This Day is Resistance History: Women’s Suffrage Movement does direct action at National Gallery in London in 1914
On this day ninety-nine years ago, a group of women suffragettes in London engaged in an action at the National Gallery in London in order to push for their demand for the right to vote.
Mary Richardson, a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a group which had organized and carried out numerous actions in the struggle for suffrage beginning in 1903. Members of the WSPU had been jailed for several acts, involving civil disobedience and property destruction.
In 1913, WSPU member, Emily Davison, had run out onto a horse race track, where the King’s horse was competing, to protest the English government’s failure to grant women the right to vote. Emily ended up being trampled by a horse and die.
The death of Emily Davis raised the stakes for members of the WSPU and women like Mary Richardson decided to raise the cost of the struggle against the British government.
On March 10, 1914, Richardson entered the National Gallery in London and slashed a famous painting known as the Rokeby Venus. Richardson was attacked by some tourists who were in the gallery and then by London police. Richardson was then arrested and tried for property destruction.
At her trial, Richardson stated:
I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let everyone remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.
Richard spent some time in jail for this action, but it did not deter her participation in future action for women’s suffrage. Richardson and other women were arrested again for more acts at the National Gallery.
Because of these actions and many more like them, the Women’s Suffrage Movement forced the British government to grant women the right to vote in 1928.
In 2003, it was discovered that the British government had engaged in espionage against the suffragettes, particularly the WSPU. You can see the archived documents, showing that the suffragettes were scene by the British government to be a threat in the early part of the 20th century.
On this day, we honor women like Mary Richardson who had the courage to take risks and put their own safety on the line for greater freedom and equality. These brave women demonstrate that justice is never a gift and must be demanded and fought for, no matter what the cost.