It is a fascinating piece of social history to examine the jewellery that became identified with the suffragettes. After 1900 there was a general movement towards softer, more feminine colours in jewellery. Fancy coloured sapphires were becoming popular, as were peridot and spinel. Diamonds were gaining support and were more available. Art Nouveau was everywhere.
So how did a woman know if a particular brooch, ring, bracelet, necklace or hat pin was feminist or not? Mrs Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper Votes for Women, explained the symbolism of the colours in spring 1908: "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 life; green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring." In other words, the colours stood for freedom and dignity, purity and hope.
Green, white and violet became the popularly recognised colours of the Women's Social and Political Union. Since the suffragette movement slogan was Give Woman the Vote, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst adopted the three colours: Green=Give, White = Woman and Violet = Vote. The WSPU exhorted women to "wear the colours" and show the support for the movement. Had amethysts, pearls and peridot not been popular jewels then, I doubt women would have worn them, just for feminist-political reasons.
Brooch with amethyst, moonstone & chalcedony
Above 1909 bracelet, olive green peridots and purple amethysts
Below Pendant with white enamel, pearl drop, purple and green stones
Below Pendant with white enamel, pearl drop, purple and green stones
Mrs Pethick-Lawrence wrote that “the colours enable us to make that appeal to the eye which is so irresistible. The result of our processions is that this movement becomes identified in the mind of the onlooker with colour, gay sound, movement and beauty." It certainly did, according to David Walters. One Sunday in June 1908, 7 processions from different parts of London marched to Hyde Park with bands and banners; the colours of the movement - purple, white, and green - were in evidence in the favours and dresses of the processionists. Thirty special trains brought up working women from the provinces and the attendance was estimated a certainly 250,000 and probably 500,000+.
An odd bit of fashion history: new laws were introduced in 1908 to limit the size of hat pins. Fearing that suffragettes would use their hat pins as weapons, the new laws specified that the length of hat pin was to be limited to 9”, from end to end. Thus many women were forced to trim down their pins and tone down their hats, to stay within the law.
Did women, who depended on their husband’s generosity in buying jewellery, mention the colours of the women’s movement? They may have simply said “I put aside a beautiful and very delicate bracelet this afternoon, Percy. It will go beautifully with my silk dress”. And did women comment on other women’s political commitments, if they noticed purple, white and green jewellery? Rather it seems that they could wear very fashionable jewellery and quietly make a feminist statement, through the symbolism of their jewel colours, at the same time.
As in any political movement, there were variations. The Women's Freedom League had a banner in green, yellow and white; the Married Women's Association has one in green and white; that of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship is green, red and white; one of the banners of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies is green, gold and white, but another is red and green. Ruby, white and green were the official colours of The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies which made several badges. The NUWSS feared that the militancy of the WSPU (the Pankhurst group whose colours were purple, green and white) would hurt the cause.
The Women's Suffrage Movement: 1866-1928, by Elizabeth Crawford, is excellent on suffragette jewellery whose symbolism is based, not on colours, but on prison related objects eg chains. Holloway Prison brooches and hunger-strike medals apparently became popular after 1909, when women were being tried and gaoled in larger numbers. A green enamelled shamrock pendant was worn by women released from Dublin's prison system.
Holloway Prison Brooch
However some later historians disagree. Kenneth Florey wrote: “There were a number of journals aimed at suffrage sympathisers, including Votes for Women, The Suffragist and The Woman's Citizen that included advertising. No ad for chain or lock suffrage jewellery ever appeared in these papers nor is there any mention of any Secret Code, especially one involving a corruption of the official colours of the movement. Without wide-scale publicity within the movement itself, the symbolism of any alleged suffrage icon would have been obscure to the average woman”.
Great post Hels
I knew a little bit about the symbolism but this has summed it up nicely for me.
Lovely blog. I must pop over to mine when I get a minute and post a piece of jewellery I have that I believe to be a suffragette piece. I have actually handled a prison broach, which could only be worn by someone who was actually imprisoned, but I think it was enamelled. Must dig out the photo.
(And I do find old comments, they are e-mailed to me)
I found it really interesting to read about you on the internet site this evening. I have been searching for information relating to suffragettes for quite some time. In particular I am interesting in locating a place where the suffragette jewellery is sold. I have read about the suffragette movement for quite some time. I am particularly sad as I have a sentimental piece of jewellery - which has disappeared. Do you know anywhere in Australia or outside Australia that would sell this type of jwellery.?
