Suffragette jewelry in the spotlight

Suffragette jewelry in the spotlight

Clothing and jewellery were an important tool for suffragists in the Edwardian period - those fighting for women’s suffrage were often portrayed as belligerent older women who were frumpy and lacking in femininity, and so leaders of the movement encouraged campaigners to wear fashionable clothing and accessories, especially on marches and at political demonstrations. High fashion also translated to items of jewellery using gemstones of suffragette colours purple, white and green - usually amethyst, pearl and peridot or emerald.

Emilline Pankhurst, in her autobiography “My Own Story” attributes the introduction of the suffragette colours of purple, white and green to another Emilline - Emilline Pethick-Lawrence, the founder of the co-founder of “Votes for Women”, the official newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the leading suffrage movement:

“To Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence was primarily due the introduction of the colours, purple, white and green, which the Union now adopted for its own. The colours at once secured a most amazing popular success for, although they were not even thought of until the middle of May, before the month of June arrived they were known throughout the length and breadth of the land.”

The choice of colours was purposeful: purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope. During parades and demonstrations Suffragettes were instructed to wear white with purple and green additions in trimmings, accessories and jewellery. Ahead of ‘Women’s Sunday’ which took place on the 21st June 1908, the 18th June issue of Votes for Women included a piece on what to wear for the march. It stated:

Be guided by the colours in your choice of dress…we have seven hundred banners in purple, white and green. The effect will be very much lost unless the colours are carried out in the dress of every woman in the ranks. White or cream tussore [a type of ‘wild’ silk fabric with an irregular weave which was fashionable at the time] should if possible be the dominant colour, the purple or green should be introduced where other colour is necessary…You may think that this is a small and trivial matter but there is no service that can be considered as small or trivial in this movement. I wish I could impress upon every mind as deeply as I feel myself the importance of popularizing the colours in every way open to us. If every individual in this union would do her part, the colours would become the reigning fashion. And strange as it may seem, nothing would so help to popularize the WSPU…now everyone has simply got to see to it that everywhere our colours may be in evidence.” (Diane Atkinson ed., The Suffragettes in Pictures, p.104).

Or put more succinctly by Emilline Pethick-Lawrence in another article in the official publication:

Purple...stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette...white stands for purity in private and public is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.” (Votes for Women in 1908 cited by David Fairhall, Common Ground, Tauris, 2006 p 31.)

The suffragette movement adopted these colours almost universally and to great effect. Emilline Parkhurst commented in her autobiography that:

“When the moment for starting came our Chelsea procession numbered some seven thousand people, but the dense crowds of by-standers marched with us too, and grew in a countless number as we moved along, so that, instead of one procession we had formed three—the central one being composed almost entirely of women, wearing white dresses and scarfs of purple, white and green, and carrying banners in the same colours.”

Today, suffragette jewellery from the Edwardian era remains highly sought after not only for its beauty but also its historical significance being 100 years since women rightly gained the vote.

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