Women’s Sunday: Hyde Park 1908

By late April of 1908, Women’s Social and Political Unions across Britain were deeply occupied in the preparation for a mass meeting that would take place in London. On Sunday 21st June 1908, in the picturesque setting of Hyde Park London, the Women’s Social and Political Union organised Britain’s first major political rally of gargantuan size. The mammoth task to construct this unparalleled event was led by Emmeline and Fredrick Pethick-Lawrence who had previously started a publication in 1907 entitled “Votes for Women” This mass demonstration was based upon the model of demonstration from 1867. 

The demonstration known as “Women’s Sunday” attracted vast amounts of participants with an estimated figure between 300,000 and 500,000 in attendance[1]. The monster demonstration was a response by the Women’s Social and Political Union to a request by the Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith. Asquith, who had strongly opposed the right of enfranchisement for women[2], challenged women to show him the extent of support in which the campaign for women’s votes could achieve[3]. The W.S.P.U organised specially charted trains to transport supporters from all across the country, spanning from members of the party in the North and party members from the South of England. The demonstration was specifically chosen for a Sunday due to the fact it would maximise the attendance of the working class supporters.

ticket one
Ticket of Entrance : Courtesy of The London Museum 

 

Under the gleam of the British summer sun, supporters revelled in seven processions of 30,000 Suffragettes carrying 700 banners throughout London from Euston, Kings Cross and Trafalgar Square whilst en- route to Hyde Park where the avid supporters were greeted by the sounds of musical bands and twenty temporary raised platforms. Hyde Park was a sea of the traditional colours of white, purple and green associated with the Suffragette movement. Ahead of the day’s festivities, many London department stores had flourished in sales of white dresses after advertisements were placed in ‘Votes for Women’ the Suffragette newspaper. It was reported that Dickins and Jones department store in Regent Street London had actually sold out of white dresses and other such garments that were associated with the WSPU prior to the mass meeting.

 Throughout the day advocates for the cause such as Keir Hardy, Bernard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, Mrs. Thomas and Mrs.H.G Wells spoke passionately from the platforms engaging with their audience in occurrence of their main agenda ‘The demand for Women’s Votes’.One of the moment’s most prominent figures Emmeline Pankhurst records her ecstasy after the day’s events in her 1914 autobiography “My Own Story”. Pankhurst states.

“What a day was this Sunday – clear, radiant, rilled with golden sunshine! As I advanced, leading, with the venerable Mrs. Wolstenholme-Elmy, the first of the seven processions, it seemed to me that all London had turned out to witness our demonstration. And a goodly part of London followed the processions. When I mounted my platform in Hyde Park, and surveyed the mighty throngs that waited there and the endless crowds that were still pouring into the park from all directions, I was filled with amazement not unmixed with awe. Never had I imagined that so many people could be gathered together to share in a political demonstration. It was a gay and beautiful as well as an awe-inspiring spectacle, for the white gowns and flower-trimmed hats of the women, against the background of ancient trees, gave the park the appearance of a vast garden in full bloom. The bugles sounded, and the speakers at each of the twenty platforms began their addresses, which could not have heard by more than half of the audience”[4]

 

The general consensus of the day proved to be of a positive ambiance. However, in later writings by a one Helen Fraser, a WSPU organiser from Scotland wrote “It was Successful and yet not entirely satisfactory” Fraser’s’ opinion was that most of the people who had attended were there for simple curiosity rather than being sympathetic to the cause. This is also the construed view of the Newspapers. The Daily Chronicle printed on the 22nd June 1908; “The Majority of those present had been drawn by curiosity, as well as by the remarkable personalities of the moment”The Times accounted “The great majority were there for curiosity and love of diversion”

 

 

 

 

Reference  

[1]Exploring 20th Century London. 2015. Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/womens-social-and-political-union-w-s-p-u. [Accessed 6 April 2016].

[2] Rosen, A. “Rise Up Women” Routledge &Kegan Paul, London (1974) p 96 

[3]University of Kansas, History (2008). (Per)forming Female Politics: The Making of the ‘modern Woman’ in London, 1890–1914. USA: ProQuest,. p199.

[4]Pankhurst, E.”My Own Story” Source Book Press, 1914  

 

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