Suffragist banner design displayed in LSE digital archive

We were fascinated to see the original design of the suffragist banner (pictured above left, courtesy LSE), created for Newnham and Girton by artist Mary Lowndes, a photo of which was recently displayed on Twitter by the London School of Economics and Political Sciences’ Library.  Students of both colleges created the protest banner to march in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies’ procession of 13 June 1908. The LSE Library has created a digital archive of suffragist banners and, in particular, a special archive of Lowndes’ creations.

Niamh Tumelty, who was a Fellow until May this year and is now Director of Libraries at the LSE, and her team brought the banner design to our attention.

“The Cambridge banner is a particularly striking one designed by Mary Lowndes,” says Dr Gillian Murphy, Curator of Equality, Rights and Citizenship at LSE Library. “The Women’s Library holds Mary’s design album, which you can see on the library’s Flickr site. Some of the designs have fabric swatches (the Cambridge one does).

“Most of the banner designs in the album were made for the NUWSS suffrage procession on 13 June 1908 and we have some of these original banners in the collection.

“Mary was a stained-glass artist and founded the Artists’ Suffrage League in 1907. She was an executive committee member of the London Society of Women’s Suffrage, which became the London Society of Women’s Service, setting up the Women’s Service Library (now the Women’s Library) in 1926. The Library probably acquired the banners through this link.”

The daisies represent Girton and the irises Newnham, while the bridge, book and boats represent Cambridge University as a whole – quite a bold statement by the Cambridge women, given that at the time women did not receive Cambridge degrees or allowed in the University libraries.

In 2018, theatrical costume maker Annabel O’Docherty made replicas of the banners. “She did a bit of research on them too and thought that Cambridge students were involved in some aspects of making the actual banner,” Gillian says.

You can find out more about the banner and the reproductions Annabel made in this story from the 150 Anniversary Celebrations. Newnham has the original banner, which is now held in climate-controlled conditions to preserve it for the future.