Brighton Dome and the Women’s Suffrage Movement
Brighton Dome is listed by Historic England as one of the locations at the centre of Suffragette action in England. Find out more here.
Votes for Women
Until 1918 women were not permitted to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain.
At the start of the 20th century, there were two main groups campaigning to secure the vote for women - these were the ‘suffragists’ who used peaceful methods such as lobbying, and the ‘suffragettes’ who were determined to win the vote by any means, and who marked their place in history through their militant campaigns and sometimes violent and unlawful actions.
The militant side of the Votes for Women campaign resulted in many women being arrested and imprisoned. Some women were force-fed in prison, with long term health consequences, and for many the impact of being involved in the campaign affected their lives immensely, resulting in them losing their marriages, family and in some cases even their children.
Famously, Emily Wilding Davidson lost her life for the cause as she threw herself under the King’s racehorse at Epsom Derby in 1913, but organiser of the Brighton Women’s Social and Political Union, Mary Clarke (younger sister of Emmeline Pankhurst) is considered by some to be the first woman to lose her life for the cause. She died on Christmas Day 1910 of a brain haemorrhage, two days after being released from prison where she was force-fed.
Brighton Dome was an important centre of women’s suffrage activity, with suffragists such as Millicent Fawcett of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, (NUWSS) and suffragette leaders Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and Lady Emily Lutyens all speaking at large public meetings in the venue.
You can read a blog post about suffragist Millicent Fawcett’s connection to the Brighton and the Dome here.
Disruption at Brighton Dome
As reported in The Brighton Gazette in 1910, two suffragettes, Eva Bourne and Mary Leigh, were found by police hiding inside the organ in Brighton Dome from where they planned to disrupt a speech by anti-suffrage Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. At this time, these meetings were for men only, and women were not permitted to attend.
Mary Leigh was a well known militant suffragette and was frequently arrested and imprisoned for her activities. Little is currently known about Eva Bourne, though she’s thought to have been a Brighton local.
Another woman, Emma Newsam (also known as Bessie Newsam) also gained entry to the venue by dressing in a man’s overcoat and cap, once inside, she shouted out ‘votes for women!’ before being bundled outside.
You can read more about the story of the suffragettes found hiding in the organ here.
This postcard shows, and seems to celebrate, four suffragettes campaigning outside the House of Commons. However, a message written anonymously on the back of the postcard reveals a sinister intent and demonstrates how bed tempered, and even violent, meetings associated with women’s suffrage could become;
'Gentlemen. A meeting will be held in the Dome, at B'ton on Wednesday next by Mrs Crissy Pankhurst. We hope to see a big audience of men to make things a bit livly [sic]. Please bring a weapon to defend yourselves with as the ladies use dog whips. I am yours truly the secretary to the suffragetts [sic]. Doors open at 7.30.'
It is believed that the message was intended for a group pf men attached to HMS Hindustan, a battleship docked at Portsmouth for a refit in April 1909.
Anti-Suffragette postcard, 1909, Brighton & Hove Museums
Suffragette City - Pilot Walking Trail Project
Find out more about the women’s suffrage movement and its connection with Brighton Dome and the city of Brighton and Hove with our Suffragette City leaflet and our pilot suffragette walking trail directions.
Our research into the Dome’s connection to the women’s suffrage movement is ongoing thanks to the brilliant work of our Heritage Volunteers.
If you are interested in getting involved, please contact email@example.com