Cartoon depicting force-feeding from The Daily Herald


This satirical cartoon, which appeared on the front page of the Daily Herald on 24 May 1913, depicts Home Secretary Reginald McKenna using a bucket and funnel to force-feed a blindfolded and bound suffragette.

Force-feeding of suffragettes

In the summer of 1909, many imprisoned suffragettes went on hunger strike to protest against the uncompromising Liberal government. At first the hunger-strikers were released from prison, but the government soon introduced force-feeding. Justified by McKenna on the grounds that it was ‘necessary medical treatment’ and a deterrent which would make suffragettes think twice before carrying out militant deeds, force-feeding was, in effect, a form of torture which caused great pain and suffering.

The women were held down on a bed or tied to a chair and tipped back. A tube was then forced into their nose or down their throat and into the stomach. In the latter method, a steel gag was put in the mouth and screwed open as wide as possible. Damage to tissue in the nose and throat was common and sometimes the tube was accidentally inserted into the windpipe and food entered the lungs. Equipment was not always clean or sterile.

Suffragette and medical practitioner, Dr Frances Ede, talks of how her own horror at the prospect of being force-fed was compounded by hearing the ‘sounds of struggling in cell after cell, pleadings and remonstrances, sounds of choking and gasping, moans and distressful cries. I have never heard in all my professional experience anything so agonising’.[1] Such invasion of women’s bodies has been likened by feminist historians to rape, and much of the suffragette’s pictorial propaganda of the time depicted it as a form of oral rape.

Over 1000 women were subjected to force-feeding. Some were repeatedly tortured in this way, including Kitty Marion and Emily Davison who were force-fed 200 and 49 times respectively. Lady Constance Lytton posed as a poor woman called Jane Warton to make the point that working-class women received worse treatment in prison than their middle-class counterparts and was force-fed repeated times. Permanently damaged by the abuse, she suffered a stroke in 1912 and died in 1923.

The ‘Cat and Mouse Act’

In April 1913 the Prisoners’ Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act became law, which allowed for the temporary release of persistent hunger-strikers from prison so that they could recover. Once their health had improved the women would be returned to prison – leading suffragettes to dub the act the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. This process often meant that suffragettes’ sentences were extended, as they were repeatedly released and imprisoned without trial for the same offence.

The Daily Herald

The Daily Herald supported the struggles of strikers and argued for a socialist revolution based on workers’ self-organisation via trade unions. A strong supporter of the suffragettes, its political stance was often illustrated by Bill Dyson’s cartoons.


[1] Professor George Sigerson, “Custodia HonestaTreatment of Political Prisoners in Great Britain, (London: Woman's Press, 1913), p. 6.

Full title:
The Daily Herald
24 May 1913, London
The Daily Herald
Periodical / Illustration / Image
Will Dyson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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