Winson Green force feeding

Detail from Winson Green Visiting Commitee investigation into force feeding of suffragettes, PS/B/4/5/1/3, Birmingham Archives and Heritage

Hunger striking was an important propaganda tool for imprisoned suffragettes.  Winson Green prison, Birmingham, was one of the first prisons in the country to practise force feeding.

Hunger strikes were carried out by imprisoned suffragettes because they were not given the status of political prisoners.  Prisons responded by force feeding suffragettes on hunger strike.  Winson Green prison in Birmingham was one of the first prisons in the country to practise force feeding on suffragettes.

Force feeding was an extremely unpleasant and humiliating ordeal for suffragettes, and it provided the movement with powerful propaganda against the government.

One of the pro-women’s suffrage MPs, Keir Hardie, repeatedly brought the issue of force feeding suffragettes up in Parliament, specifically asking about events at Winson Green.  You can read his questions, and the responses of the Home Secretary, in this excerpt from Hansard:

Keir Hardie questions the Home Secretary about force feeding

The practise of force feeding was unpopular with the public, and eventually the government sought to deal with hunger striking suffragettes with the Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act.  This allowed for the release of women made dangerously ill by hunger striking.  They were required to return to prison once their health had improved, beginning the process once again.