The use of spectacle, such as large-scale demonstrations, marches, parades or processions, is one of the most dramatic and effective ways to illustrate the strength of a movement.

The first large-scale suffrage demonstration was organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) on 9 February 1907. Starting from Hyde Park corner, 3,000 women, representing 40 suffrage groups, walked to Exeter Hall in the Strand. This procession became known as the ‘mud march’ because of the mud that had accumulated on the women’s shoes and dresses by the end.

Screenshot_47The last great suffrage procession was on 17 June 1911 when 40,000 women from 28 suffrage societies formed a seven-mile long train, starting at the Embankment and ending at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington. The procession was the largest, most spectacular, and the most widely-representative of all the demonstrations of the women’s suffrage campaign. It took place a week before the coronation of King George V, and it was hoped that strength of numbers would ensure the vote for women.

Suffrage processions were heavily orchestrated and offered wonderful opportunities for artistic and symbolic display. They were meant to impress H.H. Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, Parliament in general, and win over the public to the cause.

NUWSS made striking use of embroidered or appliqued banners, many of them designed by Mary Lowndes, who was passionate about women’s political needlework. Suffrage banner designs represented occupations, historical figures and regional groups. For example, the one for Wimbledon, or a suffrage groups, such as the Actresses’ Franchise League.

Screenshot_44Demonstration, perhaps the most overt form of campaigning, is intended to create a public show. This clip from UCL Film Society’s newsreel archive captures the spectacle of demonstrating as it records UCL students on the first national Women’s Liberation Movement march on 6 March 1971.

Greenham Common Peace Camp carried out many demonstrations during the 1980s and 1990s. The first march was on 5 September 1981 when a Welsh group, ‘Women for Life on Earth’, marched from Cardiff to Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest against NATO’s decision to site nuclear missiles there. Banners played a prominent role in this peace campaign. Many banners were designed by Thalia Campbell and the art of political needlework was renewed.

Screenshot_45Annual events are another way to raise awareness for a cause. The Glastonbury Festival was founded in 1970 by CND-supporter Michael Eavis and this event remains an important venue in the campaigning calendar of CND. The annual Pride parade in London is a way for the LGBT community to celebrate its culture. It usually takes place in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots in 1969.

Find out more from the LSE archive catalogues:

Campaigning: Causes and Connections

LSE Library

Free exhibition until 31 August 2015

Further information


Image 1: 10499844 caption ‘1911 women’s coronation procession 7JCC/O/02/074

Image 2: 10511978 caption ‘Mary Lowndes design for East Anglian banner  2ASL/11/09

Image 3: TWL 00312 001 caption ‘image of Greenham banner TWL/2003/274

Gillian Murphy

About Gillian Murphy

Gillian Murphy is an Assistant Archivist in LSE Library.