Women's Suffrage: Royal Holloway History

If you haven’t already heard, there is a General Election happening next Thursday 12 December! Obviously registering to vote and going along to vote on the day is extremely important, but we feel it’s crucial to acknowledge that we are privileged to be able to have our say, especially those of us who identify as women.

Royal Holloway and Bedford New College has a rich history surrounding votes for women and women’s suffrage, therefore we thought we would share this history with you in the hope it encourages to use your voice and have a say in this General Election!

Emily Wilding Davidson

One of our most notable alumni, of whom the Emily Wilding Davison building was named after, was a renowned and famous member of the suffragette movement.

Emily Davidson began studying at Royal Holloway on 14 January 1892 as shown in her entry to the admissions book held in the archives. She was 19 years old when she joined the College. As you can also see, her death was noted in the book to have occurred on 8 June 1913.

She died after being hit by King George V's horse Anmer at the 1913 Derby when she walked onto the track during the race.

Emily’s death quickly made her a martyr of the cause and marked a culmination and a turning point of the militant suffragette campaign. The archives also hold a copy of The Suffragette from 12 June 1913 dedicated to Emily Davidson, expressing how ‘she died for women’.

Her legacy has gone down in the history of women’s rights and in Royal Holloway’s remarkable institutional history.

The Women’s Suffrage Society

The Women’s Suffrage Society was founded at Royal Holloway in 1908, however the debate on women’s suffrage started before that. A diary by a student at the time described that the debating society Political held a debate in November 1906 about women’s suffrage, prompting heated arguments that the diary denoted as ‘fearfully thrilling’.

The students and staff involved with the debate voted 109 for and 40 against women’s suffrage in this debate, showing that even a number of students and staff at Royal Holloway itself weren’t convinced by the idea of women gaining the vote!

The page shown here is from The College Letter, a student magazine with staff involvement, from July 1910. A number of societies that exist in a similar form today were present in this magazine from 1910, including Debating society and Politics society!

The Balance and other debates

A number of other debates were held at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College over the years before women gained the right to vote.

The Balance was produced in November 1913 to provide students with a balanced view on the debate, covering numerous different viewpoints including notable anti-suffragists.

One of the articles in The Balance is a report of a lecture given by Gladis Potts, an anti-suffrage campaigner, who came to the institution to give a talk against women’s suffrage. After her talk, the Women’s Suffrage Society increased their membership fairly significantly, so it clearly didn’t influence students the way she had planned!

The Picture Gallery

Concerns about the safety of the paintings in the Picture Gallery were prevalent around the highest time of suffragette activity.

Below is a note from 1912 given from the keeper of the Picture Gallery to the principal of the College requesting its closure to the public in order to safeguard the paintings inside.

This may have been influenced by both an arson attack on a house in Englefield Green around this time and the attack on some paintings by suffragettes in Manchester.

The note below shows that the Picture Gallery was closed to the public for three years from 1912-1915 due to this threat of hostile activity from the suffragette movement. The keeper asks for it to be open to the public again in 1915, the gallery was open to students throughout this period.

We hope that this has given you a snapshot insight into the history of votes for women at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. This rich and significant history makes it even more important that you use your vote in the upcoming general election, those of us who identify as women have the vote due to the intense debates and campaigning from women who came before us, so make sure you vote on 12 December!

If you are interested in finding out more about women’s suffrage at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, or any other historical information surrounding the University, get in touch with the archives and take a look!

Any student is able to visit the archives to view the collection by organising a viewing with the Archives team. Please email archives@rhul.ac.uk if you are interested.

Lucy Simpson // Vice President Welfare & Diversity

Kate Roberts // Vice President Education

Sophia Bolton // Vice President Societies & Media