Malicious mischief and the fight for women’s suffrage

A new exhibition revealing the plight of Scotland’s suffragettes in their battle against the Scottish justice system has opened in Edinburgh.

Photograph by: NRSThis postcard was found at the scene of an attempted fire-raising in 6 Park Gardens, Glasgow. It was used in the trial as evidence against Ethel Moorhead and Dorothea Smith.

Historical documents from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) reveal details of protests and arrests, hunger strikes and force-feeding as outlined in official government, court and prison records, as well as notes from prison attendants, doctors and other officials.

The exhibition, ‘Malicious Mischief? Women’s Suffrage in Scotland’, features some of the most active suffragettes in Scotland, such as Ethel Moorhead, Frances Gordon and Arabella Scott, who all underwent repeated imprisonment and force-feeding.

Documents from a private collection on display for the first time shine a light on the wider suffragist movement in Scotland, including the diaries of prominent suffragist Lady Frances Balfour, as well as a wide range of letters, newspaper cuttings, trial papers and personal correspondence.

Photograph by: NRSFanny Parker alias Janet Arthur

“Celebrating the centenary of some women securing the right to vote in the UK is an opportunity to reflect on the actions of the suffragists and the suffragettes, whose campaign for the vote marks an important milestone in women’s history,” said Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Culture Secretary.

“This exhibition demonstrates how much commitment these remarkable women showed to their cause.

“While we have come a long way since 1918, much still needs to be done to achieve gender equality and create a fairer country for all. This anniversary is a great occasion to inject new momentum into supporting women’s contribution to Scottish public, political and cultural life.”

The free exhibition, which runs until 31 August 2018, at General Register House on Princes Street, Edinburgh is open to the public Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 4.30pm.

Among the items on display is a postcard found at the scene of an attempted fire-raising in 6 Park Gardens, Glasgow. It was used in the trial as evidence against Ethel Moorhead and Dorothea Smith.

Flyer handed out after the release of Frances Gordon

Photograph by: NRSFlyer handed out after the release of Frances Gordon

There is also what appears to be a printed flyer handed out after the release from prison of Frances Gordon. Gordon was convicted in Glasgow High Court for house-breaking with intent to set fire.

Gordon was very sick through the duration of her force-feeding and was fed by both tube and ‘per bowel’. The authorities tried to explain her condition upon release, by suggesting she had undergone systematic self-drugging before admittance to the prison.

There is also the diary of Frances Balfour, a notable suffragist, with a page noting the death of Emily Wilding Davison. 

It says: ’Dined with Molly. Bols there. Derby day. Winner disqualified, Miss Davidson S.P.U. tried to destroy race. Touched King’s horse, she is dead. The 1st blood.’

“This fascinating collection of documents from NRS archives offers insight into the lives and activities of prominent figures in the women’s suffrage movement in Scotland, particularly their many confrontations with the justice system,” said Anne Slater, acting Chief Executive, NRS.