What was the Suffragette Movement?
The fight to win women the vote in the United Kingdom began when the first petition for universal suffrage was submitted to parliament. Although these early activists worked within the confines of the law, and had the support of 73 of the 269 members of Parliament, the bill was defeated, and in the wake of this defeat a wave of new womens suffrage groups were formed.
Many of these groups continued to work through legal means, building support for their cause and attempting to apply pressure from within the system, however this alone was not sufficient to achieve their central goal. Seeking to draw attention to their cause many began advocating a more militant approach.
The Suffragettes, as they became called, adopted the motto “Deeds not Words” and began engaging in illegal tactics. Their civil disobedience was targeted to cause maximum inconvenience to the government with the goal of forcing them to pay attention to an issue that many in power sought to dismiss.
Suffragettes chained themselves to railings and disrupted public meetings to make themselves heard. Their bravery cannot be overstated, as many were arrested and endured appalling treatment at the hands of the police force as a result. Emmeline Pankhurst, arguably the most influential and widely known suffragette, was arrested on 11 separate occasions.
The Suffragettes ceased their actions with the outbreak of war in 1914. When the First World War ended in 1918 some women were given voting rights, however it took a further decade before the vote was given to all women over the age of 21.
What is Suffragette Jewellery?
A large part of the way in which the government sought to discredit and dismiss the suffragette movement was by ridiculing those women involved. Newspapers portrayed them as masculine caricatures, devoid of the feminine qualities valued by the society of the day, or as shrieking, deranged madwomen consumed by emotion.
To counter this propaganda the movement resolved to present themselves as fashionable individuals, exemplifying the most positive feminine traits. To this end they adopted colours representing the ideals they hoped to exemplify; purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope.
The colours also stood for the overall goal of the movement; green for give, white for women, and violet for votes.
Ribbons bearing these colours were sold to allow individuals to declare their support for the movement, and they proved incredibly popular. As the momentum behind the Suffragette movement grew the Arts and Crafts movement was also reaching its zenith, and jewellers began to incorporate these colours, and their underlying meaning, into pieces of fine jewellery.
Purple amethysts, white diamonds, pearls or opals, and green peridots or even emeralds were crafted in high quality gold, using all the skills of the jewellers of the age. These pieces took a wide variety of forms, from pendants and bracelets to rings and earrings.
Suffragette jewellery was an extension of the ideals which the movement wished to embody. Each piece was unmistakably feminine, finely crafted from precious materials, undermining the idea that to be a suffragette was to reject one’s own identity as a woman. The advent of stronger, lower carat gold allowed jewellers to craft much more delicate metalwork than the earlier, softer gold alloys could hold. The new forms and styles of the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the prevalent styles of Edwardian Jewellery as a whole, made these pieces extremely popular, and this remains the case to this day.
At Laurelle Antique Jewellery we have spent many years gathering fine pieces of antique suffragette jewellery. You can view our full collection of pieces here.