Students mark centenary of women’s suffrage


Staff and students from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are marking the centenary of the beginning of votes for women by celebrating a historic pilgrimage originally undertaken by members of the women’s suffrage movement.

Students in Dynevor Building courtyard

The event has been organised by members of staff from UWTSD’s Swansea College of Art. A group of 20 students will be celebrating a historic march taken by the Suffragists, a non-violent women’s suffrage group operating at the same time as the Suffragettes, by conducting a re-imagined pilgrimage that will end up at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. The march will begin on the 29th April and finish the next day, when the group will be met by Julie James AM. It will be followed by an exhibition in the Mission Gallery in Swansea and a spoken word performance by the Swansea-based group Poets on the Hill.

Clare Bottomley is a Lecturer in Photography in the Arts at UWTSD and a key organiser of the event. She said: “The original pilgrimage was a one-off event that happened in 1913. It was a UK-wide event in which women marched on London. The South Wales contingent began in Cathays in Cardiff, joined the march that was coming from Land’s End and marched to London as one. We wanted to re-imagine this pilgrimage. It is our belief that one of our roles as an educational centre is to promote this conversation.”

Clare describes the event as a ‘re-imagining’ of the original pilgrimage conducted by the Women’s Suffrage movement, rather than a recreation. She said: “I’m calling this a performance action. It’s part recreation as we’re following the original route as a part of this event so it’s definitely a performance. But it’s also a political action. There’s a distinct lack of working-class Welsh voices from the history of the women’s suffrage movement and I think that this was because of the lack of unionisation of women in Wales at the time. Welsh industry was heavy work and a very male environment. Women were possibly having these conversations but we don’t have a good record of them. In the North of England, in the cotton industries, women were unionised. They had these discussions and they were recorded. The dominance of heavy industry in Wales excluded women from having their conversations officially documented.” 

The group’s pilgrimage will begin in Merthyr Tydfil, making its way along the Taff Trail to Pontypridd. They have invited local women’s groups, such as political activist groups and branches of the Women’s Institute to join them. Along the way, the group is going to make a record of their discussions which they will then present as a manifesto for equality at the Senedd the following day.

They will also be making visits to sites of significant historical interest such as Aberfan, to visit the memorial of the 1966 coal mining disaster. Clare said: “We’re starting in Merthyr because of its history as the industrial centre of Wales. The Taff Trail follows the Glamorgan Canal, the bloodline that took the coal from the Valleys to the docks in Cardiff. It feels like we’re modernising as we’re making our way through the South Wales valleys. Stopping at Aberfan is going to be poignant, because it is the site of an industrial disaster that was a direct result of the industrialisation that was taking place and, unfortunately, it was women and children who were the direct victims of that.”

The following day, the group will be taking the train to Cathays, where they will be continuing their pilgrimage by following the route taken by the original march in 1913. The route will take them from Cathays, through Queen Street in the centre of Cardiff and past Cardiff Castle. They will then make their way to Cardiff Bay to be received by Julie James AM, where they will be presenting a manifesto that they will be creating along the way. There will also be a performance by Cardiff-based choir Songbirds.

Clare said: “It’s important that these discussions don’t belong in institutions. Educational institutions need to take a public role in the conversation and in the wider community. Education needs to connect with the community on these matters, they can’t lock themselves away. We have a privileged position and we need to use it to lead these discussions.

“With this in mind, we’re holding banner workshops with local community groups through our community engagement department, who will be facilitating some student-led workshops so that we will have a selection of bilingual banners to take with us on our march.

“Women's rights and equality seem to be the first thing under attack with austerity measures, so while we have the vote, there are still large discussions to be had around the issue of equality and how far we have managed to achieve it.”

The banners, manifesto, and artworks created by the students will then be exhibited in the Mission Gallery in Swansea, as well as a film documentary of the performance action. Swansea-based group Poets on the Hill will also be doing a spoken word performance in response to the exhibition. It opens on 8th May and will be on display to the public until 8th June. 

For more information about the event, please contact Clare Bottomley on:

Instagram:       @a_collective_pilgramage  


Further Information

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