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Meaningful Jewels: A Brief History of Suffragette Jewellery

August 16, 2022
Home / The Vault / Meaningful Jewels: A Brief History of Suffragette Jewellery

There are rare occasions when jewellery can connect us to an exact time in history. These tangible connections serve as poignant reminders of those who came before us and of the struggles which they faced. Jewellery from the time of the suffragette movement is a prime example of jewellery connecting us, not only to people of the past, but the political struggle for women's voting rights within Britian and the United States.

The suffragette movement took place in Britain and the United States of America from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The word suffrage is derived from the Latin word 'suffragium', meaning the right or privilege to vote. There were many different issues debated throughout the movement, but the lasting impact was the voting rights of women. The fight for women's voting rights was taken on by varying organisations, however, the basis for the suffragette movement started with the National Union of Women's Suffrage which was founded by Millicent Fawcett in 1897. The work of the National Union was carried on by lead suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst who later founded the Women's Social and Political Union in 1903. It was the efforts led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters that have become the most synonymous with the suffragette movement within Britain.


Suffragette necklace with detachable brooch

As the strength of the movement grew, supporters wanted to show their pride and allegiance to the cause through methods of self-presentation. The colours of green, white and violet became coded symbolism for the suffragette movement and were used as effective branding by the WSPU. There are two dominate theories as to why these colours were selected. The first, is the symbolism associated with the chosen colours; green symbolising hope, white representing purity and violet meaning dignity. The second theory, is the coded meaning of the colours when used to create an acrostic message. This message is created by using the first initial of each colour to spell out the secret message; (G)ive (W)omen the (V)ote.

These colours and the use of jewellery was deeply associated with the suffragette movement. Brooches were awarded to members of the movement whom made sacrifices for the cause. This included serving jail time for protest-related offences and who engaged in hunger strikes for the cause. A specific brooch called the Holloway brooch was designed by Syliva Pankhurst and gifted to suffragettes to mark their release from Holloway prison. “The design incorporates a portcullis symbol of the House of Commons, and convict symbol and hanging chains with a purple, white, and green ribbon superimposed on the front" (Dahms, 2018). These particular brooches were gifted internally within the organisation, however, jewellery using the tricolour scheme was available to the wider public in order for them to show their support to the cause.

The Holloway Brooch, Image Source: Antique Animal Jewellery

Eventually, the support of the suffragette movement had reached such popularity that larger commercial enterprises began to express their support. London based jeweller, Mappin and Web, released a range of suffragette jewellery in their 1908 Christmas catalogue. The large department store, Selfridges, also showed their support to the cause offering ranges of clothing for women in the suffragette tricolours and selling red lipstick, which women had taken to wearing as a sign of their fierce independence. “Selfridges advertised regularly in the suffragette paper Votes for Women, and designed clothes for the women to wear at their demonstrations. "Huge numbers of women would turn out for these demonstrations and create a tricolor tide overtaking the streets of London" (Dahms, 2018). Suffragette jewellery remains highly collectable and are important reminders of our human history. These pieces of jewellery feature gemstones in the famous tricolour scheme of green, white and purple. 

Suffragette necklace ES9938 2

Suffragette necklace featuring peridot, pearls and amethyst

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Antique Animal Jewellery (2022). Suffragette jewellery; https://www.antiqueanimaljewelry.com/post/suffrage-jewelry 

Dahms, Sebastian (2018). The history of suffragette jewellery; Friar House Jewellery: https://friarhouse.com/blogs/friar-house-antique-jewellery/the-history-of-suffragette-jewellery 

Smith, Jodie (2016). 'The history of suffragette jewellery: a guide to suffragette jewellery; ACS Silver: https://blog.acsilver.co.uk/2016/06/16/history-suffragette-jewellery/ 

Yaegar, Lynn (2015). Inside the suffragette jewellery box: how women of the movement wore their pride on their sleeves; Vogue Magazine: https://www.vogue.com/article/suffrage-jewelry-history 

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