Suffragette Lady Constance Lytton is Forcibly Fed in an English Jail (18 Jan 1910)
The following is a historical quote about the effort and sacrifice involved in winning a right that many now take for granted: the right of a woman to vote.
We DO NOT want this read as an example of NonViolent Action, we DO NOT recommend hunger strikes. But PLEASE LOOK at what this woman was willing to sacrifice (she could have suffered serious injury, even death, from the force feeding). As we watch parents and children unjustly separated, today, what are we willing to sacrifice? Not as a demonstration of our anger, but to show our love. We have also included a little historical background on how women won the right to vote in England. We have quoted liberally below from the books in the following bibliography.
I was visited by the Senior Medical Officer, who asked me how long I had been without food. I said I had eaten a buttered scone and a banana on Friday about midnight. He said, "Oh, then, this is the fourth day; that is too long, I must feed you at once."
He urged me to take food voluntarily. I told him that was absolutely out of the question, that when our legislators ceased to resist letting women vote then I should cease to resist taking food in prison.
Two of the guards took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet. The doctor leaned on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth. I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth. He seemed annoyed at my resistance and he broke into a temper as he plied my teeth with the steel implement. He dug his instrument down and it pressed fearfully on the gums. The pain of it was intense and at last I must have given way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they would go naturally.
Then he put down my throat a tube which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet in length. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had got down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me vomit a few seconds after it was down and the action of my sickness made my body and legs double up, but the guards instantly pressed back my head and the doctor leaned on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe. I was sick over the doctor and the guards ...
When the doctor had gone out of the cell, I lay quite helpless. The guards were kind and knelt round to comfort me, but there was nothing to be done. I had been sick over my hair, all over the wall near my bed, and my clothes seemed saturated with it, but the guards told me they could not give me a change that night as the office was shut.
Before long I heard the sounds of the forced feeding in the next cell to mine. It was almost more than I could bear, it was Elsie Howey. When the ghastly process was over and all quiet, I tapped on the wall and called out at the top of my voice, which wasn't much just then, "No surrender," and there came her reply, "No surrender."
-- above taken from "Eyewitness to History" by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books, page 423
HISTORY - The right to vote in parliamentary elections was still denied to women, however, despite the considerable support that existed in Parliament for legislation to that effect. In 1897 the various suffragist societies united into one National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, thus bringing a greater degree of coherence and organization to the movement. Out of frustration at the lack of governmental action, however, a segment of the woman suffrage movement became more militant under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel.
After the return to power of the Liberal Party in 1906, the succeeding years saw the defeat of seven suffrage bills in Parliament. As a consequence, many suffragists became involved in increasingly violent actions as time went on. These women militants, or suffragettes, as they were known, were sent to prison and continued their protests there by engaging in hunger strikes. Meanwhile, public support of the woman suffrage movement grew in volume, and public demonstrations, exhibitions, and processions were organized in support of women's right to vote.
When World War I began, the woman suffrage organizations shifted their energies to aiding the war effort, and their effectiveness did much to win the public wholeheartedly to the cause of woman suffrage. The need for the enfranchisement of women was finally recognized by most members of Parliament from all three major parties, and the resulting Representation of the People Act was passed by the House of Commons in June 1917 and by the House of Lords in February 1918. Under this act, all women age 30 or over received the complete franchise.