More Than Just Eye Candy

Posted by Amy Phillips

April 24, 2024

At the start of the 1900s, the women’s suffrage movement grew in the United States and Britain as women were lobbying for the right to vote. They organized parades and marches and, in the process, established three identifying colors to wear to events:

PURPLE, GOLD AND WHITE. In the United States, the colors were purple to represent loyalty, gold as a nod to the sunflowers of Kansas where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton campaigned, and white for purity and virtue.

PURPLE, GREEN AND WHITE. In Britain, the gold was replaced by green to signify hope, and the three shades were established as the official campaign colors of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in London, soon becoming emblematic of the women’s suffrage movement at large.

CRIMSON AND CREAM. Courage and Purity. On March 3, 1913, twenty-two Delta Sigma Theta sorority members from Howard University marched in the Suffrage Parade. The sorority had only been formed 2 months before the parade and this would have been their first political act. While we don’t have evidence of what they might have worn, we can imagine that they would have proudly displayed their sorority colors.

Alpha Chapter Sorority suffragettes

Not only did women wear white to signify purity, and sport rosettes and sashes in the suffrage colors, they used coded jewelry to empower and unite them so that jewelry became symbolic of their allegiance to the cause.

The WSPU was rather militant in its efforts and sophisticated in the ways it employed jewelry for political expression. Between 1908 and 1914, its members wore a wide range of jewelry, from the decorative and homemade to medal-like pieces, from badges to the highest quality commercial and Arts & Crafts work.

Suffragette necklaces and brooch

The fine jewelry created at the time featured peridot or demantoid garnet (green), amethyst (purple) and diamonds or pearls (white).

Worth noting is the fact that British suffragettes were not really a subtle bunch. Expressing their beliefs in secretly color-coded jewelry really was rather off-brand for them. There is a theory that the green/white/violet color scheme symbolizes the “Give Women the Vote” acronym. But according to the Museum of London’s Beverley Cook, curator of their suffragette collections, there are no historical records to support this.

All the buttons, badges, ribbons, stickpins, hat pins and handmade commemorative brooches and pendants that symbolized the Suffragist/Suffragette movements should be considered “Suffragist/Suffragette Jewelry.” They were worn with honor and pride, displaying their message to all who saw them. Certainly, some fine jewelry of that era also qualifies, whether created specifically to be “Suffragist/Suffragette Jewelry” or just purchased with the intent to be worn as such.

Today, many wear ribbons of color or pins to represent our support of any number of causes on the red carpet, on award shows, and in our day-to-day lives. Let’s thank our foremothers for establishing this tradition.