Important Pieces of History: Suffragette Jewelry

3 minute read

 

Throughout history, women’s jewelry has represented wealth, status and style. Very rarely has jewelry represented a meaningful and poignant cause, which is why Suffragette jewelry is extraordinary and special. These rare and treasured pieces are both beautiful and eloquent in their reminder of the struggle faced by women in their fight for the right to vote.

It is easy for us in the 21st century to forget the tremendous courage and fortitude shown by women suffragists demanding to be recognized as politically equal to men, a goal accomplished only 100 years ago.

History Behind the Movement

The Suffragette movement took hold in Great Britain in the early twentieth century. One of the primary founders of the political movement, Emmaline Pankhurst, gathered women of the upper middle classes to form the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Seeking to take a pro-active approach to assert women's right to vote, the WSPU organized marches and other public events which were seen as audacious affronts to the male-dominated status quo. Members were often cited for civil disobedience, and treated with aggression from their male peers. However, they remained undeterred in their goal of persuading Parliament to grant women suffrage. To gain momentum and press, they staged marches and rallies, even hunger strikes, to further their cause. In the press coverage of their protests, the ardent crusaders of this movement were dubbed “Suffragettes.”

Jewels for the Cause

The colors chosen to represent the political movement were green, white and violet, symbolizing the party’s core message: Green- “Give” White - “Women” - Violet- “Votes” and were paired together in jewelry often containing peridot, pearls, and amethyst. The suffragette's dedication to a fashionable and feminine style remained an important part of the group's identity, partly to off-set the common misconception that the group was peopled by unladylike troublemakers. The elegant jewelry became an integral part of WSPU members' representing themselves, communicating their message without words as an aim to grow the movement and further their cause. As both the Suffragette movement and the jewelry itself gained public momentum, the successful London-based jeweler Mappin & Webb dedicated their entire 1908 holiday catalog to the popular tri-color baubles.

A major breakthrough came for the women's movement during the first world war. Although organized WSPU marches and protests ceased at the outbreak of war, as the able-bodied men of Britain were sent to fight, ordinary women began to perform many traditionally male jobs. This phenomenon shifted public perception of women’s abilities, and helped to propel the women's suffrage movement towards it goal. In 1918, many women over 30 were granted the right to vote, and in 1928 all women over 21 were granted the right to vote, on equal terms as men.

The tenacity and passion of the brave Suffragettes dramatically altered the position of women in the Western world. Their efforts influenced society for subsequent generations. These historical pieces of jewelry are not only beautifully crafted, but they are tangible reminders of strong women who altered history by taking up the cause for their rights, and commemorate their victory in achieving the vote for women.

Sources:

Gupta, Kat. Representation of the British Suffragette Movement. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

"Women and the Vote." www.parliment.uk. Accessed June 19, 2019. https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage

 

 

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