Today, 6 February 2018, marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the UK. On this day, we are honouring suffragettes in Marble Arch 100 years on from their triumphant, turbulent and entirely brave campaign to look out for the future of all women. This is second in our ‘Marvellous Matriarchs of Marble Arch’ series celebrating the women that have made the Marble Arch area what it is today.
As an easily accessible national monument, Marble Arch has a history of hosting crowds whether it be for royal processions, movements or marches. Due to its symbolism of power and achievement, many influential powerful women have passed through the Arch, such as Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II during their coronation processions or Queen Victoria on her marriage procession with Prince Albert.
However, today we are celebrating the thousands of women that marched through Marble Arch for the suffragette movement, as well as the many pioneering women that have graced and forever impacted the Marble Arch area for the better to commemorate 100 years of phenomenal achievements.
In 1908, ten years before women in Britain achieved the right to vote, thousands of suffragettes marched through Marble Arch on 21 June to meet in Hyde Park for a ‘Votes for Women’ demonstration. The publication ‘Votes for Women’ by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence (below), recalls the festivities of the day, “Long after the meetings had commenced, indeed even after four o’clock, the crowds were still pouring into the Park by every gate, but particularly by Hyde Park Corner and the Marble Arch. […] Between one o’clock and four probably 200,000 entered by this gate alone! At the Marble Arch the same ceaseless stream of humanity rolled inwards towards the ring of platforms.”
Just a few days later on 25 June 1908, more women gathered at Marble Arch, as recounted in ‘Votes for Women’, from “Leicester and Loughborough, Rugby, Huddersfield, and some from Chelmsford, Romford, and Ipswich, Sheffield was also well represented. […] and The ‘Lanchashire Lasses’.”
The very next year on 16 April 1909 Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, a treasurer for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), was released from prison following her arrest for publishing ‘Votes for Women’. To celebrate her release, suffragettes from around the country marched from Marble Arch to Aldwych Theatre where Pethick Lawrence was due to speak. Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the most renowned campaigners for the movement, attended the march. She recalls the day in ‘The Suffragette: The History of the Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement’ stating, “A great procession was formed in her honour and marched from the Marble Arch […]. What a day it was to welcome anyone from prison! The trees were just bursting into leaf, and the brilliant April sunshine glistened on the silver armour of Elsie Howey, who represented Joan of Arc[…]. Then came women and girls with flowers and banners, and Mrs. Lawrence’s own carriage covered with flags, and everywhere were the purple-white-and-green colours.”
On 1 March 1912, about 150 suffragettes congregated and marched through the West End, smashing in shops windows in order to raise attention and have their voices heard. One of the women there, Victoria Lidiard, states, “We started at the Marble Arch and… were stationed right down from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road – and then bang went all the windows.” (BBC, 2012).
We are proud that Marble Arch has been a landmark by which to congregate for rightful causes and to bring people together – especially the women’s suffrage movement! Here’s to the women that campaigned, battled and marched for our rights. Happy centenary!