Women are in so many respects above the law, so why shouldn’t suffragettes – long-dead female terrorists who delayed female emancipation – be pardoned? A piece by Valentine Low in today’s Times, emphases ours (the paper uses the word ‘suffragists’ in its headline, but the article is about the suffragettes):
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, has said that she will look into whether suffragettes can be pardoned for criminal acts.
A campaign aligned with the centenary of women securing the right to vote is being supported by figures including Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader.
Jeremy Corbyn said that suffragettes with criminal records would be pardoned under a Labour government. The party would also give an official apology for the miscarriages of justice and persecution suffered by the campaigners, he said.
Nearly 1,000 women were arrested and many were imprisoned in the fight to deliver the Representation of the People Act. Given royal assent 100 years ago today, the law extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met certain conditions.
Thousands of gay and bisexual men were posthumously pardoned last year under Turing’s Law but unlike many suffragettes their offences have now been abolished.
Ms Rudd said that she would look at individual requests for pardons but that they may be difficult to grant for violent crimes or arson.
“I’ve seen this campaign and can completely understand where it’s coming from [because of] the extraordinary pain and violence these women went through to deliver this vote,” she told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. “I will take a look at it but I must be frank: it’s complicated.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which is leading the campaign for pardons, said that this would be a “fitting tribute”.
Mr Corbyn told his shadow cabinet, which was meeting at the Museum of London where an exhibition is marking the centenary, that the country must recognise the “enormous contribution and sacrifice” made by the campaigners.
“Many of those women were treated appallingly by society and the state. Convictions of suffragettes were politically motivated and bore no relation to the acts committed. Some were severely mistreated and force-fed in prison post-conviction so a pardon could mean something to their families.”
A lantern parade and a life-size display of key members of the suffrage movement are among events in a year-long programme [J4MB emphasis] launched by Theresa May today.
Events include Deeds Not Words, a lantern parade organised by Bristol Women’s Voice, and the opening of Making Her Mark at Hackney Museum, east London. Life-size images of key figures from the suffrage movement will be shown in Trafalgar Square.
Guides in Wales can earn a centenary badge designed with the help of Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of the British suffragette leader, Emmeline.
The Museum of London exhibition includes the scrapbook of the actress and prominent suffragette Kitty Marion — sometimes called Edwardian England’s most dangerous woman — who was convicted of setting fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park racecourse in Surrey. The book, which has never been displayed before, includes newspaper clippings suggesting that she carried out more arson attacks.
A letter from prison from another suffragette, Winifred Rix, to her 12-year-old daughter, Frances, apologises for missing her birthday party. “How lovely about the party. I am longing to hear all about it. You will write & tell me all about it presently won’t you? I shall think very much about you on the day; in your pretty little frock.”
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