This bizarre looking figure is a suffragette doll that belonged to my Great Grandmother Winifred Shakeshaft who lived in Liverpool, England from 1888-1973. My mum remembers my Great Grandmother telling her it was a suffragette doll and playing with it as a child.
The doll is made of wood, in a sitting position with a sash painted across the chest, movable arms and she appears to be shouting. The date 1910 is clearly visible on the back of the doll and on the base of the feet you can see the faint inscription ‘votes for women’.
I turned to the internet to find out where on earth the doll came from and what the suffragette dolls were all about. It turns out there are numerous references in suffrage periodicals about various suffrage dolls. The paragraph ‘Toys, games and dolls’ in Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study by Kenneth Florey explains that the dolls were produced by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) from 1907 to 1914. Many of the dolls were of limited edition and partially handmade and sold as fundraisers in suffrage shops and bazaars. Commercial manufacturers also produced dolls but the majority of these were designed with a comic or satirical flavour for those with anti-suffrage sentiments. Suffrage dolls originally intended for children were gobbled up by adults as mementos of the campaign. They also served a purpose in domesticating the suffrage issue by bringing is into the context of traditional home-life.
A great variety of the dolls were produced so, I’m keen to see other examples of suffrage dolls and some more similar to the doll belonging to my Great Grandmother. Woman Suffrage Memorabilia is a site devoted to such artifacts and has a section about suffrage dolls on page devoted to Toys and Games. The first doll is holding up a copy of the official paper of the WSPU, Votes for Women and, when the doll is wound up, she waves her newspaper and rings her bell. The second doll depicts a suffragette prisoner. If you look carefully, you can see two upright arrows on the bottom of her apron, a symbol of Holloway Prison that all suffragettes were forced to wear. The third doll is thought to be hand made.
There’s an interesting section about Sojourner Truth (1797-1888) who was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree. She escaped in 1826 with one of her children and as a strong anti-slavery advocate, she became firmly entrenched and a popular speaker in the Woman’s Rights movement. This wind-up toy is one of several featuring a black woman. And while they all could simply be caricatures of any black female abolitionist, they probably do have some connection with Sojourner Truth.
I’ve also come across this is a wonderful sheet of uncut paper dolls published by McLoughlin Bros. in 1915. There are 2 paper dolls with 6 outfits plus hats. All of the outfits are classic period dresses and one has a banner reading VOTES FOR WOMEN. In her hand she holds a flier also reading VOTES FOR WOMEN.
I’m really excited to find out more about these dolls, so please do send me some links or more information as comments!