Thanks for this post which I have just discovered. I am in the midst of doing a new collection of my jewelry based on the feminists of different eras and this is great inspiration for me. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Glenda and Shelley,
I love the idea that initials, colours and shapes had specific meanings for women involved in the suffragette movement. This would be true for everything the movement handled eg sashes worn at protest marches, book covers, advertisements, scarves, badges, dinner ware, silk ribbons around hats etc.
But how much more delicate and beautiful in jewellery which Edwardian women would have been wearing, in any case.
I am a ukrainian student and I am writing a report about suffragette.
What do you recomend me to about firstly?
thanks for your note.
I am interstate at a conference just now, but I will respond with good reading suggestions as soon as I fly home.
Firstly my books are all in English; secondly my histories are all about British and Australian women. I hope that is ok.
Atkinson, Diane The Suffragettes In Pictures Sutton Publishing, 1996
Atkinson, Diane Purple, White and Green: Suffragettes in London, 1906-14, Museum of London, 1992.
Banks, Olive Faces of Feminism, St Martin's Press, NY, 1981.
Bullock, Ian et al Sylvia Pankhurst: From Artist to Anti-Fascist, Palgrave Macmillan, 1992
Callen, A Women Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement 1870-1914, Pantheon, NY, 1979
Cherry, D Beyond the Frame: Feminism & Visual Culture, Britain 1850–1900, Routledge, 2000. NB
Condell, D and Liddiard, J Working for Victory: Images of Women in WW1, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987.
Crawford, E Women’s Suffrage Movement: Reference Guide 1866-1918
Crawford, P & Skene, J eds Women and Citizenship: Suffrage Centenary: Studies in Western Australian History, 19, 1999
Dunn, Kate Emmeline Pankhurst & the Suffragettes, Cromwell, 1994
Hattersley, Roy The Edwardians, Little Brown, 2004.
Holton, Sandra Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918, Cambridge UP, 1986
Howe, Geoff Louisa Lawson, Pioneer Of The Suffragette Movement,
Humm, Maggie Modernist Women and Visual Cultures, Rutgers UP, 2003
Kaplan, J and Stowell, S Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes, Cambridge UP, 1995.
Lees, K Votes for Women: the Australian Story, Allen Unwin, 1995
MacKenzie, Midge Shoulder to Shoulder, Alfred A Knopf, 1975.
McQuiston, Liz Suffragettes to She-Devils, Phaidon Press, 1997. Read
Mercer, John The Truth for a Penny: the press and Votes for Women
Mercer, John (2007) "Writing and re-writing suffrage history: Sylvia Pankhurst's The Suffragette", in Women's History Magazine
Oldfield, Audrey Woman Suffrage in Australia: Gift or a Struggle? Cambridge UP, Melbourne, 1992.
Pankhurst, ES Suffragettes: history of the women’s militant suffrage movement 1905-10, Gay & Hancock,.
Parkins, Wendy Fashion and Suffragette Movement in Britain 1908-14,
Pugh, Martin The Suffragettes, Allen Lane, 2001
Scott, Myra How Australia led the way: Dora Meeson Coates and British Suffrage, Comm Office Status of Women, Canberra, 2003
Tickner, Lisa Spectacle of women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14, Chatto & Windus, London, 1987. Excellent reading.
I have added a reference in the post to Suffrage Stories/Collecting Suffrage: Suffragette Jewellery. This post appears in the great blog called Woman and Her Sphere.
Very nice jewelry art.
agreed. Elegant to look at, and powerful in its symbolism.
The blog Woman And Her Sphere has a very interesting post called Collecting Suffrage: The WSPU Holloway Brooch
Hi Hels....I am doing some research on the topic and your post is a great crash course on it!
great to know that blog posts can actually help other people :) Sometimes I fear I write only to express _myself_ outside the confines of the lecture theatre.
The list of references I published above contains some wonderful work done on suffragette fashion, jewellery etc.
To see a very small but beautiful suffragette brooch, created from
amethyst, diamonds and garnet mounted in gold, see
It is dated to c1900. Some suffragettes must have had money!
Your items are beautiful! Great blog!
