Today we're celebrating 100 years since Parliament passed a law which allowed some women to vote for the first time in history.

Assistant Curator Georgina looks at brave women who protested and even died for our vote.


2018 marks 100 years since women received the vote after a long and dangerous campaign.

The Suffrage Movement

We perhaps take it for granted that everyone has the right to vote and make changes to their own country but there was a time when women were ignored. Here we commemorate the work of women to gain the right to vote for future generations. In the nineteenth century it was generally assumed that the women’s place was at home caring for her husband and producing children. The Industrial Revolutions enabled more women to work and to have more of a say in their own lives. It was however believed that woman didn’t need to vote as her husband could do that for her. Now this seems ridiculous, but it was only through the tireless work of these women that we have that right.

Suffragist/Suffragette

There were two wings to the movement; the Suffragists and the Suffragettes. The Suffragists, the earlier organisation, performed peaceful protest, whereas the Suffragettes used stronger tactics. The Women’s Social and Political Union was created by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 and coined the ‘Suffragettes’ by The Daily Mail. Their motto ‘Deeds not Words’ symbolises their ideology.

Suffrage and the Post

Post Offices

The Suffragettes protested against the government and their lack of willingness to give them the vote. The GPO (General Post Office) which was state owned, saw some local Post Office window’s smashed during anti-government attacks. These attacks only increased due to the harsh treatment of Suffragettes in prison.

Destruction of Pillar Boxes

Postcard depicting a Suffragette being kicked away by a pillar box.

Automatic Suffragette Exterminating Pillar-Box (Patent NOT applied for) Postcard

Pillar boxes were also targeted in their campaigns. Emily Wilding Davison, known for having tragically died in a collision with the Kings horse at the Epson Derby, set fire to three pillar boxes in 1911. Emily had been arrested and sent to prison many times, where she took part in hunger strikes. The Suffragettes also poured ink into pillar boxes, damaging the mail inside. This led to inventive designs to prevent this from happening. You can see in the comical postcard above a combination of both tactics being combated by the pillar box booting the Suffragette away.

Human Mail

Image of two Suffragettes who tried to post themselves to No.10 Downing Street.

Express delivery service: Suffragettes conveyed to Prime Minister’s residence as express letters. c1909

In the archive, we have the story of Miss Soloman and Miss McLellan, who posted themselves to the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith on the 23rd of February 1909. At the time the Post Office allowed individuals to be posted by express messenger. They were however not allowed admittance to No. 10 Downing Street and instead the poor telegraph messenger boy A.S. Palmer was in trouble for not acquiring a signature for delivery.

Postcard Propaganda

Two postcards; one depicting a Suffragette in prison and the other a Suffragette being held by a policeman.

‘A Suffragette in Prison’ Postcard and ‘Come Over Here’ Postcard

Postcards were used to support and ridicule the Suffragettes. On the left we have an image of a Suffragette in prison, speaking of women’s liberty. Whereas on the right the Suffragette is depicted as small and insignificant being passed between two large policemen.

Commemorative Stamp Design

The first example of the Suffragettes appearing on stamps came in 1968 when they were part of an anniversary series marking 50 years since the vote. Below I have pulled examples of unadopted designs, those that were produced but not commissioned to be the final stamps. The design by Jeffery Matthews below speaks of what women wanted, to pass their vote. Here a female hand in a delicate glove places her vote into the ballot box.

A stamp design by Jeffery Matthews with a female hand putting a ballot into a box.

Votes for Women, Jeffery Matthews unadopted design for British Anniversaries issue of 1968

David Gentleman produced two designs for the issue; one taking a photo of Emmeline Pankhurst being forcible removed by a policeman and the other looking at women wearing sandwich boards. Here they spell suffrage but Suffragettes used these as a means to spread their message. I especially like this image and the unity of the women.

Emmeline Pankhurst, unadopted design by David Gentleman
Suffrage, unadopted design by David Gentleman

The same image of Mrs Pankhurst being removed by a policeman was used by Clive Abbott in the below design. The extreme facial expression of Mrs Pankhurst only emphasises the brutality the Suffragettes experienced at the hands of the police force.

Unadopted design by Clive Abbott of Emmeline Pankhurst being forcibly removed by a policeman.

Votes of Women, unadopted design by Clive Abbott for British Anniversaries issue of 1968

The final design was produced by Clive Abbot for the British Anniversary issue of 1968. The nine pence issued stamp depicts the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Issued stamp design of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue for the British Anniversaries stamp issue of 1968.

Votes for Women, 9d, British Anniversaries, 1968

The Suffragettes appeared on two more stamp issues before the 100th anniversary. Once in 1999 for the Millennium Series, The Citizens’ Tale depicting a suffragette behind bars and the other of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who was included in the Women of Distinction issue of 2008.

Votes for Women, 19p, Millennium Series The Citizens' Tale, 1999
Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Women of Distinction, 2008

It shouldn’t be just at anniversaries that we remember the women who protested and even died for our vote and I think it’s brilliant that Royal Mail are celebrating with a dedicated stamp issue.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)