UK National Archives Footage of British Suffrage Movement
The National Archives of the United Kingdom: Focus on Film; Film Archives, 1900-45; Women's Suffrage.
Era: Suffrage Era | Media: Documentary Film, Film, Graphic Novel, Pageants and Parades, Video
NOTE TO READERS: Some videos in this archive contain potentially disturbing scenes of violence
This UK National Archives film collection contains only four brief, silent film clips. It nonetheless offers valuable on-the-ground documentation of some important moments in the British suffrage movement, along with helpful facts about the videos: Each is accompanied by a description of the film, an explanation of its context within the greater movement for women’s voting rights, and information about “interesting or important points about the film.”
The struggle in Great Britain preceded, and in many ways inspired, the women’s suffrage movement in the US. One notable difference was that in some instances British suffragettes’ tactics were more militant—and even violent—than those of their American counterparts.
One video, for instance, shows the sensational death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. As the site explains:
Davidson was a militant Suffragette who was well known for her daring and dangerous exploits in trying to promote the cause of women’s suffrage. At the Derby race in June 1913 she tried to grab the reins of the King’s horse but was struck and killed in the attempt. Nobody really knows whether she was trying to commit suicide or was trying to stop the horse in a sensational protest.
For a more extensive account of some British suffragists’ use of militant tactics, see Andrew Rosen’s Rise Up, Women!: The Militant Campaign of the Women’s Social and Political Union, 1903-1914.
If you want to learn more about film’s role in the suffrage movements, see Kay Sloan’s documentary film Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema, and watch the brief silent film A Busy Day, which stars a cross-dressing Charlie Chaplin in an unflattering portrayal of a woman suffragist.
For a more light-hearted, fictional story about the British suffrage movement, check out Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, a graphic novel trilogy.