The Colors of Suffrage

imagesAnyone who has studied the woman suffrage movement, both in the United States and Great Britain, might be curious about the ubiquitous presence of the colors purple, white and gold. These were the official colors of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain, and were later adopted by Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in the US. Suffrage expert Louise Bernikow offers us a fascinating explanation of the use of these colors:

In 1908, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain, adopted the colour scheme of purple, white and green, that would not only distinguish them in their political movement, but would also prove to be a huge marketing success. The women’s suffrage movement in Canada, was also identified by those colours.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, (England) wrote, “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.”

So– part of Carrie Chapman Catt’s (President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association) strategy after the New York State referendum failed in 1915 was to distance the NAWSA forces from the so-called “militants” associating with Alice Paul, (“civil disobedients” might be more accurate) whose original inspiration was, as we know, the Brits. To that end, she “outlawed” use of the color purple, which marked people/groups as allied with Paul, the Woman’s Party etc. – and not part of the largest (most mainstream?) NAWSA. Most NY purple suffrage banners date from before 1915.

In 2015 Louise acted as a consultant for the popular TV show “History Detectives,” and shared her knowledge of a suffrage banner discovered in a house in New York with viewers. That pennant turned out to be part of Rosalie Jones’ march from NYC to Albany in December, 1912.

Many thanks to Louise for sharing her knowledge with us all. For more information, log onto the Sewall Belmont House website, and


One Response

  1. Brooke Kroeger June 7, 2016 at 11:10 am | | Reply

    Fascinating! And thanks as always to the wonderful Louise. So when does yellow gain dominance as a suffrage color?

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