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The Formidable Women of Manchester

10/09/2015 1:30 pm
10/09/2015 3:30 pm
£8 (£7).

We pay tribute to the Pankhursts, Annie Horniman, Hannah Mitchell, Enriqueta Rylands, Kathleen Ollerenshaw…

To whet your appetite here is Ed Glinert’s account of the story of the Suffragette Attack on Manchester Art Gallery, 3 April 1913…

On 3 April 1913 three suffragettes attacked a number of pictures at Manchester Art Gallery. The incident occurred at 9 o’clock in the evening when Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester cracked the glass of several paintings, including Lord Leighton’s 1887 work Last Watch of Hero (pictured) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Astarte Syriaca (1877).

Last Watch of HeroThe dramatic incident was in response to the sentencing of three years penal servitude to the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst at the Old Bailey a few days previously. Pankhurst had claimed responsibility for the fire-bombing of the unbuilt house of the home secretary David Lloyd George. At a meeting in Cardiff Mrs Pankhurst had declared: “We have blown up the Chancellor of Exchequer’s house … and for all that has been done in the past I accept responsibility. I have advised, I have incited, I have conspired.”

Pankhurst stayed in jail only a few days and was then released on licence. Nevertheless there were a number of severe ripostes. At Manchester Art Gallery that April night the attendants found three women “making a rush around the room, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable paintings in the collection”, as the Manchester Guardian reported it.

The pictures targeted were those that the women deemed abhorrent to the suffragette cause. Astarte Syriaca was particularly despised for its espousal of Victorian femininity. The three women were tried on 22 April, charged with “unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery. Annie Briggs announced: “I am not guilty of the charges brought against me. I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question… Women have to protest against things which are intolerable to them.”

Lilian Forrester stated: “I do not stand here as a malicious person but as a patriot…a political offender…. I appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. We have already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal…. I have a degree in history and my knowledge of history has spurred me to this fight for women’s freedom.” Evelyn Manesta declared “I am a political offender.”

The jury acquitted Annie Briggs and convicted Lilian and Evelyn. Lilian Forrester was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn Manesta to one month. The judge, astonishingly, told the court: “If the law would allow I would send you round the world in a sailing ship as the best thing for you.”

Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester & Evelyn Manesta

Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester & Evelyn Manesta

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