It’s Manchester, April 1913 and three ordinary Edwardian women turn vigilante, surprising guards at Manchester Art Gallery, smashing glass and causing a commotion in the fight for universal suffrage. 100 years later Wonder Women: Radical Manchester re-examines that shock moment. A milestone on the way to 2018 and the centenary of the first Act of Parliament for women, it is a distinctive Manchester voice questioning the power of women today. Join in and be heard.
From the Manchester Guardian, April 4 1913
Just before nine o’clock in the evening of Thursday April 3, 1913, when Manchester Art Gallery was due to close and few people were about, an attendant heard ‘crackings of glass’ coming from one of the Galleries.
Two attendants ran into the Gallery and found three women, Lilian Forrester, Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta, running round, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable pictures in the collections. It had been well planned. Nowhere else in the Gallery were hung so many famous pictures, so close together.
The Gallery doors were shut by the doorkeeper and the three women were caught . The Chief Constable and a superintendent took the women to the Town Hall for questioning.
They were charged under the Malicious Damage Act, 1861, and released on bail until the next morning when they appeared before the Stipendiary Magistrate.
The suffragettes attacked 13 paintings including some of the most famous works in the collection by Pre-Raphaelite and late Victorian artists. The women’s intention was to break the protective glass only. However, the broken glass caused more serious damage to 4 of the paintings and the Gallery had to organise for repairs and restoration to be carried out. All of the paintings had to be re-glazed.
7 of the 13 paintings that were attacked are currently on display.
The Last Watch of Hero and Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton
The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker
Sybilla Delphica by Edward Burne-Jones
Paola and Francesca by George Frederick Watts
The Last of the Garrison by Briton Riviere
Birnam Woods by John Everett Millais
The Prayer and Portrait of The Hon J L Motley by George Frederick Watts
A Flood by John Everett Millais
When Apples were Golden by John Melhuish Strudwick
On loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington
The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt
Astarte Syriaca by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The day before, on 2 April 1913, the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude for “inciting persons unknown” to burn down buildings. In protest at this harsh sentence, suffragettes across the country took action. As well as the incident in the Gallery, women in Manchester poured ink into 11 post boxes, which damaged 250 letters.
Mrs Pankhurst had founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, 10 years before, to campaign for votes for women. Her slogan was ‘Deeds Not Words’. Despite a long, militant campaign, by January 1913 she felt that militancy was becoming an increasing moral and political duty, and she called on women:
It is a duty that every woman will owe to her conscience and self-respect, to other women who are less fortunate than she is herself, and to all those who are to come after her. Take your share in manifesting in a practical manner, your indignation at the betrayal of our cause.
There is to me something hateful, sinister, sickening in this heaping up of art treasures, this sentimentalising over the beautiful, while the desecration and ruin of bodies of women and little children by lust, disease, and poverty are looked upon with indifference.
Following the Manchester Art Gallery incident, Suffragettes continued to attack paintings during 1914, selecting valuable artworks for maximum publicity, including the Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery and Clausen's Primavera at the Royal Academy. Sometimes they targeted political images, such portraits of George V and of the Duke of Wellington.
Museums and Galleries across the country had to have extra security measures. Sticks, umbrellas, bags and parcels could not be brought in; the number of warders, cleaners and attendants was increased; plain clothes detectives mingled with visitors. Proposals to admit women by ticket or ban them from entry altogether were rejected. Museum staff were advised that when detaining a woman, she should be seized by the wrists, and that precautions should be taken against pepper being thrown into the warder’s eyes, allowing the suffragette to effect her escape.
The Accused Annie Briggs, 48, a housekeeper; Lillian Forrester, 33, married (her occupation was not given); Evelyn Manesta, 25, a governess.
The Charge “unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery.
The Evidence The cost of repairing the glass was £85 and repairing two of the canvasses was £25.
The three women did not deny the charges and made speeches to the jury.
Annie Briggs “I am not guilty of the charges brought against me. I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question... Women have to protest against things which are intolerable to them.“
Lilian Forrester “I do not stand here as a malicious person but as a patriot...a political offender.... I appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. We have already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal.... I have a degree in history and my knowledge of history has spurred me to this fight for women’s freedom."
Evelyn Manesta “I am a political offender.”
The Sentence The jury acquitted Annie and convicted Lilian and Evelyn. Lilian was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn to one month.
The Judge “If the law would allow I would send you round the world in a sailing ship as the best thing for you."
The Home Office funded prison officials to secretly photograph the suffragettes as they walked about the prison's exercise yard. After the women’s release, copies of their photographs were given to the agents assigned to follow and keep tabs on them, and to the guards stationed at places the suffragettes had already attacked or seemed likely to attack in the future. Each suffragette had a police file containing photographs, physical descriptions, and surveillance reports.
A Policeman’s arm restraining Evelyn Manesta round her neck was removed from original photograph when the picture was used.
The First World War had a major impact on the fight for the vote. As men left their jobs and went overseas to fight, suffragettes volunteered to take their place. Women's experiences during the war raised their self-image and sense of individual identity; their skilled and dangerous work during the war was a significant factor in finally winning the vote.
Women are still not allowed to vote in Brunei, Saudia Arabia and the state of Vatican City. Lebanon requires proof of education for women to vote. United Arab Emirates has limited voting for women.
Felicity Goodey visits "A right to vote" exhibition in Manchester, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, and interviews ninety-two year-old Elizabeth Dean.
From the BBC NW Collection 1966-1986 held at the North West Film Archive, Manchester Metropolitan University
Interior View of the Art Gallery, Henry Edward Tidmarsh, c 1894
Suffragettes Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manestra, 1913 courtesy of Manchester Archives
Last Watch of Hero, Frederic, Lord Leighton (detail)
Sibylla Delphica, Sir Edward Coley Burne-jones (detail)
Suffragettes, 1909. From Carried Away, Peoples History Museum. © People's History Museum
Evelyn Manesta by Criminal Record Office, silver print mounted onto identification sheet, 1914
2 3/4 in. x 1 1/2 in. (73 mm x 37 mm), acquired Criminal Record Office, 1914, Photographs Collection, NPG x45558 © National Portrait Gallery
Lillian Forrester; Evelyn Manesta, by Unknown photographer, Criminal Record Office memorandum, Issued 24 April 1914
8 1/2 in. x 13 1/2 in. (217 mm x 342 mm) overall, acquired Criminal Record Office, 1914, Photographs Collection, NPG x136417 © National Portrait Gallery