Hunger Strike Medal

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The Hunger Strike Medal with enamel bar for force-feeding awarded to Myra Sadd Brown in 1912

The Hunger Strike Medal was a silver medal awarded by the leadership of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) to suffragette prisoners who had gone on hunger strike for not being recognised as political prisoners while serving sentences in the prisons of the United Kingdom. Many women were force-fed.[1]

The WSPU awarded a range of military-style campaign medals to raise morale and encourage continued loyalty and commitment to the cause. The Hunger Strike Medals were first presented by leadership of the WSPU at a ceremony in early August 1909 to women who had gone on hunger strike while serving a prison sentence at Holloway Prison for some act of militancy connected with the campaign for women's suffrage such as smashing windows.[2] Later the medals would be presented at a breakfast reception on a woman's release from prison.

The round and hallmarked silver medals hang on a length of ribbon in the purple, white and green colours of the WSPU from a silver pin bar engraved ‘FOR VALOUR’, in imitation of the inscription found on the Victoria Cross. The obverse of the medal is inscribed 'HUNGER STRIKE', while on the reverse is engraved the recipient's name. The silver bars on the medal were awarded for periods of hunger strike and are engraved on the reverse with the date that the recipient was arrested leading to a hunger strike. The enamelled purple, white and green bars for force-feeding are similarly engraved on the reverse; the sculptor Edith Downing’s medal bar is engraved with ‘Fed by Force 1/3/12’ - the date that she was imprisoned which subsequently lead to her hunger strike and forcible feeding.[1] About 100 medals were awarded and could be issued with more than one bar representing multiple hunger strikes or force-feeding.[2][3]

Medal in its presentation case with silver bar for a hunger strike and enamel bar for force-feeding awarded by the WSPU to Mabel Capper

Each Hunger Strike Medal was presented in a purple box with a green velvet lining. A piece of white silk was fitted inside the lid which was printed in gold with the dedication: ‘Presented to [name] by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’. The medals were made by Toye & Co. and their manufacture cost the WSPU £1.00 each.[2]

Charlotte Blacklock's Hunger Strike Medal, Museum of Australian Democracy collection

The Museum of London holds the medal awarded to the suffragette leader Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst who went on hunger strike during a two-month prison sentence in 1912 for throwing a stone at a window of 10 Downing Street.[1]

Helen MacRae Hunger Strike Medal, auctioned by Lockdales Auctioneers in 2015. Author: Chris Elmy

Helen MacRae's Hunger Strike Medal in its case was auctioned in 2015 to a private collector, for £12,300,[4] Lockdales Auctioneer's auction manager, James Sadler said 'These are among the most historically important items we have ever dealt with.' [5]

A medal found in a drawer awarded to suffragette Elsie Wolff Van Sandau who was arrested for smashing a window in Covent Garden on 4 March 1912 and who went on hunger strike in prison was sold at auction in 2019 for £12,500.[6][7] A medal belonging to suffragette Selina Martin, auctioned in Nottingham in 2019, expected to fetch £15,000[8] was bought by the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia for £27,000.[9]

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa purchased Frances Parker medal in 2016.[10][11] The Museum of Australian Democracy holds the medal awarded to Charlotte Blacklock.[12] The medal awarded to Kate Williams Evans was sold at auction in 2018 and realised £48,640. It is now in the National Museum Wales.[13]

Medal recipients[edit]

Suffragettes on hunger strike in 1909 - photo by Elin Wagner
Hunger Strike Medal awarded to Georgina Fanny Cheffins
Emily Davison wearing her Hunger Strike Medal and Holloway brooch c. 1910–1912
Janie Terrero wearing her Hunger Strike Medal and Holloway brooch c. 1912

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Beverley Cook, Six things you should know about the Suffragette hunger strikes - Museum of London Collection
  2. ^ a b c Collecting Suffrage: The Hunger Strike Medal - Woman and Her Sphere website
  3. ^ Kevin Grant, Last Weapons: Hunger Strikes and Fasts in the British Empire, 1890–1948, University of California Press (2019) - Google Books pg.59
  4. ^ "Helen MacRae Suffragette gallantry medal auctioned". BBC News. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  5. ^ "Suffragette memorabilia - separating the fact from the fiction". Antique Collecting. 8 October 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  6. ^ Suffragette's hunger strike medal found after 100 years - BBC News 30 May 2019
  7. ^ suffragette's hunger strike medal sells for thousands - Hansons Auctioners
  8. ^ Whitfield, David (22 February 2019). "Rare suffragette medal is expected to fetch over £15,000 at auction". nottinghampost. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  9. ^ "Selina Martin Suffragette Hunger Strike Medal". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  10. ^ Thomas, Rachel (26 February 2016). "Te Papa buys rare bravery medal awarded to suffrage activist Frances Parker". Stuff. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  11. ^ "Who was Frances Parker?". Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. 2016. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  12. ^ Australian Museum of Democracy. "Suffragette hunger strike medal". Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  13. ^ Suffragette hunger strike medal archive sold for Catherine Southon house record to National Museum Wales - Antiques Trade Gazette 26 July 2018
  14. ^ Suffragette's medal sold at record price - ITV News 14 September 2015
  15. ^ Sarah Benett (Suffragette) - National Portrait Gallery, London
  16. ^ Suffragette hunger strike medal - Museum of Australian Democracy - 7 September 2011
  17. ^ Hunger Strike Medal awarded to Joan Cather (1912) - British Museum Collection Online
  18. ^ WSPU Hunger Strike Medal awarded to Alice Davies - Leeds University Library Galleries
  19. ^ Violet Mary Toy received a medal from Emmeline Pankhurst for joining the hunger strike in Holloway Prison - St Hilda's College, University of Oxford
  20. ^ WSPU Hunger Strike medal awarded to Caroline Lowder Downing, 1912 - Parliamentary Art Collection WOA S748
  21. ^ Suffragette hunger strike medal archive sold for Catherine Southon house record to National Museum Wales - Antiques Trade Gazette 26 July 2018
  22. ^ Rare suffragette’s Hunger Strike medal is set to be auctioned - Inside Croydon - 13 July 2018
  23. ^ Call for public's help to piece together life of Norfolk suffragette Caprina Fahey - Eastern Daily Press - 2 November 2017
  24. ^ a b "Chess Scotland". Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  25. ^ "Clara Mary LAMBERT — Godalming Museum". Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  26. ^ Suffragette Medal for Hunger Strike and for Valour bought for £27,250 - Lawrences Auctioneers - 20 May 2019
  27. ^ Correspondent, Emma KnightsArts. "Suffragette's life story inspires musical drama". Norwich Evening News. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  28. ^ Suffragette hunger striker’s medal goes on display at museum - Belfast News Letter - 28 September 2018
  29. ^ New Zealanders and the British suffrage movement - Museum of New Zealand
  30. ^ Suffragette Talk: Who was Pleasance Pendred? - Glasgow Women's Library online
  31. ^ Suffrage Stories: ‘From Frederick Street to Winson Green’: The Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Campaign - Woman and Her Sphere
  32. ^ Unused ticket: The suffragette story in seven objects - BBC News website (2018)
  33. ^ Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin (ed.) Women and Things 1750-1950: Gendered Material Strategies, Routledge (2016) - Google Books pg. 35
  34. ^ Hunger Strike Medal to Gertrude Wilkinson (1912) - Women's Library Suffrage Collection
  35. ^ The Suffragette Handkerchief - at The Priest House, West Hoathly - Sussex Past
  36. ^ Hunger strike medal presented to Letitia Withall by the Women's Social & Political Union (1913) - National Library of Australia Online Collection