After receiving great news that our project, Fight for the Right, was going to be funded by the HLF it was all systems go! Workshops at Birmingham Archives were the first activities planned, so the students can begin their research into the Birmingham Suffragettes and Suffragists. Most of the young people didn’t realise that there were two groups of women using different methods to try and gain the right to vote. At the first workshop we thought about this and looked at examples of both peaceful and non-peaceful protest.
One of the most notorious incidents of militant protest occurred when Prime Minister Asquith visited Birmingham’s Bingley Hall to address the Liberal meeting on the budget. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) tried to gain entry to the meeting but were prevented from doing so.
Alternative tactics were then employed – two of the women climbed onto the roof of a nearby house and threw roof slates at Asquith’s car (the newspapers contain amazing stories of “fragile” women climbing out of windows onto ladders!). The disturbance continued while Asquith was in Birmingham, and another missile was thrown at his train as he left.
10 women were arrested in connection with the disturbances, one of whom, Hilda Evelyn Burkitt, a 26-year-old WSPU committee member from Sparkbrook, will be the subject of further research. We first encountered Burkitt in the Birmingham Weekly Mercury in October 1908, where she is illustrated participating in a peaceful debate about womens’ suffrage at the Aston Parliament. Unfortunately, her militant activities at Bingley Hall resulted in a custodial sentence and she was sent to Winson Green, where she underwent force feeding.