, and shows the fun side of the suffrage movement, and the way it looks to the future, reminding people that they are fighting for the vote not only for themselves, but also for future generations.

A postcard from 1908

 The second is a really striking and emotive card from 1908, showing two women with a beautiful banner outside the Houses of Parliament and the message:

“This is THE HOUSE that man built,
And this is the Flag of the Women’s Franchise,
Which is making our Ministers open their eyes:
Fighting with grit, to the front bit by bit:
Determined in Parliament one day to sit,
The bold Suffragette who is sure to get yet
Into THE HOUSE that man built.”

US Suffrage programme cover from 1913

Finally, I’ve included an image (not strictly a postcard) of the front cover of the programme for the Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington DC on March 3, 1913. Interesting not only because most of my research has been centered on the UK, but also because the artwork is so beautiful, and full of hope, promise and a grand future.

Genuine suffrage postcards now command a small fortune second hand (anywhere between £9.99 and £100), so I fear that unless I get lucky at a second hand stall, I’m unlikely to get my hands on the real deal. Thankfully, many images have been uploaded to various websites, and here are a few links (if you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments section).

By far the best site I have found (so far) is Alice Hawkins Suffragette – A Sister of Freedom, which includes a page with photographic postcards. The beautifully put together site is a tribute to Alice by her surviving family members, and I strongly advise you to check it out if you are at all interested in the suffrage movement. The home page is here.

There are also two (of several) articles on the excellent blog site for Ms Magazine. I particularly recommend this one and this one.


  1. "Many suffragettes also used postcards to share coded information about meetings and protests with each other in ingenious ways."

    Hello, I'm carrying out some research into Suffragettes and their use of postcards to send coded messages. Could you tell me which source you got this information from?

    Many thanks,

  2. Hello - I'm afraid I can't remember exactly where I heard this (am dusting off the memory cobwebs from January), but I have heard/read it from several sources/places/people. I read so widely around the suffrage campaign that it really could have been from any number of places. Sorry! Your research sounds fascinating, though - please keep me posted on how it's going. MJM

  3. Deadly Endings by Raymond Russell is a new novel and chronicle of women’s empowerment over the first half of the twentieth century, with the pace and excitement of a modern day thriller.
    Looking back from London’s Swinging Sixties, a retired couple raise their granddaughters in blissful ignorance of reality. Their secretive and dangerous existence, positions them against the Italian Mafia in Paris and Franco’s Fascists in Barcelona, whose Catholic nuns are stealing babies from impoverished mothers. Cruelly influenced and trained by two world wars with unfinished battles still haunting their lives, how do Sam and Phaedra finally tell the truth to their naïve loved ones, even when their young lives depend on it. They are after all, professional assassins.
    A roller coaster ride covering a period of sixty years around Europe; fused with Edwardian sophistication and historically based atrocities; Raymond Russell´s Deadly Endings keeps the pages turning until the shocking finale.