International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. With this year’s theme of #PressforProgress we take a look back at the historic ‘Women’s Sunday’ of 21 June, 1908.
Women’s Sunday, organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union, was the largest political gathering of its time. Thousands of women seeking the right to vote arrived in London on specially chartered trains. Wearing the white, purple and green associated with the Suffragette movement, they joined processions to Speakers’ Corner, where 80 platforms had been set up for speakers to address crowds estimated to be over 300,000 people.
Emmeline Pankhurst, who formed the Women’s Social and Political Union and whose grave you can visit in Brompton Cemetery, recalls the event in her 1914 autobiography My Own Story:
“What a day was this Sunday – clear, radiant, rilled with golden sunshine! As I advanced, leading, with the venerable Mrs. Wolstenholme-Elmy, the first of the seven processions, it seemed to me that all London had turned out to witness our demonstration. And a goodly part of London followed the processions. When I mounted my platform in Hyde Park, and surveyed the mighty throngs that waited there and the endless crowds that were still pouring into the park from all directions, I was filled with amazement not unmixed with awe.
"Never had I imagined that so many people could be gathered together to share in a political demonstration. It was a gay and beautiful as well as an awe-inspiring spectacle, for the white gowns and flower-trimmed hats of the women, against the background of ancient trees, gave the park the appearance of a vast garden in full bloom. The bugles sounded, and the speakers at each of the twenty platforms began their addresses, which could not have heard by more than half of the audience.”
On 6 February 1918, British women over 30 who met certain property requirements gained the right to vote, a full decade after Women’s Sunday following a long and determined campaign. It was an important step but a century on there’s still a long way to go in the fight for women’s equality.
To celebrate women past and present we’re holding a events in Hyde Park and Brompton Cemetery on Thursday 8 and Saturday 10 March.
Find out more about upcoming events