The Hunger Strike Medal was awarded between August 1909 and 1914 by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to those suffragette prisoners who went on hunger strike while serving their sentences in the prisons of the United Kingdom, for acts of militancy in their campaign for women’s suffrage. Many women were force-fed, which their individual medals reflected; silver bars corresponded to periods of hunger striking, and enamel bars periods of force-feeding. The medals were presented at breakfast receptions following the women’s release.
On 5 July 1909 the suffragette Marion Wallace DunlopFirst suffragette to go on hunger strike, on 5 July 1909. began her hunger strike in Holloway prison. She had been sentenced to one month for stenciling a message from the Bill of Rights on the wall of the House of Commons, thus damaging the stonework. The prison authorities treated her as a criminal, whereas she viewed herself as a political prisoner, and so began her strike in objection to this classification. Her strike lasted 91 hours, ending only when the prison released her, fearing that she might die in their custody.
Marion undertook her hunger strike completely on her own initiative, without consulting the leadership of the WSPU, and many others quickly imitated her example.
The round and hallmarked silver medal hangs on a length of ribbon in the purple, white and green colours of the WSPU. This hangs from a silver pin bar engraved with “For Valour”, in imitation of the inscription found on the Victoria Cross. The front of the medal is inscribed “Hunger Strike”, and the reverse is engraved with the recipient’s name, surrounded by a laurel wreath. The medals were made by Toye & Co., and cost the WSPU £1.00 each, equivalent to about £111 as at 2021.[a]Calculated using the retail price index. Each medal was presented in a purple box, with a green velvet lining. A piece of white silk fitted inside the lid was printed in gold with the dedication:
Presented to [name] by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated.
The medal presented to the suffragette Helen MacRae, force-fed in 1912, sold at auction in England for £12,300 in 2015.
Holloway broochAwarded to women imprisoned in Holloway for militant suffragette activity, by the Women's Social and Political Union.
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