THEY were first to deploy the away-day tactics later used by football hooligans.
The courage and commitment of the Scots suffragettes who travelled to London by train for hit-and-run demonstrations are being remembered on the centenary of women winning the vote.
Their campaign of disruption saw them attack the country’s most famous buildings and sporting events and try to reduce Rabbie Burns’ cottage to rubble.
It saw them branded as terrorists and suffer the most appalling treatment in jails. But the effort of suffragettes was instrumental in the women of Britain getting the right to vote on February 6, 1918.
And on the eve of the centenary milestone, one expert says suffragettes in Scotland played a key role in changing the course of history.
“There are many women in Scotland who were leaders of the suffrage campaign,” said Professor Sarah Pederson.
“When we talk about the suffragettes, we tend to think about London and Emmeline Pankhurst. But there were lots of things that happened in Scotland.”
Women who won equality
Became the Scottish leader of the WSPU, attracting huge crowds as she travelled the country giving speeches.
Left a rare legacy of letters giving insight into the struggle, rare as offices were regularly raided by the police.
Was a formidable figure as she led the 1909 Edinburgh march astride her horse, right.
The first suffragette in the UK to go on hunger strike, demanding to be treated as a political prisoner.
Attacked the Wallace Monument and was first to be force fed at Calton Jail in Edinburgh.
The 1880s saw the campaign get under way with the establishment of bodies like the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage. After two decades and more of fruitless peaceful pressure, the beginning of the 20th Century saw some involved, led by Mrs Pankhurst, losing patience.
The formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union, WSPU, signalled a change of tack and the birth of the suffragette.
And the arrival of former Manchester schoolteacher Teresa Billington to set up WSPU branches north of the Border in 1906 brought the movement to Scotland.
“Thousands of people turned out to see her as they’d heard so much about these ‘harridans fighting and getting arrested’,” said Professor Pederson, of Robert Gordon University. “Her notoriety made her a draw and the message started being heard.”
Scotland’s place on the suffragette stage took on extra importance as Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the MP for Stirling. And his Chancellor – and successor as PM – Herbert Asquith, represented East Fife.
Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughter Sylvia and other leading lights of the suffragette movement beat a regular path to their constituencies to persuade others of their cause. Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, was also a high profile target in Dundee.
And hundreds of Scottish women took the fight to England, boarding trains at Edinburgh for day excursions to London for mass smashing of department store windows in Oxford Street before getting the evening express home.
On home soil, huge protests took place, with Edinburgh seeing key ones in 1907 and 1909 where a horseback-led march brought the city centre to a halt. “By the time we get to 1912, what the suffragettes were doing can only be described as terrorism,” said Professor Pederson, who is giving a series of talks around the anniversary.
“They tried to blow up Burns Cottage as they tried to get the Government to accede to their demands in any way they could.
“Golf courses were attacked in the dead of night, with ‘Votes for women’ burned into the greens with acid. And a group led by Lilius Mitchell went to Balmoral while the king was in residence and changed the flags into women’s suffrage flags.”
Arrests were commonplace and many suffragettes found themselves behind bars. Scots artist Marion Wallace-Dunlop was the first in the UK to go on hunger strike.
But the authorities in England soon decided that force feeding was the way forward.
“The women would be held down and have a tube pushed down their mouth or nose and then have gruel poured down it,” Prof Pederson said.
“The damage that did was terrible. In Scotland, it was 1914 when militant Ethel Moorehead was the first to have it done. It went horribly wrong when the tube went into her lung.
“That led to what was almost a specialist force feeding centre for hunger-striking suffragettes at Perth Prison, with a doctor from Peterhead Prison brought in to run it.”
By that time almost any public building in Scotland was viewed as an arson or bombing target and the militancy divided public opinion. Many who previously backed the cause were repelled by the destructive action.
All that would change, though, with advent of the First World War in the summer of 1914 with the militant organisations calling off their action and getting behind the country.
“Women got involved in war work and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals were the brainchild of members of the constitutional suffragists, led by Dr Elsie Inglis,” Prof Pederson said.
By the start of the war not only were women denied the vote, but four out of 10 men were also excluded as they didn’t meet the “qualifications”.
The realisation that something had to change and those who had been fighting for their country should be given the right to vote, led to the women’s position being addressed, too.
The Representation of the People Act, brought in on February 6, 1918, removed most qualifications, giving all men over the age of 21 the right to vote.
And women over 30, with some property or marital stipulations, were allowed to vote for the first time too.
“Because of what they saw as terrorism, the Government wouldn’t admit that the suffragettes’ actions played a part in the Act,” added Professor Pederson.
“They said it was because of women’s war service. But there is no doubt that the suffragette and suffragist movement was important bringing about the vote.”