The colours most closely associated with the suffragettes are the colours of the WSPU, The Women's Social and Political Union, purple, green and white, although other colours were also prominent on other women's suffrage organisations' banners. The most recognised colours had meanings behind them. Purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope. These colours provided instant visual recognition of who supported women's suffrage. Supporters wore badges or brooches incorporating these colours to identfy themselves.
As there were many Suffrage organisations whose members wanted to differentiate themselves, particularly from the WSPU who were percieved as millitant, they chose to use other colour combinations to form their own identity.
Red, white and green represented The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and yellow, green and white represented The Women's Freedom League.
These distinct yet less recognised colour combinations were used on badges and pins but fine jewellery that survived from the era seems to have been mostly made in the most recognised suffragette colour scheme purple, green and white.
One of the only commercial jewellery companies at the time to create a small collection of Suffragette jewellery were Mappin and Webb. Their Christmas catalogue of 1908 included a page of Suffragette Jewellery consisting of five pieces, of mainly brooches and pendants, in gold with emeralds pearls and amethysts. Costing between two and six pounds per item made them rather expensive for the average suffrage supporter who probably earned around eight pounds a year. So these beautiful pieces were aimed at the wealthier supporters. It is said that Stanley Mappin was a supporter of WSPU and joined in the suffrage boycott of the 1911 census.
It is difficult to acurately identify the original suffrage jewellery pieces as many pieces of jewellery from that period in history convey the official colours and are set in combinations of emeralds and amethysts. These coloured stones were already popular during that era and therefore antique dealers may wrongly categorise any Edwardian jewellery using these combinations of stones and colours as suffrage jewellery.
It remains to be said that the most authentic items worn by supporters of women's suffrage were probably the medals made to celebrate the heroic sacrifices made by some of it's members who were imprisoned. Whilst on hunger strike many were force fed and were consequently awarded medals like the one above given to Leonor Tyson.
Suffrage jewellery carried much symbolism of the political message and struggle of the suffragists. The silver and enamel 'Holloway Prison' Brooch above was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and was awarded specifically to members of the WSUP who had been imprisoned. It is based on the Portcullis symbol of The House of Commons with an arrow, the 'conflict symbol', decorated in green, purple and white enamel. These brooches are rare and it could be said that they are the most authentic brooches of the time.
Contemporary Suffrage Jewellery
When I was asked to create a collection of jewellery to accompany Mary Branson's New Dawn light installation for The Houses of Parliament I decided not to look too closely at Suffragette Jewellery from the past so I could create a truly original collection for 2016.
New Dawn Suffragette Earrings by Sally Lees
As I work mainly in anodised aluminium, which is a fairly new material, I was able to create a collection that was wearable, lightweight and inexpensive. This meant that the pieces could be bought as a souvenir by visitors coming to see the 'New Dawn' installation at The Houses of Parliament. The main imagery for the jewellery were the scrolls onto which the Parliamentary Acts are written. This is the main imagery that the glass disks on the New Dawn light sculpture are created to look like.
New Dawn light sculpture by Mary Branson
Read some more about the Suffragettes and their jewellery Vogue
My Suffragette jewellery, featuring new pieces and colour schemes, will be on display as part of the Votes 100 exhibition at The House of Commons from June 2018 and can be purchased online.
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