Skip to main content

'Suffragettes in Trousers'

‘The petticoat no longer makes the Suffragette. We are suffragettes – suffragettes in trousers.' Israel Zangwill, member of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, 1907

On the evening of 28 October 1908, Victor Storr and Thomas Bayard Simmonds set into motion a series of protests in Parliament that became known collectively as the “Grille Protest”. The two men entered with admission orders signed by MPs John Clynes and Will Crooks. Once in the Public Gallery they rose from their seats and demanded “justice for the women of England”. They threw suffrage handbills into the Chamber that “descended in a snow storm on members”.  In the Ladies' Gallery, women protestors chained themselves to the heavy metal grille that obscured women from the Chamber, while simultaneous protests occurred in St Stephen's Hall. Speaking later, when order had been restored, the Speaker declared that the “decencies of the House (had been) violated.”

Time and again, male supporters demonstrated their commitment to the cause of votes for women with similar protests in and around Parliament. In April 1914, a protest planned by the Men's League was thwarted thanks to intelligence from Special Branch, but many were not.

The ‘suffragettes in trousers' encountered ridicule and slurs on their ‘manliness'. Some risked their reputations and careers and sometimes their liberty and their health.