The suffragette campaign spearheaded by Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was a time of heady excitement, courage, endurance and persistence. Women marched under stirring banners – From Prison to Citizenship, Deeds Not Words, Ask With Courage (a pun on prime minister Asquith's name). They endured violence and imprisonment in their quest for justice. They made news – and for some they also made money.
The Keeloma Dairy Company was one of the businesses which saw the suffragette campaign as a marketing opportunity. In 1907 they advertised their “butter substitute” in the Yorkshire Evening Post with a stock cartoon image of the suffragette – ugly, mannish and strident. The advertisement reads:-
The suffragette says she ought to have a vote. Maybe it would be policy, perhaps not. But what we do know is that when once ladies have tried Keeloma, they unanimously vote it of a delicious creamy flavour, and quite equal to freshly-churned country butter.
The Keeloma advertisement appeared, whether by accident or design, on the same page as a report of a suffragette deputation to the House of Commons on 20 March 1907.
Other companies didn’t just use the suffragette campaign to advertise their wares, they developed products aimed at the campaigners. The Kensington store Derry & Toms carried a range of hats in the colours of various organisations due to take part in a demonstration on 17 June 1911. It was, they said, “a unique opportunity for purchasing suitable millinery for the great Procession”. On Oxford Street, Selfridges sold blouses, ribbons, badges and “dainty wrist bags” in the WSPU colours – purple, white and green. William Owen sold white dresses for wearing in suffrage processions.
Swan and Edgar, Burberrys and Peter Robinsons were amongst other stores which offered clothes and accessories for suffragettes, as well as for non-militant campaigners of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The NUWSS colours were green, white and red. Unfortunately for these stores, their willingness to commercialise the suffrage movement didn’t protect their windows when the WSPU launched its window-smashing campaign.
The suffragette campaign inspired money makers from swanky department stores to “gutter merchants”. The London Daily News reported on 22 March 1907 that hawkers outside the police courts, where 75 women and one man were being tried after the violent demonstration outside the House of Commons on 20 March, were doing a “roaring trade” selling postcards of suffragette leaders.
Alongside the postcard sellers was one vendor who demonstrated the true entrepreneurial spirit. Pitched as “Spoils of the Fight”, he sold items harvested from the women’s struggle to breach the police cordons around the House of Commons. His goods included torn pieces of clothing, hatpins, feathers, and hair – souvenirs of the brutal opposition women met with when they demanded the vote.
You can find out more about suffragette merchandise, including goods sold by the WSPU themselves (tea, soap, badges etc), in Diane Atkinson’s book The Purple White & Green: London 1906-14 (London: Museum of London, 1992).
See also Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes, Joel H Kaplan and Sheila Stowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).