Force-feeding British suffragettes

This video about United States’ women suffrage history says about itself:

Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) in Iron Jawed Angels is force fed after refusing to eat. The women singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” are suffragettes who have been imprisoned for supporting the women’s right to vote.

Song Lyrics:

I was standing by my window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky

For I told that undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For that body you are hauling
Lord, I hate to see her go

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky

I will follow close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky

From British daily The Morning Star:

Magazine highlights force-feeding of suffragettes

Tuesday 26 May 2009

A “harrowing” account of hunger-striking suffragettes being force-fed was revisited on Tuesday.

Imprisoned women who were refusing to eat were subjected to “brutal, life-threatening and degrading procedures,” according to BBC History Magazine.

Author Jane Purvis described how many members of the Women’s Social and Political Union were held down and forced to take a concoction of milk, bread and brandy.

Political campaigners were restrained by female warders while two male doctors put a rubber tube, “which was not always new,” either up a nostril or down the throat and into the stomach to administer the mixture.

Ms Purvis reported that sometimes the procedure would go wrong and the tube would accidentally enter the windpipe, causing the food to enter the lungs and endanger the lives of the women.

She wrote: “Although the word ‘rape’ was not used by the prisoners to describe their experiences, the instrumental invasion of the body, accompanied by the overpowering physical force, suffering and humiliation, was akin to it and commonly described as an ‘outrage’.”

The Suffragettes‘ association with hunger-striking began in July 1909 when Marion Wallace Dunlop fasted for 91 hours after being sent to Holloway prison for printing an extract from the Bill of Rights on a wall inside the House of Commons. Following her protest, she was released from captivity.

The government responded by force-feeding prisoners who refused food, arguing that it was “ordinary hospital treatment to preserve women’s lives.”

The article about the “most shameful episode in the history of the British women’s suffrage campaign” can be read in BBC History Magazine, which went on sale on Tuesday, priced £3.60.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Edinburgh: here.

37 thoughts on “Force-feeding British suffragettes

  1. Found this fascinating. You may find my Diary of an unknown suffragette equally so.
    In sorting my late Father’s papers I found a copy of a Diary, written exactly 100 years ago and I have been blogging it since 12th July.
    Our Suffragette was imprisoned in Holloway and along with the others went on Hunger Strike. My own Great Grandmother was also imprisoned and was force fed. The Diary is not hers and I am still researching to find the identity of our unknown Suffragette


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  30. Occoquan Workhouse, Virginia, November 14 2017 : “Night of Terror” for imprisoned American suffragettes

    A suffragette picket outside the White House, 1917

    Thirty-three arrested suffragettes, arrested for picketing outside of the White House for women’s right to vote, are brutally assaulted at their prison-workhouse in rural northern Virginia. Women, including one as old as 73 years, are attacked by several dozen prison guards, acting under the immediate orders of prison warden W.H. Whittaker.

    Prison guards punch, kick, choke, and throw women against cell walls and floors. Lucy Burns, a leader of the militant National Women’s Party that organized the daily pickets outside of the White House, is handcuffed and chained with her arms above her head, and left this way until morning.

    The various factions of the women’s movement support American involvement in the Great War. Some go so far in this support that they join Wilson in calling on women to wait for the conclusion of hostilities to press their demands. The NWP suffragettes, instead, aim to expose the hypocrisy of Wilson’s “War for Democracy” in Europe, under conditions where women do not have the right to vote in America.

    The brutal treatment meted out to the imprisoned NWP, executed by District of Columbia police and prisons, is in retaliation for challenging Wilson, and part and parcel of a broader campaign of repression, which includes the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners. Alice Paul, another leader of the NWP, is placed in solitary confinement in the Washington, DC jail, where she is force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube.

    The practice of “high cuffing,” or torturing victims by handcuffing them with their arms above their heads, was in widespread use at the time. The technique will be most infamously used in the case of conscientious objectors Joseph and Michael Hofer. Hutterites from South Dakota who were conscripted into the American army, the brothers refused to wear the uniform. After being court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor at Alcatraz, the brothers were tortured and murdered by the US military at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in late 1918.


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