The Women's suffrage movement in Britain was a broad one, made up of many women and men with differing views, but there was one thing they were united on: the right for women to vote. Jewelry played a big part in the movement, used by supporters to identify themselves and pledge their allegiance to the cause, boldly and proudly. Not only this, but jewelry was also specifically used in the movement to counter assertions that suffragists were 'mannish' or in some way 'unwomanly', with many suffragettes embracing an image of delicate, fashionable, femininity - making the movement more popular.
Enamelled brooch designed and made by the suffragette artist and enamellist Ernestine Mills
The women's suffrage movement really began to pick up pace around 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). It was Britain's main suffragist organization: a democratic group trying to gain the vote for women through peaceful means, primarily through Parliamentary Bills and holding meetings to explain their aims and views.
In 1903, a more radical group that wanted to take more militant action split from the NUWSS and became the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), later known simply as 'The Suffragettes'. This group was led, and its membership and policies tightly controlled, by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters.
Green, White, Violet/Purple
Around 1908, the WSPU decided to take on visual branding, adopting the emblematic color scheme of purple, white, and green to mark support for women's suffrage. These colors were used in their banners, flags, rosettes, badges, and - notably - jewelry. There is some disagreement over who was responsible for selecting these colors: it has been attributed to either Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and prominent WSPU member, who made leaflets, banners, posters, decorations, and logos for the WSPU having trained at the Manchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art, or Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who was the co-editor of Votes for Women and the WSPU treasurer.
A silver and enamel WSPU brooch that was sold to raise funds for the WSPU and was made by Toye and Co. of Clerkenwell Road, London - the firm that made some of the WSPU’s hunger-strike medals
There are several different theories about why these colors were chosen. One is that the colors green, white, and violet (G, W, V) reflect the suffragette's demand of 'Give Women the Vote'. However, their more usual rallying cry was 'Votes for Women', and since these letters don't correspond to the chosen colors, this theory is disputed. Such a subtle codification would also have been at odds with the suffragists' style, with many seemingly preferring to wear their allegiance overtly and proudly.
Suffragette bar brooch with purple, white, and green enamel flag marked 'Votes for Women'
Another possible reason for the selection of the colors, as written by Mrs. Pethick Lawrence in the 1908 Spring issue of Votes for Women, was: 'Purple 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 life… green is the colour of hope.'
An Arts & Crafts style suffragette necklace made by Arthur & Georgie Gasking. The design for this necklace is c.1910, and it was likely either made for the Arts & Crafts Society exhibition that year or equally could have been made as a presentation piece for a leading suffragette that year
Via Tadema Gallery
This may or may not be a piece of genuine suffrage jewelry. Three Graces have listed it as such, saying that this is one of only five pieces in fourteen years that has met their exacting vetting process
Three Graces via Diamonds in the Library
A Suffragette Brooch with amethyst stone and green & white enameling. The seller claims that this is a genuine Suffragette piece, independently verified, with a certificate of authenticity
Though this piece was not worn or owned by a suffragette, the colors are purple, white, and green, and would likely have been chosen in acknowledgment of the cause. The necklace was made by Georgie Gaskin and was commissioned by James Henry Sellers (architect and designer).
It's worth noting, however, that a great deal of Edwardian jewelry that uses the colors green, white, and purple may have no relation to the movement. Popular stones used in jewelry throughout the Edwardian era include amethyst, pearls, diamonds, emeralds, and tourmaline, as well as the newly discovered green demantoid garnet, and peridot, the favorite gemstone of King Edward VII. Purple is a complementary color to pair with green, so a great deal of Edwardian jewelry would likely have incidentally contained the colors green, white, and purple without necessarily relating to women's suffrage.
It's also notable that while so many pieces of green, white, and purple jewelry are labeled as suffrage jewelry, other suffrage groups had their own particular colors that are not given the same importance. For example, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which was the main suffrage society with the most members, used the colors red, white, and green. Other groups like The Women's Freedom League used yellow, green, and white.