I am in the midst of doing a new collection of my jewelry based on the feminists of different eras and this is great inspiration for me
Jewellers in Panchkula
Well done. I actually hadn't thought about the feminists of any eras OTHER than the suffragettes.
I follow your blog Art and Architecture mainly and admire your interesting and informed articles.
I am in the process of setting up a blog called The Hipsterette, which I am aiming to launch in March. I am doing my best to make it as educative and entertaining as possible, and doing the right thing in regards to copyright and use of images. I am requesting permission to use the images of suffragette jewellery featured in your blog on February 7 2009 in conjunction with a story about International Women’s Day. I am happy to mention the appropriate sources and thank and acknowledge you for the use of these images.
what a great idea. I hope the project goes very well.
If the object/photo/painting in my blog is more than 100 years old, I assume it is out of copyright and that I don't need consent. However I should have given credit to my source.... sincere apologies.
I love this blog helped me to understand sufferagettes which is my favourite topic. I know it might seem babyish but have you read things a bright girl can do by Sally Nicholls it is an amazing !just read book x anyway thank you so much 😊😊😊😊
My pleasure :) I have written many posts about history, art and architecture since the blog started in 2008, but only two posts have attracted over 100,000 readers - a] Californian bungalows and b] suffragette jewellery. Clearly the suffragette movement still attracts a great deal of fascination a century or more later.
The National Gallery of Victoria has acquired a brooch designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, the first example of suffragette jewellery to enter our collection. As your photo shows, our silver brooch is in the form of the portcullis that symbolises London's House of Commons, with two small chains hanging from the upper corners and a green, white and purple arrow in the centre.
Designed in 1909, the brooch is on Level 2 at NGV International.
I know that portcullis brooch very well, and am delighted the NGV finally has one.
Jewellery Val Lab
jewellery has always been important, but it was even more important in times of special causes. Many pieces of jewellery served a religious purpose, for example. And the celtic knot represents interconnectedness and timelessness. The suffragettes were very clever.
Thanks for sharing.This is nice and helpful post.
While it is not known how many Holloway brooches were issued, there were probably less than 50. They were the WSPU's version of the Victoria Cross. They were proudly worn by their recipients as visible markers of their bravery, commitment and loyalty, a recognisable symbol to inspire others.
The Holloway brooch was an important part of the suffrage campaign strategy to embed themselves into the nation's public consciousness. The designers created a modern, branded political campaign that was very radical for the time.
Weekend Australian 2-3rd May, 2020
during the pandemic, when the galleries are closed, you can see the Holloway Brooch in the National Gallery of Victoria collection on line.
a "modern, branded political campaign" indeed :) Thank you
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I am very pleased people are still reading the post I wrote 13 years ago :) Is your blog interested in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery?
thank you for reading the post. No advertising please.
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good on you for being interested in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery. In its time, this was a very modern political campaign.
Interesting content, I like those Jewellery, I want them too, Where can I buy them?
oh dear plain t-shirts
in the 14 years since I wrote this post, we have had 2 new grandchildren, 4 overseas trips, 3 pandemic lockdowns, 7 history conferences and the beloved black labrador died. Mind you, I also still like those historically fascinating pieces of jewellery.
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Do you have any interest in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery? Do female clients ever mention the suffragette movement?
Love this post! This is a really good blog wish more people would read this, you offer some really good suggestions on small gold hoop earrings Thanks for sharing!
Welcome aboard :) Do you have any professional or academic interest in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery?
thank you for reading the post, but I think you must have responded to the wrong blogger.
You wrote "I value the fact that you wrote this insightful and instructive blog on Suffragette jewelry. This is quite fascinating. These blogs are just the type I like to read. I enjoy reading blogs about spending and fashion". Many people would agree with you :)
Ashley Rolfson and Whitney Rau
thank you for reading the post but no advertising please.
I'm thrilled to see a good photo of the Holloway brooch, and delighted to see the 1970s Radio Times photo of Leonora Cohen, Sylvia Pankhurst and Grace Roe - grandmothers of my 1970s generation of feminists! Brava - the struggle continues...
I too remember the 1963-73 era as the most exciting time in my personal life :) and in the Feminist Generation's achievements :)
But I wonder if this generation would even know that the Holloway brooch was an important part of the early suffrage campaign strategy. When my granddaughter opted to do nursing instead of medicine, on gender lines, I had to agree with you - the struggle continues.
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