I spent this evening at a quiet but moving protest outside parliament. It was called by Climate Rush, to commemorate the centenary of the suffragettes’ “Black Friday”, when a delegation of some 300 women went to parliament to demand a debate on the Conciliation Bill, which would have given a limited number of women the vote.
Two hundred of them were arrested, by a regiment of 6,000 police, and as we heard in some of the contemporary accounts last night, they were handled violently and abusively. Two died soon after, deaths that were attributed at least in part to their treatment on that day.*
We assembled on College Green, some 300-strong (the police contingent was much in evidence – must have been at least 150-strong), heard accounts from suffragettes of Black Friday, and a speech from Caroline Lucas MP, the Green Party leader. She told us that today there’d been a hearing on climate change attended by 12 – TWELVE – MPs, illustrating the importance of climate campaigning, given the urgency of the issue.
Wearing sashes reading “Well behaved women rarely make history”, carrying candles, we processed around Parliament Square. I walked with Clementine, aged three-AND-three-quarters, almost certainly the youngest protester – there were women (and a few men) of all ages.
Stopping to chant “Deeds not words” at the parliament’s gates (the WSPU slogan that on climate change – and indeed the position of women – still has powerful resonance), we finished by laying a wreath in memory of the women who suffered and died as a result of Black Friday.
I’ve posted on YouTube a short recording of part of Caroline Lucas’s speech (no, the evening wasn’t really this psychedelic – something went a little wrong with the video technology).
* The two women who died soon after the protest, having been mistreated physically on it, were Mary Clarke and Henria Williams.
Henria Williams left an account of her experience on Black Friday: “One policeman after knocking me about for a considerable time, finally took hold of me with his great strong hand like iron just over my heart. He hurt me so much that at first I had not the voice power to tell him what he was doing. But I knew that unless I made a strong effort to do so he would kill me. So collecting all the power of my being, I commanded him to take his hand off my heart . . . Yet that policeman would not arrest me and he was the third or fourth who had knocked me about.”
Mary was the youngest Pankhurst sister, and after an unhappy marriage she left her husband and by March 1907 she was appointed a WSPU ORGANIZER. In 1909 a prison sentence overlapped with that of Lady Constance Lytton, who describes her as “exceptionally gentle and courteous in her manner, but her outward calm nevertheless suggested a reserve of inward force”. She took part in the “Black Friday” deputation and was then arrested for breaking windows at the protest meeting. She was sentenced, for the third time, to a month’s imprisonment, and died a few days after her release, on Christmas Day. Her Votes For Women obituary described her as “the first woman martyr who has gone to death for this cause”.
(Source: The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928)