A smashing time at Manchester Art Gallery

Gentleman correspondent, G.M. Norton tips his hat to ladies who fought for women’s rights in Manchester…

One hundred years ago this April, three Edwardian Suffragettes got in a spot of bother in the fight for universal suffrage by damaging prized paintings inside the Manchester Art Gallery.

This Machiavellian act of destruction took place on 100 years today on Thursday 3 April 1913, shortly before nine o’clock in the evening. After an attendant heard ‘crackings of glass’, the three ladies responsible for the furore, Lilian Forrester, Annie Briggs and Evelyn Manesta were discovered running amok, breaking the glass of the most prized pictures in the collections. The doors were promptly shut tight before the three women were apprehended by the police who later charged them under the Malicious Damage Act, 1861.

Art gallery

The cultural commotion was part of a wave of protests up and down the land against the jailing of Moss Side’s very own Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst. Just 24 hours earlier, Mrs. Pankhurst, the leader of the Suffragette movement, had been sentenced at the Old Bailey to three years in prison for ‘inciting persons unknown’ to burn down a building.

While some people would frown on such behaviour as not being very ladylike, I can only applaud their spirit in scoring a victory for equality.

Following the incident at Manchester Art Gallery, paintings continued to bear the brunt of the Suffragettes campaign for the female vote, selecting the most valuable pieces to grab national press attention. An excellent marketing campaign, I must say.


Despite such cunning acts, it wasn’t until the First World War that forced changes to be passed for women to vote (although there were restrictions – women had to be aged over 30 and either they or their husband be homeowners).

As men left their employment to fight for their country overseas, Suffragettes very ably filled the gap, finally giving women the chance to prove themselves. It took another ten years when the Equal Franchise Act was passed in 1928 before women had equal voting rights with men, allowing those aged over 21 the opportunity to vote.

Seven of the thirteen paintings that were attacked one hundred years ago are currently still on display.
To celebrate the art attack centenary, Manchester Art Gallery is holding a series of exhibitions and events titled Wonder Women, running until 17 April 2013.

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