It is a fascinating piece of social history to examine the jewellery that became identified with the suffragettes. After 1900 there was a general movement towards softer, more feminine colours in jewellery. Fancy coloured sapphires were becoming popular, as were peridot and spinel. Diamonds were gaining support and were more available. Art Nouveau was everywhere.
So how did a woman know if a particular brooch, ring, bracelet, necklace or hat pin was feminist or not? Mrs Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper Votes for Women, explained the symbolism of the colours in spring 1908: "Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour. It stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity; white stands for purity in private and public life; green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring." In other words, she said, the colours stood for freedom and dignity, purity and hope.
Green, white and violet became the popularly recognised colours of the Women's Social and Political Union. Since the suffragette movement slogan was Give Woman the Vote, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst adopted the three colours: Green=Give, White = Woman and Violet = Vote. The WSPU exhorted women to "wear the colours" and show the support for the movement. Had amethysts, pearls and peridot not been popular jewels then, I doubt women would have worn them, just for feminist-political reasons.
Mrs Pethick-Lawrence wrote that “the colours enable us to make that appeal to the eye which is so irresistible. The result of our processions is that this movement becomes identified in the mind of the onlooker with colour, gay sound, movement and beauty." It certainly did, according to David Walters. One Sunday in June 1908, seven processions from different parts of London marched to Hyde Park with bands and banners; the colours of the movement - purple, white, and green - were in evidence in the favours and dresses of the processionists. Thirty special trains brought up working women from the provinces and the attendance was estimated a certainly 250,000 and probably more than 500,000.
1908 demonstration, Hyde Park. Note the white dresses with purple/green sashes
And one odd bit of fashion history: new laws were introduced in 1908 to limit the size of hat pins. Fearing that suffragettes would use their hat pins as weapons, the new laws specified that the length of hat pin was to be limited to 9”, from end to end. Thus many women were forced to trim down their pins and tone down their hats, to stay within the law.
Did women, who depended on their husband’s generosity in buying jewellery, mention the colours of the women’s movement? They may have simply said “I put aside a beautiful and very delicate bracelet this afternoon, Percy. It will go beautifully with my silk dress”. And did women comment on other women’s political commitments, if they noticed purple, white and green jewellery? Rather it seems that they could wear very fashionable jewellery and quietly make a feminist statement, through the symbolism of their jewel colours, at the same time.
As in any political movement, there were variations. The Women's Freedom League had a banner in green, yellow and white; the Married Women's Association has one in green and white; that of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship is green, red and white; one of the banners of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies is green, gold and white, but another is red and green. Ruby, white and green were the official colours of The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies which made several badges. The NUWSS feared that the militancy of the WSPU (the Pankhurst group whose colours were purple, green and white) would hurt the cause.
The Women's Suffrage Movement: 1866-1928, by Elizabeth Crawford, is excellent on suffragette jewellery whose symbolism is based, not on colours, but on prison related objects eg chains. Holloway Prison brooches and hunger-strike medals apparently became popular after 1909, when women were being tried and gaoled in larger numbers. A green enamelled shamrock pendant was worn by women released from Dublin's prison system.
Holloway Prison Brooch
However some later historians disagree. Kenneth Florey wrote: “There were a number of journals aimed at suffrage sympathisers, including Votes for Women, The Suffragist and The Woman's Citizen that included advertising. No ad for chain or lock suffrage jewellery ever appeared in these papers nor is there any mention of any Secret Code, especially one involving a corruption of the official colours of the movement. Without wide-scale publicity within the movement itself, the symbolism of any alleged suffrage icon would have been obscure to the average woman”.