'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.
Police report on a planned demonstration by the Men's League for Women's Suffrage in Parliament
18 April 1914
Parliamentary Archives, HC/SA/SJ/10/12/54
8th April 1914
I beg to state that in consequence of information received from the Special Branch that a demonstration of members of the Mens League for Womens Suffrage was likely to occur at a given time in the Members Gallery, central hall and Dining Rooms on 7th inst., special arrangements were made accordingly.
At 4 p.m. a Constable of the Special Branch, who was on duty in St Stephen's Hall, recognized Edward Leonard Needham, of 2 Hill Rise Forest Hill, S.E. and John Teague, of 76 Cullon Street Bromley-by-Bow as sympathisers of the suffragettes. They were informed by me that unless they obtained an order from a Member, admission to the Gallery would be refused.
They left the precincts of the House immediately.
At 4.40p.m. Clement Jeffery of 136 Duke Street Leith applied at the Admission Order office for an order for the Gallery but his name and address had been previously supplied to that office as a sympathiser, who intended to create a disturbance and he also was refused admission.
He proceeded to the Central Hall and sent in a card to Mr Currie M.P. but after waiting a short time left the building and was followed by a plain clothes officer to the offices of the Mens Union Buckingham Street Strand.
Nothing further transpired during the sitting of the House.
S Rogers Insp.