At suffrage demonstrations in London, Rosa May Billinghurst responded to over-policing by ramming London bobbies with her wheelchair.

May, as she was known, joined radical suffragist Women’s Social & Political Union in 1907. She founded the Greenwich branch of WSPU in 1910.🧵

May was imprisoned several times: in March 1912 for a window-smashing campaign & sentenced to a month's hard labor. Then in December of that year for destroying mailboxes. The signatures of the women imprisoned in that campaign👇🏾May’s name is in the top left corner. @LSELibrary

May Billinghurst spoke in her own defense at trial.

“Gentlemen of the jury, I will ask you to allow me to explain some of the circumstances which have led me to be standing before you today in this dock. . . in order to fight for the liberation of women..."

She was sentenced to eight months in Holloway prison. She described the force-feeding in a letter to her mother.

“I have been in bed all the while on the hunger-strike since Thursday mid-day. Got very weak and vomited a great deal, blood as well as bile + my nose bled violently.

“On Monday 3 doctors came + examined me--as I had resisted the forcible feeding on Sunday--& on Monday evening 2 doctors, one being Dr Ford the prison doctor + many wardresses came into my cell + my head was forced back + a tube jambed down my nose. It was the most awful torture.

"I groaned with pain + I coughed + gulped the tube up and would not let it pass down my throat. Then they tried the other nostril + it was found that was smaller still & slightly deformed, I suppose from constant hay fever. The new doctor said it was impossible to get the tube down that one so they jambed it down again through the other + I wondered if the pain were as bad as child-birth.” --Letter @LSELibrary

May was ultimately released. A few months later she chained herself to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Lisa Unger Baskin’s collection @DukeLibraries includes this exquisite certificate made out to Rosa May Billinghurst. It was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and given to WSPU members after their release from prison.

It begins: “On behalf of all women who will win freedom by the bondage which you have endured for their sake, and dignity by the humiliation which you have gladly suffered for the uplifting of our sex, We, the Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, herewith express our deep sense of admiration for your courage in enduring a long period of privation and solitary confinement in prison for the Votes for Women Cause, also our thanks to you for the great service that you have thereby rendered to the Woman’s Movement.” #Suffrage100 #CenturyofStruggle #CriptheVote #NoJusticeNoPeace


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “#CriptheVote,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 12, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/413.

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