As a proud feminist, the suffrage movement is near and dear to my heart; as a girlie lover of glam, jewelry with stones, especially sparkly stones, appeals to me. So naturally I am drawn to suffrage jewelry. However, all that glitters in antique suffragette jewelry isn’t gold — or as bought and sold.
There’s a common misperception or two about women’s suffrage items, in terms of color and purpose — which are entwined and lend themselves to myths and ill-informed purchases of these antique collectible items.
While many folks, including uneducated sellers of such proclaimed items, believe and insist that the official colors of the suffrage movement were green, white, and purple (or violet), it simply isn’t true.
It was, in fact, very popular for the jewelry of the time (Edwardian) to be adorned with amethysts, pearls, and demantoid garnets or emeralds — which easily accounts for the colors. And as cute as the symbolism that these colors (green, white and violet) stood for (G)ive (W)omen the (V)ote is, there was no global suffrage color. This is in large part due to the many suffrage organizations in both England and America; there was never one official suffrage organization—there were many. And no agreed upon color scheme.
One of the myths is that jewelry and other items served as a “secret color code” among women to identify themselves as members or indicate support of the movement — while being afraid to reveal their sympathies to their husbands, sons, and society as a whole.
This might be a romantic notion to some… But not only is more romantic and impressive for me to recall these women taking the insults, slights, rebuffs and attacks which a suffragette had to endure head-on, it is historically inaccurate — and insulting all over again!
Can you imagine leaders like Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn’s mother and president of the Connecticut Women Suffrage Association, even suggesting such a mousy attitude as wearing colors in secret?!
No. The opposite was true: The women who supported the suffrage movement were insistent, loud & proud.
If you don’t believe me, perhaps you will believe the words of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence, treasurer and co-editor of the weekly newspaper Votes for Women. In the spring 1908 issue of that paper, she explained the symbolism of the colors used by the most prominent suffrage group in England, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) — but before you read it, repeat after me: These are the colors & reasoning of one such group!
Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour. It stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and public life…green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.
The colours enable us to make that appeal to the eye which is so irresistible. The result of our processions is that this movement becomes identified in the mind of the onlooker with colour, gay sound, movement, and beauty.
Again, in this particular case, purple (or violet), white and green were the colors for this group; as you read and learn about the suffrage movement and it’s memorabilia, such as photos, penants, publications etc, it becomes clear that many colors were used. What’s important here to note is that there was no secrecy.
Moreover, there is evidence (Anaconda Standard, Montana, May 3, 1914) that in the US, yellow was a favorite color used by a national women’s suffrage group. There’s obvious evidence of that color as well.
Also, when it comes to jewelry, there’s plenty of evidence that the average “radical” suffragette did not buy jewelry for her cause, but rather sold it for her cause. Evidence from The Washington Post, August 2, 1914:
In Iowa’s Bode Bugle, January, 28, 1916, this tidbit bragging about prosperity in the US also provides a clear picture of the economic times in terms of consumerism:
While her sisters in London, Paris, Berlin and Petrograd are discarding their jewels, giving the gold to the common treasury and selling the gems to swell relief funds and keep the wolf from the door, the New York lady is daily acquiring an increased penchant for the finest jewelry that the world produces.
While I’ve no doubt there were some wealthy women, New York or no, who both supported suffrage and bought jewels, I’m certain the average suffragette was more concerned with melting, selling, jewelry etc. than consumerist “lady” acts.
In any case, between the radical acts of melting jewelry to support the cause, the devastating effects of The Great Depression, and just plain old time itself moving on (loss, less appreciation, the stories lost as the pieces were handed down, etc.), finding suffrage jewelry is even more difficult than finding any piece of antique jewelry.
Jewelry in this purple, white & green color scheme is gorgeous, and if authentic antique pieces, even more so desirable, at least to me; but the color alone does not mean it is a suffragette collectible piece.
