Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive
Cats and Suffrage
Cats likely played a significant role in woman suffrage postcards because of the 1913 Cat-and-Mouse Act, a UK government response to the use of hunger strikes by imprisoned suffragettes.
WSPU member Marion Dunlop, whose motto was “Release or Death,” staged the first suffragette hunger strike to protest the inordinately long prison sentences given to suffragettes and the fact they were not treated as political prisoners. The British government released her from jail after 91 hours of fasting in order not to risk her health.
Once the British government realized that the suffragettes would be able to use this tactic to avoid serving their full sentences, the authorities introduced forcible feeding, a tactic up to that point reserved for the insane. Although not initially endorsed by the WSPU, the hunger strike became a favorite tactic. Christabel Pankhurst’s The Suffragette contained a drawing of the process in 1909. The black and white picture by A. Patriot (Alfred Pearse) shows four women holding down the prisoner in a wooden chair while one man tied her neck down and another man forced liquid down a tube and into her nose. Pearse developed a full color poster for the 1910 general election, titled “The Modern Inquisition: Treatment of Political Prisoners under a Liberal Government.”
Recognizing the potential for public outcry against a process named torture, the British government responded with the Cat-and-Mouse Act (officially known as the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act) which ordered that women who engaged in hunger strikes should be released from prison once they fell ill, but would be re-arrested once they recovered their strength. This enabled the government to free itself from responsibility for harming the protesters; if a woman died after being released, then the government could claim it was not to blame. Once released, women were often too weak to protest, but once their strength was recovered, they would be placed back in jail, thus thwarting dissent. On November 29, 1917, the US government announced it plans to use Britain’s cat and mouse approach.
 E. A. Williams, "Gags, Funnels and Tubes: Forced Feeding of the Insane and of Suffragettes," Endeavour 32, no. 4 (2008): 134-140.
Palczewski suffrage postcard archive by Catherine Helen Palczewski. Please cite as follows:
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.