Working-class women also made suffragette history

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tags: Great Britain, voting rights, womens history, suffragettes

In October 1909, the aristocratic suffragette Lady Constance Lytton was arrested and sent to Newcastle prison. When the police discovered that she was the daughter of Lord Lytton, former Viceroy of India, they ordered her release after two days.

Along with her fellow militant suffragettes, Lytton had gone on hunger strike in protest at her arrest and the continued denial of the vote to women. But she was already in poor health and authorities feared she would die and become a martyr to the suffrage cause.

This was one factor in the decision to release her. But Lytton believed that her class and status had led to her release – that she received special treatment for this, with the police treating her with more politeness and delicacy compared to many others in the militant movement.

When Lytton next attended a protest, outside Walton Gaol, she disguised herself as a maid called Jane Warton. She was arrested and, again, went on hunger strike. This time, however, rather than be released, she was force-fed by the police eight times.

Force feeding was a common, brutal form of torture used against suffragettes, with food poured down the throats of restrained women or through nasal tubes. There is some evidence that women were even force-fed anally.

Lytton’s poor health was still evident at the time of this arrest, but because she was assumed to be lower-class, the authorities did not care.

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