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The suffragist’s marching banner

The suffragist’s marching banner

The suffragist banner from the Ethel Williams Archive was used in the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in London in 1907. Marching from Hyde Park to the Strand, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part in what was later referred to as the ‘Mud March’ due to the terrible weather conditions.

The ‘Mud March’, a procession organised by the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), is credited with having a significant impact on public awareness of the campaign for women’s suffrage.  

The banner is from the archive of Dr Ethel Mary Nucella Williams (1869–1948) who was Newcastle’s first female doctor.  She was the first woman to found a general medical practice in the city as well as co-founding the Northern Women’s Hospital. Ethel was also one of the first women in the North East of England to own and drive a motor car which was crucial to enable her work in mobilising the women's suffrage movement in the region.

Ethel was both a suffragist and a pacifist. As a suffragist, she served as Secretary of the Newcastle Women’s Liberal Association and became president of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Society. As a pacifist, she was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Reference: EWL/3/5, Suffragist Marching Banner (c. 1905),  Ethel Williams Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

Using the Ethel Williams Archive you could start to investigate how the women’s suffrage movement was mobilised and received in the North East.

When considering the suffrage movement in the North East it may be useful to investigate the movement itself in more detail.  What were the origins of the campaign for votes for women in England in the early twentieth century? How did the national experience differ from this region? How was it organised? Including Ethel, who were its key allies? Who opposed them? What were their reasons?

As a radical suffragist Ethel took a broader view than many other suffragists, who tended to be drawn from the middle classes, recognising as she did that the movement needed the support of working-class women. To what extent were working class women part of this mobilisation in the North East?

The banner could be used to explore the materiality of the history of the women’s suffrage movement; providing insight into the manufacturing techniques and materials used to create such banners, as well as the symbolic meaning of the images, colours and style of text used.

Selected background reading

For general reading around the suffrage movement in Britain:

Pugh, M., 1980. Women's suffrage in BritainLondon: Historical Association

Park, J., 1988. The British Suffrage Activists of 1913: An Analysis. Past & Present, no. 120. Available at: (Accessed 16 Apr. 2020).

For a closer look at the movement in the North East:

Neville, D., 1997. To make their mark: the women's suffrage movement in the North East of England 1900-1914Newcastle upon Tyne: Centre for Northern Studies, University of Northumbria.

It may also be interesting to consider the movement from an anti-suffrage perspective:

Miller, J.C., 2015. Never A Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don't Say about Women's Suffrage. The History Teacher, vol. 48, no. 3. Available at: (Accessed 16 Apr. 2020)

What can I find here in Special Collections?

The Ethel Williams Archive includes letters from her contemporaries, photographs and objects connected to her involvement in the campaign for women’s suffrage.  As well as the suffragist banner we also hold a ‘Winged Victory’ statuette bestowed on her in 1918 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act. This Act momentously gave women householders and wives of male householders over thirty the right to vote for the very first time. 

The Spence Watson-Weiss archive consists of papers relating to the Newcastle-born politician, co-founder of Armstrong College (now Newcastle University), and social and educational reformer Robert Spence Watson (1837-1911).  The archive contains correspondence with key figures of the Suffragist movement and political figures:

  • Letter from Emmeline Pankhurst:
    Pankhurst, E., 1910. Letter from Emmeline Pankhurst to C.P. Scott about meeting regarding the Suffrage Conciliation Committee's proposals the following day [manuscript]. SW/5/44, Spence Watson-Weiss Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • Letter from the Labour leader Arthur Henderson:
    Henderson, A., 1913. Letter to F.E. Weiss concerning women’s suffrage and lack of Liberal support [manuscript]. SW/1/8/20, Spence Watson-Weiss Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • There are also three letters from Emily Davies including:
    Davies, E., Letter from Emily Davies to Robert Spence Watson concerning the annual meeting of the Central National Society of Women’s Suffrage [manuscript]. SW/1/4/4. Spence Watson-Weiss Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • There is also a supportive letter from local Liberal politician Joseph Cowen:
    Cowen, J., 1875. Letter from Joseph Cowen to Robert Spence Watson concerning his support for women's suffrage, but fear of political ramifications. SW/1/3/50. Spence Watson-Weiss Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

If your research explores opposition to the Suffrage movement, you may also be interested in the archive of Gertrude Bell who was the secretary of the Anti-Suffrage League that opposed giving women the right to vote. In a letter to her stepmother Dame Florence Bell on 28th March 1908 Gertrude Bell describes an encounter with suffragists and its clear from her correspondence that she greatly disproved of the movement and its tactics –

Ethel Williams was a friend of the Trevelyan family and you can find some of her letters in the Charles Philips Trevelyan Archive . Interestingly, Charles Philips and, his wife, Mary Katherine Trevelyan held different opinions of women’s suffrage than Ethel.  Charles was a politician and his papers often refer to the woman’s suffrage movement.

The archive includes a small number of letters from and regarding Williams:

  • Tose, L., 1910. Letter from Lilian Tose to Charles Philips Trevelyan regarding Dr Ethel Williams visiting George and the children's health [manuscript] CPT/4/1/5/10, C.P. Trevelyan Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • Items concerning suffrage include:
    Press cuttings about women’s suffrage, 1919 – 1934 [published works]. CPT/1/2/19, C.P. Trevelyan Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
    Trevelyan, C.P., c.1907.  Trevelyan’s diary concerning Parliamentary activity including the Women’s Suffrage Bill [manuscript]. CPT/1/6/10, C.P. Trevelyan Archive. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The Cowen Tracts include publications that give an insight into contemporary thought around the Suffragist movement for example:

National Society for Women's Suffrage Central Committee, 1879Opinions of women on women's suffrage. London: Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. Cowen Tracts v.40 n.8Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

  • Bodichon, B.L.S., 1866. Objections to the enfranchisement of women considered. London: [J. Bale, printer]. (Cowen Tracts v.40 n.15) Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • Kingsley, C., 1870?. Women and politics. London: Published for the London Society for Women’s Suffrage by Messrs Trübner. Cowen Tracts v.40 n.3. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

What can I find elsewhere?

For resources created about woman's suffrage:

You can see scenes from a Suffragette demonstration in Newcastle at The British Film Institute website.

For specific local archive collections related to the movement you may be interested in:

The Archive of Ruth Dodds who was secretary of the NUWSS Gateshead branch held at Tyne and Wear Archives. The collections includes her diaries which are published:

Dodds, R. & Callcott, M. 1995. A Pilgrimage of Grace: the diaries of Ruth Dodds 1905-1974. Whitley Bay: Bewick P.

John Rylands Library holds the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies Archive.

The LSE Women's Library offers a wide range of material including the anti-suffrage archive.

For other general guides and resources on the suffrage and anti-suffrage movement:

The National Archives offer a guide for research into woman't suffrage.

The British Library have a timeline of the movement.

For further information into UK political life and social issues

For broader research into political opinion the 20th Century Pamphlets Collection could give an idea of some of the prominent and debated political issues of the time.

If you’re interested in women’s involvement in public life in the twentieth century Lady Plowden’s Archive is a useful resource.  Lady Plowden was involved in education reform and television broadcasting and was interested in the care and resettlement of offenders, young adult unemployment, and employment for women.  You can see the first page of a talk given by Lady Plowden on our Collections Captured resource. The talk was given as an introduction to the Department of Education and Science Short Course on the Education and Welfare of Gypsy, Circus and Fairground Children in 1982.–  

The Maurice Bell Collection contains books about economics and industry but you can also find Political Economy for Beginners (1876) by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, one of the founders of the NUWSS.