Words and Deeds - Birmingham Suffragists and Suffragettes 1832-1918
‘When words needed saying and deeds needed doing...’
Speech given at 1871 suffragist meeting in Birmingham by Eliza Sturge.
In September 1909 Britain was shocked by the news that the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, had been attacked as he left a meeting at Birmingham’s Bingley Hall when, despite a heavy police presence, suffragettes climbed onto a nearby roof and hurled slates down at him.
This was just one of a series of militant acts of defiance in Birmingham and the West Midlands conducted by members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as they demanded votes for women. They set fires in buildings including libraries, smashed windows, planted bombs, vandalised artwork and daubed the windows and walls of Birmingham Cathedral with their slogans. Many of them were imprisoned and Winson Green became the first institution to implement the Government policy of forcibly feeding hunger-striking women.
This direct action is only one part of the women’s suffrage story. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century women from Birmingham and the West Midlands played an important role in a relentless constitutional campaign of rallies, petitions and meetings in which the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), tirelessly led in Birmingham by Catherine Osler, put successive governments under pressure to enfranchise women. For too long the importance of Birmingham and the West Midlands in the story of these women’s suffrage campaigns has been forgotten. Now historian Nicola Gauld tells the enthralling stories of these women who selflessly devoted their lives to winning the right to vote.
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