This is my last full week as Curator of Photographs for the Royal Pavilion and Museums. As such, it’s great that I can see it out by giving a paper at today’s Picture This conference on the most exciting acquisition I have worked with over the last few years. It’s not a photograph at all, but a postcard. Traditionally we’ve often collected postcards for the images they bear. But this postcard provides an insight into the struggle for women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century, and the men who were prepared to use violence to stop them.
The picture side shows four young suffragettes standing before the Houses of Parliament. Bearing flyers marked ‘Votes for Women’, their cause is described by seven lines of rather twee verse:
This is “THE HOUSE” that man built,
And these are the Suffragettes of note
Determined to fight for their right to vote;
For they mean to be, each one an M.P.
And they’ll keep their vow some fine day you’ll see
For the Suffragette is determined to get
Into, “THE HOUSE” that man built.’
By contrast, the handwritten message on the other side bears a more violent intent. Written by an anonymous local resident, it was intended for a group of men attached to HMS Hindustan, a battleship that was docked at Portsmouth for a refit. Posted on the evening of 27 April 1909, the message reads:
‘Gentlemen. A meeting will be held in the Dome, at Bton on Wednesday next by Mrs Crissy Pankhurst. We hope to see a big audience of men to make things a bit livly [sic]. Please bring a weapon to defend yourselves with as the ladies use Dog whips. I am yours truly the secretary to the suffragetts [sic]. Doors open at 7.30’.
Fortunately, the violence planned by this man did not come to pass. Christabel Pankhurst, the leading suffragette and target of this plot, did not appear at Brighton Dome on the night in question. Indeed, there is no evidence that any such event was planned. The writer appears to have been confused by the performance of a pro-suffrage play in the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion on 5 May. Entitled, ‘Man and Woman’ the performance was arranged by the Brighton and Hove Women’s Franchise Society. Described by the Brighton Herald as ‘suffragists rather than suffragettes’ this was a more moderate organisation than Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union.
In its review of the play, the Sussex Daily News commented that,’the most adverse opponent of extending the franchise to women, and even the misogynist, cannot help but admire the placid and ladylike manner in which the views of the suffragette are advocated’.
It is hard to imagine that the sender of this postcard would have been persuaded by such arguments.
Kevin Bacon, Curator of Photographs