The trend for hunger strikes began in 1909 when prison authorities released hunger striker Marion Dunlop, afraid that she might die of starvation and become a martyr to the suffrage cause. Other suffragettes began to adopt the same strategy. It was then decided that prisoners would, when necessary, be force fed rather than released.
Eventually, the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act. Suffragettes were allowed to hunger strike but were released as soon as they became ill. Once well again, they were rearrested and returned to prison to complete their sentences. This proved a much more successful way of dealing with hunger strikes than force feeding and was nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act .
Kitty Marion was a leading figure in the WSPU arson campaign and, as a result, was imprisoned on a number of occasions. It has been estimated that she must have endured over 200 force feedings whilst on hunger strike during her time in prison.
This extract is taken from The Suffragette, the official weekly paper of the WSPU, launched in October 1912. It was edited by Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the founder of the WSPU Emmeline Pankhurst. The extract is taken from Kitty Marion's account of being force fed whilst in prison.
- What were the suffragettes trying to achieve by going on hunger strike? What statement were they trying to make?
- Do you think that the suffragettes went to extreme measures to fulfil their aims? Do you think such measures have the desired effect?