On the 13th of June 1908, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), organised a huge march in London to demonstrate the strength of their commitment to women’s suffrage. Just a week later, on the 21st of June, the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) organised a ‘monster meeting,’ also in London. The WSPU was much smaller than the NUWSS, but its militant tactics were better at grabbing headlines, and it is by far the best-known women’s suffrage group now. In June 1908, however, the WSPU decided to try a more peaceful method of campaigning, which was a resounding success. Up to 500,000 people gathered in Hyde Park to hear 80 speakers talk about women’s suffrage at the biggest political demonstration the UK had ever seen.
The meeting was organised by WSPU Treasurer, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, and her husband Frederick. Like the NUWSS’s march a week earlier, the demonstration was organised in response to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s challenge to prove the strength of feeling behind the demand that women be given the vote. Special trains were chartered to transport WSPU supporters to London from around the country, and a Sunday was chosen in order to maximise working class attendance.
7 processions totaling 30,000 suffragettes marched from around London to Hyde Park. This was the first time that the WSPU’s now infamous colours of purple, green, and white were featured in public. Women were asked to wear white dresses, and accessorise with green and purple. The effect was striking. Emmeline Pankhurst and Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy led the procession from Euston Road, Annie Kenney headed the march from Paddington, and Christabel Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence helmed the demonstration from Victoria Embankment. Flora ‘the General’ Drummond, a formidable suffragette known for leading marches in a military-style uniform, visited each of the 7 processions. Like the NUWSS procession the previous week, banners played an important role in the marches. The suffragettes carried up to 700, although none are known to survive.
20 raised platforms had been constructed in Hyde Park, from which 80 prominent supporters of women’s suffrage gave speeches, including Emmeline Pankhurst (of course!) Keir Hardy, Barnard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, and Amy Catherine Robbins (wife of H.G. Wells). The meeting was considered to be a great success, although several newspapers pointed out that most of those attending were there out of curiosity rather than support for the cause. I don’t really see this as a problem though; surely it was a good opportunity to win over a few converts to the cause.
It seems unlikely that the WSPU deliberately planned Women’s Sunday to be a week after the NUWSS procession, but the sight of women marching through the streets of London, proud, defiant, and well-ordered, was still enough of a novelty to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Hyde Park.
Sources and Further Reading
Marches, Protest, and Militancy. “Women’s Sunday: Hyde Park 1908.” Last modified 14 April 2016, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at https://womenofinfluencesite.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/womens-sunday-hyde-park-1908/
Wikipedia. “Women’s Sunday.” Last modified 18th March 2018, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_Sunday
Women of Tunbridge Wells History Project. “‘Women’s Sunday’: Hyde Park Rally 21st June 1908.” Inspiring Women: Hidden Histories from West Kent. No date, accessed 11 June 2018. Available at https://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/womenshistorykent/themes/suffrage/womenssunday.html