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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