The visual history of the British suffrage campaign for social justice began with elegant, organized pageants of pictorial unity; but the beautiful spectacles were not enough to convince the British government of women’s desire for equality under the law. Militant activists of the Women’s Social and Political Union (hereafter WSPU) eventually employed aggressive tactics, letting go of the restrained politics of respectability. This study examines the link between the visual protests of first-wave activists and those of second- and third-wave advocates, in order to establish a dialogue about the presumed transgressions of women’s bodily presence and feminists’ use of body language. Starting with the toffee hammers that the WSPU suffragettes used in 1912 to smash windows, traditional cultural assumptions about women’s bodily possibilities, like the windows themselves, were shattered. I seek to answer a question that has never been posed in feminist art historical debate: What is the bond between the hammer and the raised fist within feminist protest in its quest for social justice?

Author Biography

Dr. Colleen Denney, Professor of Art History and Gender and Women’s Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies Program, University of Wyoming, teaches courses on feminist art history. Her books include Representing Diana, Princess of Wales (Associated University Press, 2005) and Women, Portraiture and the Crisis of Identity in Victorian England: My Lady Scandalous Reconsidered (Ashgate, 2009). She has twice been named Top Prof at her university, is past Director of her program, recipient of her university’s Seibold Fellowship, and a Yale Center for British Art Fellowship.