A Day of Infamy: The Suffragettes and Black Friday 1910
Updated: Apr 21
A notorious incident in the history of the Women’s Suffrage Political Union (WSPU) occurred on November 18, 1910.
There had been hopes that a Conciliation Bill, a private members’ bill that dangled the chance of a limited voting rights for women, would be a step in the right direction for the Suffrage movement. This persuaded the Suffragettes to put a hold on their militant activity until the bill was approved. This meant a cessation of hostilities for several months. The bill was carried by 109 votes. Despite this, it soon became clear to the Suffragettes that the then prime minister, Herbert Asquith, was not going to give the bill any more floor space. Instead, he announced a general election. The Suffragettes realised they had been played for fools and they resumed their campaign.
A protest march was organised, made up of more than 300 Suffragettes. The marchers included Emmeline Pankhurst, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anders on and even Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Up until this point, any Suffragette protesters had been arrested by the police, but not this time. The police instead reacted violently, assaulting more than 200 of the female protesters during the six-hour long march. Many observers gave statements that said the police were brutal towards the women, and one infamous photograph appeared in newspapers the next day showing policemen standing threateningly over a protester called Ada Wright, who it appears they have just assaulted.
The way the women were treated outraged the nation and a public enquiry was called (though rejected by Home Secretary Winston Churchill). Instead, the Conciliation Bill committee investigated the allegations and took statements which revealed that not only had the police been violent towards the women but that they had also taken the opportunity to commit sexual assaults upon some of the protesters. Other statements claimed that the women had been deliberately provoking towards the police.
It was claimed that two Suffragettes died in the following months as a direct result of the treatment they experience at the hands of the police on Black Friday, although no causal link was ever proved. But it was Black Friday that convinced the more militant members of the Suffrage movement that nothing was ever going to change unless they, like the police, upped their game. Believing the government cared more for property than they did about women, they targeted buildings and works of art, such as the Rokeby Venus painting slashed by Mary Richardson, as mentioned by Lisa Brown in Under Cover of Darkness.