Cambridge Alumnae Suffrage Banner (1908)

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This banner, first carried in the suffrage marches of the early 20th century, will be familiar to alumnae and is one of the most treasured items in the collection. It was created by students of Newnham and Girton in their fight for the vote.

Banners had been widely used by trade unions as a symbol of solidarity, but the suffragist banners took a deliberately different approach. The silk, velvet and embroidery was a deliberate transformation of the traditionally feminine to the explicitly political.

Handmade from silk, velvet, with embroidery and silver paint, the huge banner was a demonstration of the young women’s talents and commitment to the suffragist cause. It was carried by a Cambridge contingent of 400 women in the great suffrage procession of 13 June 1908 and in several processions thereafter. They were joined by women carrying banners representing cities, counties, countries, professions, Universities, and much more.

The banner’s design was created by artist Mary Lowndes, who designed so many of the suffrage banners. The students themselves, however, appear to have added the motto, ‘Better is wisdom than weapons of war’, which does not appear on the original design.

The original banner is displayed within a purpose-built case in the Buttery Corridor, right at the heart of the College. The large timber doors of the case protect the textile from light damage, but can easily be opened for viewing the work. A replica made by costume designer Annabel O’Doherty hangs in the Library, an inspiration to all those working there.

(Blue velvet and turquoise Indian silk hand embroidered with sprigs of flowers. The Indian silk was supplied by art collector Christiana Herringham, who donated so many European and Asian textiles to Newnham.)