If you are interested in buying or collecting such jewelry for reasons other than its own beauty, please research suffrage jewelry. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Even if the information seems to scare you off on a purchase, or make you doubt the ability to find authentic suffrage jewelry, take heart! It also means that while others are scrambling & bidding up fakes or those items in purple, white & green only, you may have better luck on suffrage jewelry & memorabilia of the political movement in other colors.
I also highly recommend that collectors of women’s suffrage items and/or women’s political issues, feminism, etc. collectibles join the Womens Suffrage and Political Issues Chapter (WSAPIC), a chapter of the American Political Items Collectors (APIC). I’ve personally learned a lot from the issues of The Clarion newsletter and Ronnie Lapinsky-Sax, chapter president, herself.
Image Credits: The image of the yellow suffrage ribbon from the collection of Ronnie Lapinsky-Sax.
11 thoughts on “Myths & Misinformation About Suffrage Jewelry”
Fabulous article about time someone told the truth. There are numerous dealers here in the uk spouting nonsense about suffragette jewellery
Thank you for this information. This is valuable research for the book I am writing on American woman suffrage.
Glad I could help, Amy! There’s a lot of misinformation out there… If I can help, let me know 🙂
Suffragette items, including jewelry, can be loaded with romantic notions — it adds to the misinformation out there, sadly.
Your article was quite impressive and has opened my eyes and thoughts to collecting Suffragette Jewelry. I received a newsletter from Kovels regarding the Womens Suffragette period of time about a sterling pin awarded by the National Women’s Party “For Service in the Cause of the Freedom of Women and it’s recent purchase price. You may find this article interesting reading. Thank you for writing this article.
Thank you for the interesting corrective to the current craze! I love jewelry and am also a proud long time feminist . . . I also always heard that the women who fought for the vote did NOT like the term SUFFRAGETTE….Sort of like Human-ette…..and preferred SUFFRAGIST. Do you have any info on this? Thanks for the original post, Arlene
You’re talking about the women who were actively involved in the movement. But what about the women who had no power to participate because of controlling husbands or fear of social persecution? Wearing jewelry with these colors was a means of silent protest and a way to identify one another in a dangerously male dominated society. Only a small percentage of women were fearless enouge to verbalize their support. Also, the colors of the Suffrage movement in the UK was green, white & purple, which is also geographically where most of the antique pieces featuring the combination of amethyst, peridot & pearl gems can be found. Im curious to know if in your research of this topic, that you found any actual evidence to support this theory? I can tell you that this is the only article I can find online that makes this kind of statement.
Thank you for this most interesting article. I do question whether your assertion that the jewelry was not worn as a subtle signal of support is accurate. While it is true that the women out in the front lines were very visible, many of their supporters were shackled by the chains of repression imposed by their husbands and society in general. This era follows the Victorian period which was rife with symbolism, especially in jewelry. It is highly probable that women wore pieces of jewelry as a covert sign of their support for the sisters that were in the forefront suffering the slings and arrows of the movement. All skirmishes are not fought on the battlefield.
Ann, Jayne, and others, I know that there’s a huge romance of the women’s suffrage movement and that in our hearts, we’d like to believe in such things as secret identification/communication. But there just isn’t any evidence for such things. This was not the only article on the subject — nor the only one which stated the facts regarding suffrage jewelry, colors, etc. If you follow the links in the post back when this article was written, you’d have seen that. Sadly, not all of those sites or articles remain. Using the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive), I was able to find one of them: https://web.archive.org/web/20070423205944/https://www.maineantiquedigest.com/articles/dec03/suff1203.htm. Additionally, as mentioned in the article, The Clarion newsletter, and Ronnie Lapinsky-Sax, WSAPIC chapter president, were incredibly insightful. Group can be found here: http://www.apic.us/AbouttheAPIC/SpecialtyChapters/WomensSuffrageWSAPIC/tabid/251/Default.aspx
Jayne, please see this comment: http://www.inherited-values.com/2011/06/myths-misinformation-about-suffrage-jewelry/comment-page-1/#comment-2438683 Thanks 🙂
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