Object: Women’s Social and Political Union Medal for Valour
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|Title||Women’s Social and Political Union Medal for Valour|
Toye & Co. (maker/artist), 1912, England
|Materials||silver, enamel, silk|
x 42mm (Width)
x 8mm (Depth)
Part: 22mm (Height) x 102mm (Width) x 61mm (Depth)
|Credit line||Purchased 2016|
Women's Social and Political Union Medal for ValourThis medal is associated with the struggle of British women to win voting rights (Suffrage) in the early years of the 20th century. The militant struggle was led by the Womens' Social and Political Union (W.P.S.U.). It was intense and marked by acts of violence and courage. Many suffrage activists were arrested and imprisoned. Those who went on 'hunger strike in protest were subjected to force-feeding.
Frances Parker - A New Zealand Suffragette in Britain
The medal, which is in its original inscribed case, was 'Presented to Frances Parker by the Women's Social and Political Union in Recognition of a Gallant Action, whereby through Endurance to the last Extremity of Hunger and Hardship, a Great Principle of Political Justice was Vindicated'.
Frances Parker was a New Zealander living in Britain who became a prominent Suffrage activist. She had left New Zealand to study at Cambridge in 1896, when she was aged 22, and her suffrage activism may have been motivated by the fact that New Zealand women had had voting rights since 1893. She became a leader of the W.P.S.U. in Scotland and was involved in violent protests and attempts to burn down prominent buildings. In February 1914 Parker was arrested for attempting to set fire to the cottage of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.
In prison, Parker went on hunger strike and was subject to force-feeding which involved acts of extreme violence and indecencies. Her health collapsed and she was released to a nursing home, from which she escaped.
The medal is a testament to these actions, and was awarded to Parker while she was imprisoned. The obverse is engraved with the words 'Hunger Strike', and the reverse features the following inscriptions: 'Fed by Force 4/3/12', 'Fed by Force 8/7/14'.
With the outbreak of war in August 1914, Parker, who was the niece of Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, offered her services to support the war effort. The charges against her were dropped and Parker was to play an important role in organising women's war work.
The terminology of the medal's inscriptions explicitly evokes the Suffrage struggle as a military campaign and the inscriptions liken the Suffragists' valour to the bravery expected of soldiers on active service.
This medal is a powerful memento of the ongoing struggle of women around the world for civic rights, and is especially significant for New Zealand as a tangible link to our engagement in that struggle.
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