London celebrates the centenary of suffrage

Lewisham born Rosa May Billinghurst was a tireless campaigner for the Suffrage movement. Image: CC LSE Library Flickr

Across the country communities are celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage.

In 1918  women over thirty were given the right to vote for the first time in British history.

This momentous victory was only achieved through the courage and sacrifice of a group of women known as the Suffragettes.

Suffrage in South East London

South East London played a pivotal role in this movement and to commemorate this, Lewisham Library are exhibiting a specially curated collection, focusing on leading figures from the area.

Local Studies Librarian Julie Robinson explained that the aim of the exhibition was to highlight the very active role women in Lewisham and Deptford played in the Suffrage campaign.


Rosa May Billinghurst

Rosa May Billinghurst was born in Lewisham and lived in Blackheath.

As a child she survived polio which left her unable to walk; as an adult she used a modified tricycle as a wheelchair.

However, her disabilities didn’t stop her from becoming a militant campaigner for the Suffragettes.

In 1907 she became a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), later founding the Greenwich branch of the WSPU.

Black Friday

On 18th November 1910, 300 women marched to the Houses of Parliament a part of their campaign for votes for women.

The day became known as Black Friday due to the violence inflicted on the protestors.

Women were assaulted both physically and sexually by the police and male by bystanders.


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During the demonstrations Billinghurst would place her crutches on both sides of her tricycle and would charge any opposition.

However she was not immune from the violence meted out on the Suffragettes that day.

Police reportedly exploited her disability by letting the air out of her wheelchair tyres, leaving her stranded within the hostile protests.

St Catherine’s Church Fire

In May 1913 St Catherine’s Church, Hatcham, New Cross was almost completely destroyed by fire.

At the time it was rumoured to be caused by the hand of the Suffragettes, who were using arson as a weapon in their campaigns.

While no one was ever convicted of causing the blaze, investigators found a copy of the Suffragette newspaper and a box of matches in the church’s organ.


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Centenary Celebrations throughout London

It’s not just in Lewisham that Londoners are remembering the Suffragettes this year. 

Throughout the capital celebrations are being held to commemorate the centenary of suffrage.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Votes for Women 

27 January – 13 May, National Portrait Gallery

Portraits in this display represent some of the key figures involved in the struggle for political representation.  The display includes paintings, works on paper and photographs representing key figures in the campaign for women’s suffrage, both for and against, from the mid-nineteenth century to the years after the vote was won.

Henry Fawcett; Dame Millicent Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown 1872. NPG 1603 Image: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Votes For Women

2 February – 6 January 2019, Museum of London

Dedicated to those who campaigned tirelessly for over 50 years to achieve votes for women, the exhibition features iconic objects from the Museum’s vast Suffragette collection, including Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike medal. At the heart of the display is a powerful, newly commissioned film that reflects on the contemporary relevance of the militant campaign that continues to inspire, shock and divide opinion.

Making her Mark

6 February – 19 May, Hackney Museum

Discover the inspiring stories of women who made a difference in the borough of Hackney and beyond, across issues ranging from education, workers’ rights, and healthcare to domestic violence, the peace movement, and police relations.

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Suffrage, cinema and beyond

18 – 24 April, Barbican Centre

A century after the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which first gave (some) women the right to vote in the UK, these films look at women’s rebellious and often dangerous efforts to gain equality, as captured in selected cinematic journeys from around the world.

Women and the Hall

Until 26 April, Royal Albert Hall

Women and the Hall celebrates the women who formed the Royal Albert Hall’s history and were instrumental in the fight for women’s suffrage, and provides a platform for the women who are shaping our future, through a season of talks, film screenings and performances.

Gillian Wearing’s Millicent Fawcett statue

April, Parliament Square

Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing is the first female artist to create a statue for Parliament Square, London. The sculpture of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett will be unveiled in April.

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The Women’s Hall

29 May – 20 October, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

The Women’s Hall exhibition will evoke the interior of the original Women’s Hall. Visitors will be able to learn about the ELFS and the First World War in the East End, view original materials, handle replicas, and attend events and workshops.


10 June; 14-18 NOW

Thousands of women and girls from across the UK will walk together in public processions on Sunday 10 June, forming a living portrait of women in the 21st century and a visual expression of equality, strength and cultural representation. PROCESSIONS celebrates the fight for suffrage and expresses what it means to be a woman today.

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Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

27 June – 6 October, Houses of Parliament

Throughout the exhibition, rare and previously unseen historic objects, pictures and archives from the Parliamentary collections and elsewhere will be on show. Together with immersive and interactive technologies, the exhibition will tell the story of women in Parliament, the campaigning, the protests and the achievements. It will also examine where we are today and how you can make change happen.


1 – 22 September, Old Vic Theatre

Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar with original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, Sylvia is a modern musical celebrating the life of Sylvia Pankhurst, her pivotal role in the campaign for women’s rights and the price of the passion and politics that tore her family apart.

First Among Equals

Until 13 January 2019, Foundling Museum

Remarkable women who have shaped contemporary British society choose objects that speak to them from the Museum’s Collection. Contributors, who have all achieved firsts within their respective fields, include: Maria Balshaw (first female Director of Tate); Moira Cameron (first female ‘Beefeater’, Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London); Baroness Hale of Richmond (first female President of the Supreme Court); Francesca Hayward (first black female Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet); Carris Jones (first female chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral); Joanne Moore (first female tailor to have a men’s tailoring business on Saville Row); and Frances O’Grady (first female General Secretary of the TUC).

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East End Suffragettes: the photography of Norah Smyth

26 October – 26 January 2019, Four Corners Gallery

A unique exhibition of Norah Smyth’s photographs which provide an intimate documentation of the ELFS’ activities, accompanied by gallery talks and local history walks that explore Norah’s story and the work of the East End suffragettes in more depth.


There are also a range of talks on at The British Library and the LSE.


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