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Tea set by a suffragette

Sylvia Pankhurst

By Raymond G. TaylorPublished about a month ago โ€ข Updated about a month ago โ€ข 3 min read
Top Story - June 2024
Suffragette Tea Set 1909, Tate Britain, photo RGT

Pankhurst is a name well known to the history of womenโ€™s suffrage. Who hasn't heard the name Emmaline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an all-women organisation campaigning for the right to vote? The group that helped to achieve the right to vote for women in Great Britain and Ireland in 1918. Some know of her daughter Christabel, both being honoured by the Pankhurst memorial in Victoria Palace Gardens, London, right next to the UK Parliament buildings. Sylvia Pankhurst is notably not included in the monument. Why? Because she split with the WSPU to campaign against Britain's entry into First World War.

At the outset of war in Europe in 1914 the WSPU suspended its campaigning, instead throwing its lot in with the war effort, encouraging women to take on war work. This was done in the hope of winning votes for women at the end of the war. Sylvia Pankhurst, on the other hand, continued the struggle and continued to campaign against the war, while organising food banks and soup kitchens for those thrown into poverty by the conflict. Throughout the rest of her life, she campaigned against Nazism, fascism, and poverty, and was a constant champion of human rights. She spent considerable time in the USA, supporting the campaign for women's votes and women's rights, later moving to Ethiopia, where she was honored by Emperor Haile Selassie.

This simple exhibit of a tea set designed by Sylvia is particularly welcome and is a rare example of an acknowledgment of her role in the successful campaign to win votes for British and Irish women. As such, it is gratifying to see it in the Tate Britain collection.

Quite apart from the artistic value of the ceramics, the display of this work demonstrates and evidences a piece of history that would otherwise have been lost, become invisible, just like so many other examples of the contributions of remarkable women to epoch-changing events in history. This set was designed by Sylvia and sold to WSPU members and supporters, raising money for the votes-for-women campaign.

The work is one of a number of Sylvia's artworks held in the Tate collection, the others being in storage and not currently on display.

Having commented on a wide range of art, I find it hard to comment on the tea set. To me, it is more of a design achievement than a work of art, if there is any difference. As a design, the tea set is clean and unfussy with aesthetically pleasing and simple lines. The kind of thing that would grace the table of any upmarket and stylish residence. The Color scheme demonstrates contrast a chic and stylish contrast and makes subtle but effective use of the WSPU logo. To my mind, the work is one that epitomises the haut style of the early part of the 20th century, and ought to be a subject of close study by students of art and design keen to make a connection between designs at different stages of the new century. The fact that the set most likely found a home among the genteel, does not detract from its historical significance, in my view.

Of more interest to me, however, would be her works representing working women:

The following is an example:

Not for Sylvia Pankhurst the dreamy, color-rich milkmaid paintings of Jan Vermeer or other such voyeuristic musings on the 'labouring classes'. Her work is very much down to earth and gritty, depicting an image of labour that documents but does not romanticize.

Concluding, I would say that Suffragette Tea Set 1909 represents an interesting slice of Sylvia Pankhurst's life. Her observational artwork, to me, is far more important. Both eclipsed by her powerful presence in the history of the women's rights movement, and campaigns for freedom, social justice and human rights. The tea set, nevertheless, stands testament to the remarkable and varied achievements of one of the 20th Century England's boldest and most influential figures, and one who has never received the recognition she deserves.

Sylvia Pankhurst stands tall in the pantheon of the movement to achieve universal suffrage among her other campaigning work. I will think of her memory when I cast my vote in the UK's July 4 general (parliamentary) election.

More about Sylvia Pankhurst

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If you found this article interesting, you might also like to read:

Raise a clenched fist to International Women's Day

For an index of Ray's arty musings, please see:

Taylor on art

Thanks for reading

O ~ 0 ~ o ~


About the Creator

Raymond G. Taylor

Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.

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Comments (22)

  • Angelina Vasas23 days ago

    Very interesting! Great Job!

  • Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. Itโ€™s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Very good Ray!!! This can also be helpful in the 2024 US Presidential Election. Our US Supreme is at stake. We must not let those win, that want to take the rights of the majority away in order to put in place their far-right religion of hate.

  • ROCK about a month ago

    I learned quite a bit Raymond! I had no idea she was an artist as well. Very well written!

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    Great job you have done Congratulations ๐ŸŽŠ

  • TahimaAniabout a month ago

    great task.. congratulations

  • Dana Crandellabout a month ago

    A very enjoyable look into the life of Ms Pankhurst, a person I wasn't aware of until now. Thank you for bringing her to light. Your mention of the design vs. art debate is intersting. I'll wager that one will never be resolved, other than at a personal level. Congratulations on a very worthy Top Story.

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Very interesting article!! Congrats on TS ๐Ÿฅณ- I had never heard of either (I'm U.S.). The tea set evokes a "heads of state" style - simple and not ornate. Yay for the women of the world who fight the evils marching across the planet. The first painting in your link taught me something else: potters standing on a rotating table known as a โ€˜whirlerโ€™. My dad wouldn't discuss genealogy, and we "think" we [Corwin] are Scottish or Welsh, but I'm too lazy and old to research it all on that side.

  • Ammu about a month ago


  • shanmuga priyaabout a month ago

    Congratulations ๐ŸŽ‰

  • Kageno Hoshinoabout a month ago

    Congrats on being top

  • It is so derful to read about this amazing lady, thank you. Congratulations ๐ŸŽ‰

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Back to say congratulations on your Top Story! ๐ŸŽ‰๐Ÿ’–๐ŸŽŠ๐ŸŽ‰๐Ÿ’–๐ŸŽŠ

  • Vicki Lawana Trusselli about a month ago

    Congratulations on your top story !

  • Natalie Wilkinsonabout a month ago

    Back to say congratulations on getting top story! I donโ€™t think it had that designation yet when I read it !

  • Rachel Robbinsabout a month ago

    Congratulations on Top Story. But also for bringing back into the light the fabulous Sylvia. She was always my favourite Pankhurst.

  • Caroline Janeabout a month ago

    Great article. Incredibly inspirational woman.

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!

  • Mark Grahamabout a month ago

    Good work. I could be wrong, but I think I remembering hearing something like more ideas and issues have been solved over tea or whatever than in an official meeting of some kind. So, the tea setting could have been how she got the right of women to vote in Great Britain and then moving over to the US and our women's voting rights.

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Oh my, I've never heard of Emmaline, Christabel or Sylvia. This was so eye opening to me and very fascinating!

  • Natalie Wilkinsonabout a month ago

    I have only recently become aware of the suffering women were subjected to obtain the voting rights (1920 for white women, 1965 most black and Native American women) and responsibilities we now enjoy- beaten, chained, jailed and force fed. I feel guilty if I neglect my privilege. And then onward to own property (1848 if married- 1974 if single!), manage our own money (1974!) and hold a credit card without a man signing off on it (1974!)-Sylvia's tea set is something that would still be pleasant to use today. Interesting story. Thanks.

Raymond G. TaylorWritten by Raymond G. Taylor

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