Did you know that the Suffragettes were responsible for a campaign of arson & bomb terror on English football stadiums? Did you also know that one successful attempt lead to a famous re-locating of a huge Premier League side?
Who were the Suffragettes?
The ‘Suffragettes’ was the term coined for women who worked within the Women’s Society and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903, who fought for the right for women’s votes in political elections, which of course they did not have at the time.
Women had been deprived the right to vote in all major western nations, and the plight to change this was being made all over the world, despite the term ‘Suffragette’ having initially been created for specific members of this plight in Britain. The term now encompasses all of those who fought for the right for women to vote, which was eventually achieved in Britain in 1918.
The name ‘Suffragette’ was coined by a journalist writing for the Daily Mail, deriving the term from ‘suffragist’ – that is anyone advocating for voting rights. The term was initially supposed to be an insult to the women campaigning for women’s suffrage, but was adopted by their leaders nonetheless.
The organisation had began their campaigns peacefully in the beginning, with their motto of ‘deeds, not words’ being played out in the form of peaceful protests in earnest of their plight for women’s suffrage.
After years of failure in getting any real traction within Parliament for their cause, some of the WSPU’s most influential figures, including Emmeline Pankhurst herself eventually turned to more aggressive methods to make their case.
Between June 1912 and August 1914, Pankhurst and Co targeted government buildings, army barracks, churches, theatres, railways, public schools, sports stadiums, and even the British postal infrastructure with arsons, bombings, sabotage, acid attacks, kidnappings and assassination attempts.
Pankhurst herself would refer to the campaign as ‘terrorism’ and ‘guerrilla warfare’ in public speeches during this time period – terms which were widely used by others commenting on the campaign also.
Methods used during their sometimes deadly attacks included gunpowder plots, arson, post box bombs, hatchet assassination attempts, and physical assaults – mainly aimed towards politicians but some also involving the general public.
One infamous Suffragette was a young lady named Emily Davison, who died in an infamous stunt involving the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby in the name of their cause.
By the end of the first year of the campaign (1912), over 240 people had been arrested for ’Militant Suffragette activities’, with over 1000 arrested in total over the 2-year campaign.
The Suffragette’s were even accredited as having invented the letter bomb during their campaign of terror on the British public and infrastructure!
The Suffragettes and football stadiums…
The Suffragettes list of targets during their 2-year campaign of terror seem numerous, and among those, football stadiums – perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the masculine-dominated nature of the sport (most especially in 1912!)
The militant ladies of the WSPU made in total four plots to burn English football stadiums to the ground, famously succeeding in just one of them and causing a permanent geographical move for the club!
Manor Ground, which was the home to Arsenal (formerly Woolwich Arsenal) was located in Plumstead, SE London. The Suffragettes plotted to burn down a grandstand, and on this occasion succeeded.
The damages to the stadium were estimated at £1000 at the time, which in today’s money would be roughly £142,000!
This, along with various financial problems faced by the club, lead them to seek a new and permanent home in North London, making their move to Highbury in September 1913.
The Suffragette’s in the same year went after Crystal Palace, on the very eve of the 1913 FA Cup Final. Fortunately for those in attendance, the plot to burn down the grandstand in the Palaces was foiled.
For Emmeline Pankhurst an Co, the final score would end 3-1 against them, with attempts on both Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers’ stadiums of Deepdale and Ewood Park being stopped by authorities before their execution.
Women’s suffrage, achieved.
The Suffragettes would eventually get what they had worked so hard, and against so much prejudice to achieve 4 years after their campaign of terror. Britain finally allowed women to vote in 1918, with other major nations taking note and following suit in the coming years.
What these women had to do to achieve that equality remains to this day an awful part of our societal history, but what is worse is that in some places of the world, such oppression towards women is still prevalent.
Football as a sport is, we can happily say, moving towards addressing this issue globally, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino claiming that the organisation has spent $1 billion US dollars developing the women’s game across the world and that they are striving for equal pay in the World Cup.
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