Hello SK fans,
Thanks for checking in today, WHM 12, 2014.
Continuing with the Women in History Month theme, we’re dealing with a heavy topic, force feeding and the Cat and Mouse Act.
On the lighter side of things, SK followers may remember my rants about MAD not buying me my own mouse to play with (he still won’t, btw). That’s all good and fun (although how would I know, as I have yet had a mouse to play with?), but the British suffragettes experienced a severe, nearly life-threatening game of Cat and Mouse.
First a little background.
Emmeline Goulden was born into a proper London family in 1858. She received the best of the best and after a polished education in Paris married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years older than she, who was recognized for his advocacy in allowing women to vote. A match made in heaven, as Emmeline was already spearheading women’s rights issues.
Emmeline began the Women’s Franchise League in 1889 with a mission to allow married women, at least, a right to vote in local elections. This endeavor led to her formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
The Union is really what put the focus on suffragettes, especially with its mission: “dedicated to deeds, not words.”
For starters, members of the all-women union were the first to be called suffragettes, a word with a French origin for devout prayer. Members were also born into either middle-class or the elite class, meaning they were pretty much all educated and well positioned to petition a cause.
Second, Union members sought attention rather militantly. Examples would be smashing windows and setting fires, screaming protests and hurling objects at spectators. Naturally, these acts, regardless of their cause or the social status of the suspects, led to arrests.
Arresting scores of educated well-positioned white women in Victorian Era England was an embarrassment for the British government. For added insult, many of the incarcerated suffragettes continued their advocacy by refusing to eat. This infuriated prison and government officials.
They fought back with “force feedings.” Here is a brief description of what the hunger strikers endured:
Their mouths were clamped shut
The rest of their bodies were restrained with straps and force
Rubber hoses were inserted through their mouths and nostrils until they reached their esophagus.
A china funnel was inserted on one end of the hose.
A pureed food product was placed in the funnel
An attendant pressed the food product through the hose in hopes it would reach the stomach.
This worked as well as it sounds it would. The women would vomit, become sicker and endure injuries to the mouths, stomachs, esophagus and extremities, especially if they were tightly restrained.
It did not help the British government’s public relations any, either.
So it fought back with a game of Cat and Mouse. Here’s how that worked:
Upon arrest, suffragettes would automatically go on a hunger strike. This time, instead of being force-fed, officials would let them starve until they became so weak, they could hardly move. If they could not move, they could not smash many windows, so they were released “on license,” much like “on probation,” to their families.
Families naturally nourished the women back to health. The women went back out raising awareness for the right for women to vote. Windows were smashed, objectiles were hurled and arrests were made. If a women “on license” was caught protesting, she was immediately re-arrested (is that a word? we’re not sure.). The hunger strike would begin again and the game of Cat and Mouse would start all over again.
This would probably still be going on had Germany not invaded Belgium around 1914. England, once nicely protected by the English Channel from the German invasions on the mainland, decided to protect its interests in France and Belgium, so it declared war on Germany. Government officials had to turn their attention to foreign battles instead of domestic games of Cat and Mouse. Who would have thought that World War 1 would put an end to such foolishness?
For the record, World War 1 ended in 1918, which is the same year women in the United Kingdom won the right to vote.
Meryl Streep is portraying Emmeline Pankhurst in the upcoming movie “Suffragette.” We love Meryl. The movie is being shot right now in the UK!
And, for a little fun fact, the UK’s most famous feminist Emmeline Pankhurst disowned her daughter Sylvia for not marrying her child’s father.
Back to serious stuff: Cats in Great Britain and the U.S., still do not have the right to vote. What is up with that????
Well, there you are, a little piece of the history on how women struggled for the opportunity to cast votes to help shape their governments. Many never lived to experience their own success, so therefore, try to remember their efforts every time you cast a ballot.