1912 was a year of violent protest from the Suffragette movement: windows were broken, post boxes torched, bombs planted, policemen attacked. Mary Leigh chucked an axe at the prime minister; ‘Slasher’ Richardson took a meat cleaver to the Rokeby Venus. It was also the year when, in what now seems an almost surreally misjudged and spiteful act, the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, 56 year old Emmeline Pankhurst, was sniggeringly crowned Rear Of The Year.
In hindsight, it is obvious that the award was given to Ms Pankhurst for political reasons: to try to undermine Pankhurst’s cause, to obliterate her credibility and mockingly put her firmly back in her place as a thing of physical rather than cerebral importance. Contemporary audiences seem not to have necessarily realised this, however, with some believing that Pankhurst had entered herself into the competition, leading to some heated correspondence in the national newspapers, with the Duchess of Cornwallis memorably opining:
‘if this angry, unpatriotic harridan so wants the privileges of a man, then let her begin by having her womanly gifts, from her silky chapeau to her milky derriere, incinerated’.
The situation spiralled into farce when Pankhurst unexpectedly turned up to collect her award at a ceremony held at the Lord Mayor's Mansion House. On arrival, she immediately chained herself to the iron gates outside the venue, only to realise that her self-inflicted immobility allowed the press the opportunity to take intrusive photograph after photograph of her now famous bottom*.
The scandalous scenes outraged the sensibilities of the genteel Edwardian general public, however, and the planned backlash against the Suffragettes became a gentle swell of public opinion in their favour. Now viewed with distaste rather than good humour, The Rear Of The Year award was not awarded in 1913, and was then suspended because of the Great War. Some women got the vote in 1918. Posh, older ones. The rest had to wait until 1928.
|A distressed Ms Pankhurst is removed from the scene.|
* 'Spankgate’ as it became known, was the first ever use of the suffix ’gate’ to denote a scandal. The original Banqueting Hall Gates which Pankhurst chained herself to were stolen by gypsies in 2002.