Mary Richardson

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Mary Richardson, circa 1913

Mary Raleigh Richardson (1889 – 7 November 1961) was a Canadian suffragette active in the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, an arsonist and later the head of the women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Sir Oswald Mosley.

Militant actions[edit]

At the beginning of the 20th century, the suffragette movement, frustrated by a failure to achieve parliamentary reforms, began adopting increasingly militant tactics. In particular, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by the charismatic Emmeline Pankhurst, frequently endorsed the use of property destruction to bring attention to the issue of women's suffrage. Richardson was a devoted supporter of Pankhurst and a member of the WSPU.

Richardson was at the Epsom races on Derby Day, 4 June 1913, when Emily Davison jumped in front of the King's horse. Emily Davison died in Epsom Cottage Hospital and Mary Richardson was chased and beaten by an angry mob but was given refuge in Epsom Downs station by a railway porter.[1]

She committed a number of acts of arson, smashed windows at the Home Office and bombed a railway station. She was arrested nine times, receiving prison terms totalling more than three years.[2][3]

Slashing the Rokeby Venus[edit]

Damage done to the Rokeby Venus by Mary Richardson's attack. The canvas was later fully restored.[4]

Richardson's most famous act of defiance occurred on 10 March 1914 when she entered the National Gallery in London and slashed the Rokeby Venus with a chopper she smuggled into the gallery.[5]

She wrote a brief statement explaining her actions to the WSPU which was immediately printed by the press:[6]

"I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy."[7]

As a Fascist[edit]

Richardson like a number of middle- and upper-class suffragettes turned to fascism. She became the head of the Women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF).[8] Two other prominent suffragette leaders to gain high office in the BUF were Norah Elam and Commandant Mary Allen.[9]

Later life[edit]

Richardson published her autobiography, Laugh a Defiance, in 1953. She died at her flat in Hastings on 7 November 1961.

See also[edit]