Wonder Women: “respectable” women destroy Manchester art & change politics

4 Posted by 28 January 2013
Ballet mannequins at The Lowry
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A shocking event at Manchester Art Gallery inspires a new, five-year programme. 

Women. The weaker sex. Gentle, nurturing souls, who defer to their “better” halves, who are perhaps less seen and less heard than their own children. That’s how women were once supposed to behave, as if they had not a will and a mind of their own. Imagine, then, the shock when a group of women – and “respectable” ones at that – stormed an art gallery and smashed dozens of artworks hanging inside. All in the name of making their voices heard; in proving the point that not only should women have the right to vote, but that they were willing to become political activists in order to make that right a reality.

This was an event that occurred in Manchester in April 1913. Clever, well researched and prepared, three ordinary women surprised guards at Manchester Art Gallery, smashing the glass of thirteen paintings and causing a commotion that captured national attention – for all the wrong reasons. As a political act, it was part of a campaign that had already seen militant, direct action used to further the Suffragette cause: women chained to railings, mailboxes set on fire, deadly hunger strikes and bombings all kicked off from 1912. And in June 1913, Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. She died a few days later.

Yet it took another five years for women to be granted the right to vote in this country (not all women, mind; that didn’t come until 1928). So 100 years after that shock moment at Manchester Art Gallery it feels like a good time to re-start the debate about how far women have come – and how far we have yet to go. Thus, the city’s museums and galleries have together created Wonder Women: Radical Manchester, a five-year project that features events, exhibitions, workshops, tours, music and talks all about women. Five years ahead of the centenary of 1918, the city hopes to kick-start a national conversation that begins here in Manchester, in the birthplace of the Suffragette movement. Join us and, like those women at Manchester Art Gallery in 1913, make your voice heard.

Wonder Women Programme 2013

In the run-up to 2018, Wonder Women: Radical Manchester will run a programme of events that coincides with International Women’s Day and other important milestones. In 2013, there are over 20 organisations taking part, with 45 events spread over four weeks – from Sunday 3 March until Thursday 4 April. The politics of protest and progress are explored in gallery talks, city walking tours, exhibitions, late night events, live performances, film, photography and collections – with performance poets, authors, singers, musicians, girl geeks, historians, clerics and DJs. We will of course be publishing previews, features and reviews throughout February and March.

Outside this year’s programme, ongoing debate, archive material and information will be gathered and shared on the People’s History Museum’s new blog, details of which we will publish soon. Ideas worth fighting for? Indeed.

  1. Wonder Women Radical Manchester programme & Full of Noise Festival Radio Commission creative music > experimental music > electronic music blog > Manchester bands > caro c says:

    […] A diverse and bold programme of events are taking place in Manchester this month of March under the umbrella of a larger 5 year project called Wonder Women | Radical Manchester. […]

  2. Delia Darlings: Celebrating the Life and Work of Delia Derbyshire at Manchester Art Gallery | deliaderbyshireday says:

    […] part of ‘Wonder Women | Suffragette Manchester‘, there will be a special Delia Darlings event at Manchester Art Gallery on Thursday 14th March, […]

  3. Penni Blythe says:

    Please note this article perpetuates the myth of Emily wilding Davison ‘throwing herself under the King’s horse’. The incredible range of events both in Northumberland (her family home and where she is buried) in 2013 alongside years of patient research by local genealogist, Maureen Hughes, Emily’s own writings (edited by Emeritus Professor of English, Carolyn Collette) and Claire Balding’s TV programme, ‘Secrets of a Suffragette’ which included previously unseen footage of the actual event all revealed she stepped onto the racecourse lifting something up. The background being a planned attempt to bring the Suffragette’s cause in front of the King by pinning a banner/ scarf onto his horse in the ring before the race. This was foiled when Emily realised there were people there who would have recognised her. There is considerable evidence, supported by corroborated family information that emily had no intention of ending her life by ‘throwing herself’.

  4. Christine Telford says:

    As a relative of Emily Wilding Davison I wish to correct your wholly incorrect statement of what happened at Epsom racecourse. The political spin of the day to discredit Emily and her cause led to the “throwing herself….” statement. She did not, her aim was to pin the suffragette colours on the King’s horse. Evidence for this is within Maureen Howes publication, “A Suffragette’s Family Album”. ISBN-10 0752498029. This details her research as a genealogist with family testimony and support and is now a recommended text for schools. Emily’s return rail ticket, her plans to attend a suffragette meeting later that day and plans to visit her sister and new baby in France together with testimony from the daughter of the King’s jockey. I respectfully suggest you read it.

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