Apr 22, 2014

Playing political games: pro-suffrage merchandise

Posted by: Louise Bowen


What games do you remember playing as a child, or perhaps still play during the holidays? Snakes and ladders? Happy Families? How about a game of Panko or Pank-a-Squith?

While researching for A Bird in A Cage, I have come across a lighter side of the campaign for women’s suffrage- the production of board games and special packs of cards- a clever strategy to get members of the public to think about the cause. This has been a fascinating discovery, showing another dimension of how suffragettes promoted themselves and were creative in producing merchandise to help fund their work.

The Panko cards were produced in 1909, with the full set consisting of 52 cards. Each card featured a unique hand-drawn scene of the suffrage struggle, and as you might expect, suffrage colours of green, white and purple were used for the pro-suffrage cards. Red, black and white were the colours for the ‘antis’.

This game was similar to Happy Families, the aim being to collect sets of themed cards. Each set comprised of four cards, with four differently-themed sets both for and against womens’ suffrage. Like Happy Families, points were scored for each complete set, ranging from 10-40 points. On the pro-suffrage side ‘Votes for Women!’ scored a huge 40 points, while the opposing ‘Gaol, gaol, gaol!’ set was also a top scorer.

The Museum of London collection holds a complete pack. You can also find a photo of Panko in the Resources section of this website.

If you didn’t like the idea of cards, but wanted to support the suffrage cause, then there were board games for sale, such as ‘Suffragettes In and Out of Prison’ and ‘Pank-a-Squith (combining the names of the WSPU Pankhurst family with that of Herbert Asquith- Prime Minister 1908-1916). Like Snakes and Ladders, there were bonuses and penalties for landing on particular squares as you moved towards the ultimate goal of achieving votes for women. For more information about the game and see what it looked like then take a look at this interesting blog.

What is impressive about these games is how simple, but effective, they are in communicating their message. Of course, it seems absurd now to think of any reason why women would be prohibited from voting until as late as 1928 (and that only women who were married or owned property were enfranchised in 1918). Through use of caricatures, and depictions of typical ‘scenes’ of the struggle, such as standing in the dock to be sentenced, or more shockingly, being force-fed in prison, the games vividly represent the cultural and legal opposition that both suffragists and suffragettes encountered.