Selling Suffrage

September 20, 2018




Historically, colour has been used to provide instant visual recognition and The Suffrage Movement like many others, is littered with colours and symbols which became clear markers of identification, differentiation and selling 'Suffrage'. Notable among the various colour combinations was  the differentiation between the suffragists and the suffragettes (and indeed the many other sides of the cause). The suffragists believed in more peaceful campaigning, whereas the suffragettes believed in direct action (increasingly violent and militant). The suffragists was a national organisation, the suffragettes was a smaller organisation with 2000 members at its peak in 1914. The suffragists allowed men to join, the suffragettes did not. 


The largest suffrage society, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies colours were red, green and white. Additional suffrage colours included those for the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL colours of pink and green) and the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (Black). However, it is the The WSPU colours of green (Give) white (Women) purple (Votes) which are the most known.


Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, wrote, "Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity...white stands for purity in private and public is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring."

From the beginning, the WSPU were proactive in marketing their image to the general public. They sold merchandise in these striking colours to advertise their cause of women's suffrage and fundraise. 




The Suffrage 'Uniform' looked something like this circa 1908


The 'Suffragette Look' as worn by Norah Balls. The suffragette uniform was introduced in 1908. During the winter months members of the WSPU were required to wear 'full dress uniform' of a ' white frock with regalia and colours' to all indoor meetings and breakfast receptions. During the summer months this uniform was also worn to all outdoor processions and rallies.  


Artist/Photographer/Maker Women's Social and Political Union



Or this Circa 1912






The suffragette Uniform was more often, than not, complimented by accessories such as those indicated below (The medal; Scarf similar to the one Emily Wilding Davison tried to Pin to the Kings Horse and the rosette)



The WSPU encouraged members to wear purple, white and green at all times, particularly when attending large demonstrations. The pictures here are drawn from the biggest collection of artefacts and objects of the British militant suffragette movement, which is held by the Museum of London.


Some Examples of Suffrage Products 


Panko -  or, Votes for women : the great card game ; suffragists v. anti-suffragists. [Circa 1910]