National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies pin and badge in red, white, and green
This piece may well be related to the suffrage movement, though it's hard to tell. the word 'hope' is spelled out in diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. While rubies may be too red to reflect the WSPU's colors, they may instead be reflecting the NUWSS colors - the piece is certainly dated around the right time
The Women's Freedom League badge in yellow, green, and white
Genuine Suffrage Jewelry
With so much mislabeling, the best way to determine the authenticity of suffrage jewelry is to look for pieces that actually belonged to suffragettes or members of other suffragist groups, or depict them. There are many such buttons, badges, ribbons, stickpins, hatpins, and commemorative brooches and pendants that are considered true 'Suffrage Jewelry'. Perhaps one of the easiest tells that a piece is not authentic is if it's not dated between 1908 (when WSPU declared their colors), and 1914 (when war broke out).
Circular silver and glass-fronted brooch, containing a portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst suspended from a purple, white and green ribbon, c.1908
This circular brooch contains a photograph of Emily Wilding Davison and belonged to her friend and champion, Mary Leigh. The photo is held in the brooch frame by a card showing Sylvia Pankhurst’s WSPU design, in purple, white and green, of ‘the sower’. Written on it in capital letters, in Mary Leigh’s idiosyncratic style, is ‘LIBERTY. NO SURRENDER. E.W.D.’
A pendant with a portrait miniature of Mrs. Pankhurst, '‘Presented to Mrs. Marie Leigh Drum Major by the N.W.S.P.U. Drum and Fife Band in memory of her courageous fight for woman’s freedom December 1909’, as inscribed on the back. In 1909, Mary Leigh had been forcibly fed while serving sentences in Winson Green and Strangeways prisons. The pendant has three stones set around its edge – one white, one purple, one green. Via womanandhersphere.com
N.W.S.P.U. Speaker badge belonging to suffragette Louisa C. Cullen
WSPU Badges - nla.gov.au
Popular designs for genuine suffrage jewelry include Sylvia Pankhurst's 'Angel of Freedom' design, badges displaying photos of the WSPU leaders, and hatpins in the shape of an arrow to evoke the prison convict's arrow. So feared were some of these hatpins, that a new law was introduced in 1908 to limit the size of them, in case suffragettes were inclined to use them as weapons.
A silver and enamel pendant, bearing the image of the ‘Angel of Freedom’ designed by Sylvia Pankhurst
Although there is no evidence that this piece is at all related to the suffragette movement, it is a gorgeous example of an arrow-shaped pin, as was popularly worn by suffragettes, swathed in a flag of gems
(rubies, emeralds, and rose-cut diamonds, with seed pearl highlights) in the colors of the WSPU
Some of the most obviously authentic pieces of suffrage jewelry were the medals made to celebrate the heroic actions of suffragettes who were imprisoned.
A suffragette prisoner's silver hunger strike medal with purple white and green ribbon, presented to Florence Haig to commemorate her periods of imprisonment and hunger strike between 1908 and 1912
Silver hunger strike medal presented to Leonora Tyson, attached to a small strip of purple, white, and green ribbon with an enamel bar engraved 'fed by force 4/3/12'. At the top of the ribbon is a silver pin inscribed 'For Valour'. Leonora was honorary secretary of the Streatham branch of the WSPU and organizing secretary of the Lambeth branch. She was also a notable fundraiser, and as a half-German bi-lingual she represented the WSPU at the Women's Congress in Hamburg in October 1911. The following year she returned to Germany for a speaking tour on female suffrage
Hunger strike medal presented to Letitia Withall by the WSPU, 1913
'Holloway brooches' were another design specific to the suffragette movement, being rare pieces designed by Sylvia Pankhurst herself and presented to specific suffragettes upon their release from Holloway prison. The design depicts a portcullis (the symbol of the House of Commons) with hanging chains and a broad arrow (the convict symbol), decorated in green, white, and purple for the colors of the WSUP.
