Mary Raleigh Richardson (1889-1961), a Canadian, was one of the most militant suffragettes. In just two years, she was arrested nine times, went on hunger strike and was force-fed. She persuaded the Bishop of London to support votes for women and presented a petition to King George V by leaping on the running board of his carriage. She was Drum Major for the WSPU Fife and Drum Marching Band.

She was with Emily Wilding Davidson when Emily ran in front of the King's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, sustaining injuries from which she later died. Just after the incident, Mary was beaten about the face and then chased by an angry crowd to Epsom Downs station, where a porter gave her refuge. Mary carried out many terrorist acts. She smashed windows at the Home Office and Holloway Prison, set fire to a country house and bombed a railway station.

Her most notorious act was in 1914, when she slashed Velasquez's masterpiece the 'Rokeby' Venus seven times with an axe as it hung in the National Gallery.

Rokeby Venus slashed with a chopper
Sequel to Mrs. Pankhurst's rearrest

Wednesday March 11, 1914

At the National Gallery, yesterday morning, the famous Rokeby Venus, the Velasquez picture which eight years ago was bought for the nation by public subscription for £45,000, was seriously damaged by a militant suffragist connected with the Women's Social and Political Union. The immediate occasion of the outrage was the rearrest of Mrs Pankhurst at Glasgow on Monday.

Yesterday was a public day at the National Gallery. The woman, producing a meat chopper from her muff or cloak, smashed the glass of the picture, and rained blows upon the back of the Venus. A police officer was at the door of the room, and a gallery attendant also heard the smashing of the glass. They rushed towards the woman, but before they could seize her she had made seven cuts in the canvas.

Sylvia Pankhurst put Mary Richardson's act into the context of wider militancy:

"The destruction wrought in the seven months of 1914 before the War excelled that of the previous year. Three Scotch castles were destroyed by fire on a single night. The Carnegie Library in Birmingham was burnt. The Rokeby Venus, falsly, as I consider, attributed to Velázquez, and purchased for the National Gallery at a cost of £45,000, was mutilated by Mary Richardson. Romney's Master Thornhill, in the Birmingham Art Gallery, was slashed by Bertha Ryland, daughter of an early Suffagist. Carlyle's portrait of Millais [sic] in the National Portrait Gallery, and numbers of other pictures were attacked, a Bartolozzi drawing in the Doré Gallery being completely ruined. Many large empty houses in all parts of the country were set on fire, including Redlynch House, Sommerset, where the damage was estimated at £ 40,000. Railway stations, piers, sports pavilions, haystacks were set on fire. Attempts were made to blow up reservoirs. A bomb exploded in Westminster Abbey, and in the fashionable church of St George's, Hanover Square, where a famous stained-glass window from the Malines was damaged ... One hundred and forty-one acts of destruction were chronicled in the Press during the first seven months of 1914."

Mary Richardson joined the Labour Party in 1919 and stood for parliament in 1922 in Acton; in 1926 in Bury St Edmunds; in 1931 in Aldershot; and in 1934 in London. She was never elected. In 1934 she joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and became the Organising Secretary of the Women's Section. She left them in 1935 and took no further part in politics. She adopted a boy called Roger Robert, who took the name Richardson.

Although on her first visit to Hastings in 1913 pepper was thrown in her face, long afterwards she retired here and wrote her autobiography Laugh a Defiance, published in 1953. She died in her flat at 46 St James' Road, Hastings, on November 7th 1961. After a coroner's investigation she was cremated on 10th and her ashes were taken away by Roger to his home in south London.

Top -  left - Mary being arrested;   right- Mary as a young woman
Middle - Police memo of 1914
Bottom - The Rokeby Venus

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