Mud March (Suffragists)
The Mud March of 7 February 1907 was the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Over 3,000 women trudged through the cold and the rutty streets of London from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall to advocate for women's suffrage.
Millicent Fawcett, the renowned leader of the NUWSS and one of the leaders of the march, said of the elements: "The London weather did its worst against us; mud, mud, mud, was its prominent feature, and it was known among us afterwards as the 'mud march.'" Despite the conditions, however, the Mud March is described as: "A gay enough procession by most accounts, despite the weather. Little touches of red and white splashed its length with rosettes and favours, posies bound with red and white handkerchiefs programmes, and above the line, white banners with vivid scarlet lettering."
The march was attended by "titled women, university women, artists, members of women's clubs, temperance advocates, and women textile workers gathered from all parts of the country." More than forty organisations were represented at the march. One description of the march declared, "'[there were] plenty of well-dressed ladies and a few persons of distinction' to head it up and 'a long line of carriages and motor-cars to wind it up–altogether an imposing and representative array.'"
Key people and organisational distinctions
Phillipa (Pippa) Strachey, the daughter of Lady Strachey who was also one of the leaders of the procession, organised the Mud March. The Mud March demonstrated Strachey's skill as an "organizing genius" and led to the planning of many more processions. Strachey was described as the "indefatigable organizer, [the] competent, [and] imaginative" woman who was responsible for the meticulous planning of all future large processions of the NUWSS.
Millicent Fawcett, co-led the march with fellow "constitutionalist" suffragists Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and Keir Hardie. The constitutionalist suffragists, of which the NUWSS was comprised, were "committed by definition to non-militant activity," whereas the "suffragettes," of which the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was comprised, employed militant tactics of protest.
While constitutionalists like Fawcett did not condone the militant tactics of the suffragettes, they recognised that they needed to be visible and vocal in society to be successful in their cause. One historical scholar suggests that the Mud March was a demonstration of the fact that the NUWSS "[came to] believe that only the mass demonstration could provide evidence—through its scale[—] that large numbers of women wanted to vote, and through its administration and design that the community at large would gain."
Indeed, some time after the Mud March, Fawcett stated, "We, the old stagers, adopted new methods, one of the most successful of which was the organization of public processions in the streets."
Despite the poor weather conditions, thousands of spectators lined the route of the Mud March. The sight of women of all ages, class, and profession marching side by side—in horrendous weather and through muddied streets—was a novelty worth withstanding the elements to witness. Newspapers and magazines in Europe and in the United States fixated upon the diversity represented in the march.
The idea that women had a general distaste for "public display" in British society at this time made the participants in the march appear even more dedicated in the eyes of the spectators. As the Manchester Guardian noted: "Nobody can suppose that most of the women who took part [in the march]…can have done so for sport or for the pleasure of the thing…it requires some courage for a woman to step out of her drawing room into the street to take her place in a mixed throng for a cause probably distasteful to many or most of her acquaintances, and to see herself pilloried in the newspaper the next morning by name as one of the 'Suffragettes.'"
At the conclusion of the march, one participant was quoted as saying, "We had done what had seemed to so many the ridiculous thing, and the crowd, by taking us seriously, had robbed it of its absurdity."
Scholarly insights on long-term effects
Leaders of the suffragist movement, contemporary historians and scholars alike consider the Mud March 1907 to have helped solidify large suffrage processions as a key feature of the British movement.
Deborah Gardener, of the Yale University Press and the New-York Historical Society, cites the Mud March as the first significant, large suffragist procession in England and underlines the positive effect such processions had on the image of suffragists in the public eye:
The suffrage marches drew thousands of participants, starting with the three thousand in February 1907—the ‘Mud March’—and ending with forty thousand at the last in 1913, but more important they drew vast crowds (hundreds of thousands) and concomitant press coverage. Both the constitutionalists and the militants understood the value of such reportage in conveying the message ‘that all sorts and conditions of women wanted the vote, and that women who wanted the vote were not as they popularly conceived to be in the public mind or as caricatured in the illustrated press’…the suffragist movement’s capture of the image of ‘womanly’ women, in contrast to popular images of ‘shrieking’ or hysterical women.
In The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907–14, author Lisa Tickner recognises, as did Gardener, the long-term significance of the Mud March: “The Mud March, modest and uncertain as it was by subsequent standards, established the precedent of large-scale processions, carefully ordered and publicized.” Tickner also observes that the “social mix” represented in the Mud March was a foretaste of the effect the suffrage movement would have on the interaction between classes in society.
In her book Connecting Links: The British and American Suffrage Movements, 1900–1914, Patricia Harrison suggests that the NUWSS was able to emulate the enthusiasm and resolve of the militants and while remaining loyal to the constitutional suffrage movement’s commitment to non-militant tactics by organising processions and demonstrations like the Mud March.
- Patricia Greenwood Harrison, Connecting Links: The British and American Woman Suffrage Movements, 1900–1914 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000), 63.
- Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Women's Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement (London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1912), 86.
- Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907–14, New Ed. edition (London: University of Chicago Press, 1988) 75.
- Harrison, 63.
- Tickner, 75.
- Harrison, 64.
- Harrison, 48.
- Tickner, 80.
- Tickner, 75–76
- Tickner, 78
- Tickner, 75
- Tickner, 74
- Deborah S. Gardener, "Review of The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907–14" by Lisa Tickner, The Art Bulletin 71, no.4 (December 1989):702.
- Tickner, 78.
- Garrett Fawcett, Millicent. Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1912.
- Gardener, Deborah. "Review of The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907–14" by Lisa Tickner, The Art Bulletin 71, no.4 (1989): 702.
- Greenwood Harrison, Patricia. Connecting Links: The British and American Woman Suffrage Movements, 1900–1914. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000.
- Tickner, Lisa. The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907–14. New Ed. London: University of Chicago Press, 1988.