A silver Holloway brooch designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, The brooch was awarded by the WSPU to members who served a period of imprisonment for their militant suffragette activity
A Holloway brooch designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and presented to Kate Lilley on her release from Holloway Prison in 1912. Kate's family owned the shoe manufacturing firm Lilley & Skinner, who openly supported the suffragette movement. Kate and her sister Louise founded the Clacton, Essex branch of the WSPU, were both arrested for their militant campaigning, and both endured a period of hunger strike
Louise Cullen’s Holloway Prison brooch, 1908
Designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union', this brooch may have been presented to Rachel de Cadiz - an Irish suffragette
Known Makers & Sellers
That's not to say that the only genuine suffrage jewelry consists only of medals, pins, badges, and ribbons. There are certainly examples of fine jewelry linked to the cause, but the key to finding authentic pieces lies in their providence. Other than pieces owned by known suffragists, there were a number of pieces of jewelry made by known suffragists or public supporters of women's suffrage. One such craftswoman was the enameller Ernestine Mills, who made very fine enamel jewelry to sell at fund-raising suffragette bazaars.
Enameled silver pendant made by Ernestine Mills to commemorate the release from Holloway prison of Louise Mary Eates, Secretary of Kensington WSPU, one of the WSPU's most active branches. The pendant represents the winged figure of Hope singing outside the prison bars, attached to a chain with stones of purple, white, and green. Louise Eates was imprisoned for one month. She was honorary secretary of the Investigation Committee of the Women's Industrial Council where she helped to produce reports on women's trades and was initially encouraged to become a suffragette by her husband
A suffragette pendant by Ernestine Mills. As a known suffragette, the choice of colors strongly suggests this piece's relationship to the Suffragette Movement. Marked 'EM' and dated 1909
Via Tadema Gallery
A silver and enamel pendant made for Margaret Murphy by Ernestine Mills, depicting a white lily with green leaves on a purple enamel ground (WSPU colors). Engraved 'Holloway Prison No. 15474, Maggie Murphy, 2 months hard Labour, E.4 Cell.12., Hunger Strike 16th April 1912, Forcibly Fed', c.1912
Enamelled Brooch designed and made by Ernestine Mills for a supporter of the Women's Freedom League. Inscribed 'Votes for Women', the brooch is in the WFL colors of green, white, and gold. Possibly produced by Mills for sale in a WFL fundraising bazaar or as a private commission
This painted enamel pendant is a badge commissioned from Ernestine Mills by Soroptimist International of London Mayfair, a volunteer organization for women who work for peace and to improve the lives of women and girls, commemorating the names of the club's presidents. Mills was a member, as were several other suffragists and suffragettes, some of whom were even president
In 1908, Mappin and Webb, the London jewelers, issued a Christmas catalog, featuring a double-page spread of suffragette jewelry in enamel and gems — brooches and pendants set in gold with emeralds, pearls, and amethysts and costing between 2 and 6 pounds. This would have been beyond the price range of many suffragists, but not the wealthier upper-class suffragists.
Mappin & Webb Christmas catalog suffragette jewelry, 1908
Mappin & Webb Suffragette Brooch
Mappin and Webb were not the only London company to openly support the women's suffrage movement. On 15 March 1909, Selfridge's opened its glamorous, purpose-built store in Oxford Street and regularly advertised in Votes for Women, designing clothes for suffragettes to wear at their demonstrations. Vast numbers of women would turn out for these demonstrations dressed in green, white, and purple in the latest fashions, decked in jewelry of the same colors, creating a tricolor tide that swept the streets of London.
Yet again, this story proves the powerful stories held within every piece of antique jewelry and pronounces the power of jewelry to unite, to propel a movement forward, to empower women, and to pronounce openly and boldly the passions of its wearers.