My recent document about Victorian Acrostic jewelry brought up a question about Suffragette Jewelry. Reference guides often classify any jewelry set with green, white and violet stones or enamel as “Suffragette” jewelry. This is a lovely story and it falls in line with the fashion of acrostic jewelry. However, just because G, W and V, the initial letters of each gem, can represent the phrase “Give Women Votes”, history does not support the theory.
By the mid 19th century, women’s organizations formed specifically to lobby for the right to vote. In 1897, these disparate groups came together and formed the Women’s Suffrage Society. By 1903, women had achieved very little. Suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst broke away from the WSS and formed the Women’s Social and Political Union.
The WSPU, whose motto was “Deeds Not Words” used militant tactics to fight for women’s rights. Their violent demonstrations often ended in arson, property damage and bloodshed. As documented by Andrew Rosen in his 1974 book "Rise Up, Women!: The Militant Campaign of the Women's Social and Political Union, 1903-1914" British and US press were highly critical of these women who replaced polite petitioning and letter writing with vandalism. They coined the term “suffragette" as a disparaging diminutive meant to trivialize the efforts of these women.
In rallying followers and supporters, the WSPU adopted the colors green (hope), white (purity) and purple (valor). WSPU supporters wore sashes and carried banners in these colors but there is no historical evidence of the colors being adopted as a universal symbol of suffrage.
Some romanticists insist that women wore green, white and violet colored jewelry as a clandestine message to “Give Women Votes.” But “Give Women Votes” was not used as a rallying cry. It implied that women did not deserve to vote on their own merits. The common demand of the suffragists was “Votes for Women.” Suffragists were more likely to sell their own jewelry to finance their politics than they were likely to invest in secret message jewelry.
All this being said, there is such a thing as Suffragette jewelry. In the recent film “Suffragette,” Meryl Streep, portraying Emmeline Pankhurst, proudly wears a Holloway Prison brooch. This brooch is in the form of a fortified fate hung with chains and arrow – all symbols of captivity – was presented to women incarcerated there. Helena Bonham Carter’s character wears all Hunger Strike medal with silver bars documenting dates she was fed by force in while in prison. Carey Mulligan’s Maud is awarded a green white and purple ribbon when she is released from jail for the first time.
In the exception that proves adage, some pieces of jewelry were specifically made and marketed as “Suffragette Jewelry.” London jewelers Mappin & Webb offered five items in “enamels and gems” in their 1908 catalog. While Mappin & Webb was the only company to advertise such pieces, I’m sure that individual dealers produced commission commemorative pieces.
Documented Hunger Strike badges and Holloway Prison brooches are rare and costly. In 2010, Bonham’s Auction in London sold a Holloway brooch for $1500; Lockdale's, another British auction, sold a hunger strike medal for over $12,000 in 2015. If these are out of your budget, Suffrage pins, convention ribbons, banners, badges and ephemera can all be found in the few hundred dollar range.