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It is 100 years since women in Bri­tain were fi­nally granted the right to vote – as long they were over 30 and met some other cri­te­ria – but it was a decade prior that the suf­fragettes adopted their iconic colours. Pur­ple, white and green be­came the tri­col­ore of choice for the Women’s So­cial and Po­lit­i­cal Union (WSPU), with the hope they would unite those at­tend­ing a mass demon­stra­tion in Lon­don’s Hyde Park on 21 June 1908. It turned out to be a wise idea to have a sem­blance of uni­form as some 500,000 peo­ple from all over Bri­tain showed up. And when they went home, they took the WSPU colours with them.

Soon they were be­ing used on all man­ner of items, from rosettes and sashes to flags, ban­ners, post­cards and posters. Shops got in on the act and put pur­ple, white and green on hand­bags, shoes, toi­let soap and un­der­wear. Wealth­ier women could show their sup­port through their jew­ellery, by wear­ing amethysts, pearls, peri­dots or emer­alds. In the weekly news­pa­per Votes

for Women, co-edi­tor Em­me­line Pethick-Lawrence ex­plained the sym­bol­ism of the colours.

“Pur­ple, as every­one knows, is the royal colour. It stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of ev­ery suf­fragette, the in­stinct of free­dom and dig­nity … White stands for pu­rity in pri­vate and pub­lic life … Green is the colour of hope and the em­blem of spring.”

TRI­UMPHANT TRI­COL­ORE This il­lus­tra­tion graced the song sheet for pop­u­lar suf­frage an­them The March of the Women, penned by Ethel Smyth in 1911

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