February 6th marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which was a milestone in women’s history. It allowed women over 30 (and who owned property) to legally vote in the UK for the first time in history. The Act was the first breakthrough for the suffrage movement.
Of course, it was only the beginning, as it largely excluded women of less fortunate backgrounds. It would also be another 10 years before women were granted equal voting rights with men in the UK. Nevertheless, the 1918 Act took decades of ceaseless campaigning by inspirational women, who achieved their goal right at the end of WWI.
Votes for Women sash, on loan from Worthing Museum and Art Gallery
This sash, on loan from Worthing Museum, is on display in our ‘Vote! Littlehampton and the suffragette’ exhibition and it is a wonderful example of a protest tool that would have be worn to demonstrations and marches. The Museum of London reports that a ‘Votes for Women’ sash was first seen at the Women’s Sunday demonstration held in Hyde Park, London, on 21st June 1908.
The familar design of the ‘Votes for Women’ sash was created by the Women’s Social and Political Union to demonstrate their support for a woman’s right to vote. It is said that Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter, Sylvia, designed many of the types of accessories that adorned the suffragettes. The classic colours of green, white, and purple, all have different meanings. Green is for courage, white for purity, and purple for hope.
The tricolours helped to distinguish these women from the rest of the public, and it was a fantastic marketing tool that encouraged others to join. Even major textile and clothing manufacturers made various items in these colours and fashionable shops stocked tricolour items. This ultimately helped to make the fight for women’s rights a mainstream and more acceptable pursuit.
You can see the sash on display, and find out more about local suffragettes, in our Community Gallery until 2nd March.