Beware! A Warning to Suffragists

Don’t earn your living –
If you can,
Have it earned for you
By a man.
Then sit at home
From morn till night,
And cook and cook
With all your might

It may be slow –
But you can say,
“It’s just as slow
In Holloway.”

Above are the final words of the pamphlet Beware! A Warning to Suffragists, a modern copy of which is held by the Working Class Movement Library. The author was Cicely Hamilton, who wrote the pamphlet sometime before 1909. Hamilton’s satirical poem mocking the opponents of female suffrage is accompanied by cartoons drawn by three artists involved with the Artists Suffrage League, a group who produced designs for banners, posters and postcards to be used in the demand for votes for women. The artists who produced the cartoons for Beware were Mary Lowndes who was a noted stained-glass designer and Dora Meeson Coates, a painter of portraits, landscapes and flowers. Less is known about the third artist, C. Hedley-Charlton, who produced the front cover image (above) and the one below. Even Lisa Tickner’s seminal work on the imagery of the suffragette campaign contains scant information.

I especially like the above Hedley-Charlton cartoon, because it chimes well with the idea of unlocking ideas and rights. The image of the chained suffragist being watched closely by the key wielding guard is a striking visual representation of the State’s refusal to allow women to vote. The suffragettes well understood how powerful images were in promoting their cause. In addition to the Artists Suffrage League there was also the Suffrage Atelier. According to Tickner while the former was an ad hoc organisation formed of trained fine artists the Atelier was a larger arts and crafts-focused society working completely towards the enfranchisement of women.

There are some amazing examples of both groups’ work across the collections of the Working Class Movement Library and People’s History Museum (PHM). These come in the form of postcards, posters and banners, and I hope to do some more about these over the coming weeks and months. Below is a poster held by PHM and designed by Hope Joseph for the Suffrage Atelier in 1912. The man is H.H. Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister who in 1912 had opposed a Conciliation Bill, which would have given some women the vote. This was a u-turn on an earlier position. Joseph’s meaning was clear – while Asquith appeared or promised to do one thing, he actually did another.

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