07 February 2009

The Symbolism of Suffragette Jewellery

Fashion is always a statement of some sort but never was it as pol­it­ical a statement as it was for the suffragettes! Suffragettes liked to be depicted as femin­ine, in soft blouses and with their hair pinned up softly, to counter the stere­o­types put for­ward by opponents that they were mannish or shrieking. Every suffrage organ­isation seems to have dev­eloped a close relation­ship with a partic­ular West End department store in London which outfitted them approp­riately. I looked at this connection in my post on Selfridges suffragettes and fashion.

Suffragettes colours

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

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+.
1908 demonstration, Hyde Park. Note the white dresses with purple/green sashes

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”.


David Thompson said...

Great post Hels
I knew a little bit about the symbolism but this has summed it up nicely for me.

Linda said...


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)



Hels said...

From Shelley...

Dear Helen

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.?

Glenda of Dax Designs said...

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.

Hels said...

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.

alyona.trekhleb said...

I am a ukrainian student and I am writing a report about suffragette.
What do you recomend me to about firstly?

Hels said...

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.

Hels said...

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.

Hels said...

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.

outdoor living direct said...

Very nice jewelry art.

Hels said...

outdoor living

agreed. Elegant to look at, and powerful in its symbolism.

Hels said...

The blog Woman And Her Sphere has a very interesting post called Collecting Suffrage: The WSPU Holloway Brooch


Bella Neyman said...

Hi Hels....I am doing some research on the topic and your post is a great crash course on it!

Hels said...


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.

Hels said...

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!

Unknown said...

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

Hels said...


Well done. I actually hadn't thought about the feminists of any eras OTHER than the suffragettes.

Inese said...

Dear Helen

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.


Hels said...


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.

Unknown said...

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 😊😊😊😊

Hels said...


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.

NGV said...

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.

Hels said...

Many thanks.

I know that portcullis brooch very well, and am delighted the NGV finally has one.

Hels said...

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.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing.This is nice and helpful post.

Singapore Brooches

Bronwyn Watson said...

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.

Bronwyn Watson
Weekend Australian 2-3rd May, 2020

Hels said...

Singapore Brooches

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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Hels said...


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?

Md.Khorshed Alam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

Md.Khorshed Alam

thank you for reading the post. No advertising please.

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Hels said...


good on you for being interested in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery. In its time, this was a very modern political campaign.

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Hels said...

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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Hels said...


Do you have any interest in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery? Do female clients ever mention the suffragette movement?

Ayleen Bailee said...

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Hels said...


Welcome aboard :) Do you have any professional or academic interest in the symbolism of suffragette jewellery?

Abigale Huels said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

Abigale Huels

thank you for reading the post, but I think you must have responded to the wrong blogger.

Hels said...

Jennyfer Kreiger

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 :)

Ashlee Rolfson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Whitney Rau said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

Ashley Rolfson and Whitney Rau

thank you for reading the post but no advertising please.

Linda Y said...

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...

Hels said...

Linda Y

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.

Jennifer Walsh said...

Fascinating read on the symbolism of suffragette jewellery! It's incredible how accessories can carry such powerful messages. By the way, if you're a pet owner like me, don't forget to check out Petco for all your pet needs. And with the $10 petco coupon, you can save on your furry friends' essentials. Happy shopping and empowering jewelry choices!

Alan Beckett said...

Its primary purpose was to demonstrate its wearer's allegiance to the cause of women's suffrage in the UK. The colours of the Women's Suffragette Movement carried a special meaning.

Student, for Helen said...

A very special meaning.
Helen will return to look after the blog tomorrow, but in the meantime can I suggest reading the book Modernist Women and Visual Cultures, by Humm.

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Hels said...


where would you say your interest in suffragette jewellery came from? Is there any call for it these days?

Melbourne Fashion product online said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

Melbourne Fashion

thank you for reading the post. No advertising please.
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Eddie Chege said...

This blog post on whether fruit cake is just for the holidays is thought-provoking! It's interesting to explore culinary traditions throughout the year.

Hels said...


welcome aboard, but fruit cake and suffragette jewellery?