Celebrating International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day we thought we’d highlight the efforts of GSA alumnus and tutor Ann Macbeth (1875-1948).

Ann MacBeth and fellow student, Drawing and Painting class, c1912

Ann MacBeth (left) and fellow student, Drawing and Painting class, c1912

MacBeth was a renowned designer and embroiderer who was also heavily involved in the suffragette movement. Her commitment to women’s rights was expressed through her embroidery as well as in direct action. While her designs won international medals (she designed a banner for the 1909 Edinburgh women’s suffrage procession and demonstration, and a linen quilt with the embroidered names of hunger strikers for an exhibition in April 1910),  she also endured imprisonment, solitary confinement and forcible feedings in the name of the cause.

Suffragette banner 'WSPU Holloway Prisoners',  1910. It includes the embroidered signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers who had 'faced death without flinching'. Made in the style of a traditional friendship quilt it symbolises the spirit of comradeship that gave suffragette prisoners the strength and courage to endure hunger strike and force feeding.

Suffragette banner ‘WSPU Holloway Prisoners’, 1910. Includes the embroidered signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers. Image courtesy of Museum of London. 

MacBeth’s colleagues at GSA supported her protests.  Correspondence in the archives reveals that in May 1912 she wrote to the Secretary of the School thanking him for his ‘kind letter’.

I am still very much less vigorous than I anticipated…  after a fortnight’s solitary imprisonment with forcible feedings … but the doctor thinks this will improve when I get away.

She did not recuperate as quickly as expected. By June, her doctor told her that she needed at least five months’ care as a ’semi-invalid’. She may also have taken part in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) window-smashing raid in London in 1912, but she is not mentioned in any sources.

Glasgow School of Art was a hive of activity for the suffrage cause, and between classes, students, including Ann Macbeth, took turns at stitching suffrage banners. MacBeth’s predecessor, Jessie Newbery (wife of Director Francis Newbery), was another active WSPU member.

Francis Newbery and Ann Macbeth in painting studio using easels, c1912

Francis Newbery and Ann Macbeth in painting studio using easels, c1912



7 thoughts on “Celebrating International Women’s Day

  1. Pingback: Up the Women | GSA Archives and Collections

  2. What is the evidence that Anne Macbeth was imprisoned and suffered force feeding as a hunger striker. I understand she is not listed on the WSPU roll of honour. Many biographies make no mention of this so is it possible to provide the sources of evidence you may hold for this

    • Dear Peter,

      Thanks for your comment.

      We have correspondence in our archive between Ann Macbeth and the School’s Secretary and Treasurer John Groundwater from 1912 in which Ann Macbeth talks about her poor health after “a fortnight’s solitary imprisonment with forcible feeding” (our reference: GSAA SEC 1 and 2, 1912, under M).

      Do get in touch via archives@gsa.ac.uk if you have any further enquiries or would like to make an appointment to view this material in person.

      Best wishes,
      Michelle Kaye
      GSA Archives and Collections

  3. As Ann Macbeth’s niece, my Mother, her younger sister lived to 103 and talked endlessly to me about her family and never once mentioned suffragettes – a friend of another sister. It seems that Ann kept her suffragette activities unknown to her family, as none of her nephews and nieces now have any knowledge of them, apart from her banners.
    In early 1912 all her family were living in Surrey or USA. My Mother told me that Ann was born with a short gullet which caused her dyspepsia all her life and I understand (though I have not seen her death certificate) that she died in Carlisle in 1948 of ulceration and bleeding in the oesophagus. Force feeding would have worsened this. In 1912 my Mother was 22 so I suppose the genetic cause is a true story and that Ann’s convalescence in 1912 could have been blamed by her on her long term history of damage.
    Of the Macbeth family only Ann’s youngest sister Alison (born 1898) had the slightest interest in politics. I have already informed Gabrielle Macbeth of this, so you may by now know more about it than I do.
    Alison Macbeth Mitchell.

    • Dear Alison,

      Many thanks for commenting on our blog. It’s really interesting to hear you are a relative of Ann Macbeth!

      Ann Macbeth is of course a very interesting figure for us here at The Glasgow School of Art and there is much potential for future research on her life and work. We now have your email address so will keep in touch.

      Just to let you know, we have recently moved over to a new website: http://www.gsa.ac.uk/archives and blog: http://www.gsaarchives.net/blog. This current blog will no longer be updated, so please do subscribe to our new blog for updates. You may wish to search our catalogue for material relating to Ann Macbeth, which includes the correspondence detailing her imprisonment and force feeding as a result of suffragette activities.

      Best wishes, and thanks again for getting in touch,
      Michelle Kaye
      Archives and Collections
      The Glasgow School of Art

  4. Hello
    I am a great niece of Alison Macbeth – her nephew/my father is Julian Tudor Hart, and he knew her well, staying with her in her cottage in Patterdale, from time to time.
    I came across this article and correspondence while researching Suffragettes with my daughter who is making up a little play about them for her gcse. I wonder has there been a development with this line of enquiry over her connection with the suffragettes?
    My father is still alive though aging – now almost 89 – but remains a very sharp man. However it would be a good idea if you want to ask him anything about Ann to get on with it!

    Very Best

    Rachel Tudor Best (nee Hart)

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