The other Black Friday where Suffragettes were ‘brutally assaulted

Michelle Keegan learns about 'suffragette' grandmother in 2018

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The term “Black Friday” often conjures up thoughts of bargains, sales, and frantic shoppers piling onto the high street hoping to secure the last half-price air fryer in store. However, there is another, often forgotten Black Friday. More than a century ago on November 18, 1910, occured the now infamous march on Parliament by the Suffragettes.

 

 

In 1910, the Conciliation Bill was being considered by Parliament with political activist and Suffragette movement organiser Emmeline Pankhurst halting protests in anticipation of it becoming law. 

The bill, which had been proposed by MPs from various parties, would have given one million women, mainly those who were wealthy, the right to vote. 

However, it was not the priority of Prime Minister Asquith who instead called an election in a bid to strengthen his government’s majority which in turn would delay the bill’s passing even further. 

Pankhurst and the 300 strong Suffragettes marched on Parliament as tensions reached new heights after news of the election spread. One suffragette, Annie Kenney, described the mood as a “storm-burst” with every woman ready to go to her “death at that moment”. 

Mr Asquith refused to meet with the Suffragette representatives and anticipated subsequent protests. He then brought in 6,000 policemen to deal with the crowd in Westminister.

The Suffragettes were dealt with brutally by the police. Not only were they beaten up and thrown into crowds that further abused the women, but there were even reports of women being sexually assaulted. 

For six long hours on Black Friday, women were battered and kicked, with some saying their breasts were twisted and pinched.  

One Suffragette, quoted on the Museum of London website, recalled: “Several times constables and plain-clothes men who were in the crowds passed their arms round me from the back and clutched hold of my breasts in as public a manner as possible, and men in the crowd followed their example… 

“My skirt was lifted up as high as possible, and the constable attempted to lift me off the ground by raising his knee. This he could not do, so he threw me into the crowd and incited the men to treat me as they wished.” 

The next day, the Daily Mirror ran a front-page story entitled “violent scenes at Westminster, where many suffragettes were arrested while trying to force their way into the House of Commons”. A damning picture of Suffragette Ada Wright cowering beneath a police officer accompanied the headline. 

In total, 118 women were arrested and two women are said to have died from the treatment they received on that riotous day.

Pankhurst’s younger sister, Mary Clarke, was arrested and imprisoned for a month, she later died on her release aged 48.  

Henria Leech Williams also died two months after Black Friday at the age of 43 due to an underlying health condition that was said to have been aggravated by the maltreatment she suffered during the protest. 

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There were different versions of the day from the police, journalists, and the Suffragettes themselves, but the Museum of London notes that the “photographic and physical evidence makes it clear this was a day of violence”. 

Following Black Friday, some Suffragettes escalated their level of protest with window smashing becoming a key tactic employed by the movement by the following year. 

Between 1913 and 1914, more than 300 incidents of arson and bombing were reported in The Suffragette newspaper, the newspaper of the Britsh Women’s Social and Political Union which replaced that of the Vote for Women organisation.

It was not until 1918, eight years after Black Friday, that the Representation of the People Act was passed which allowed women over the age of 30, who met property qualifications, the right to vote. A decade later, the voting age for women was lowered to 21, the same voting age for men at the time. 

 

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