When a 2014 planning proposal for a museum about East End women’s history turned into a ‘concealed’ bid to build a Jack the Ripper museum in Tower Hamlets, local campaigners fought long and hard for some actual recognition of East London’s historic suffragette movement. This resulted in efforts to build The East End Women’s Museum in Cable Street in the near future, a fitting way to remember that on this day 110 years ago the British Suffragettes stormed parliament to press for women’s equality.
This historic event was actually triggered by events the day before. The Kings Speech on Feb 12th 1907 made no provision for any of the rights the Suffragettes had been protesting for so after a ‘Women’s Parliament’ meeting at Caxton Hall they rallied their ranks of 400 and divided them into fourteen groups, each with a leader, Charlotte Despard and Suffragette founder Emmeline Pankhurst amongst them. Buoyed by Pankhurst’s rallying slogan of ‘Deeds Not Words’ they smashed Parliament windows and chained themselves to Westminster railings. 60 of them were arrested in the melee but 15 managed to enter the lobby of parliament.
The campaigners had been pushed to direct action because of the persistence of the status quo. The point of no return was reached in 1906 when Labour MP Keir Hardie was to present a resolution in Parliament about equal rights for women and protests reared as Pankhurst predicted it would be opposed. Events escalated quickly from there culminating with the storming of parliament a year later which lasted many hours with constables recorded as restoring order around 10pm.
It wasn’t until 1918, when Pankhurst herself had been arrested seven times and Emily Davison had thrown herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom that these rights were enshrined in law with the Representation of the People Act. It was passed on Feb 6th almost ten years to the day after the storming of parliament.
The founders of the East End Women’s Museum are public historian, researcher, and museum curator Sara Huws and suffragettes author Sarah Jackson.