The Lost Game Of Suffragetto

These days you can engage in political activism from the comfort of your own armchair by pounding away at social media. A century or so ago the only way was to go out on to the streets and run the risk of arrest or a bump on the head from a policeman’s truncheon. The fight for women’s suffrage was heating up in the first decade of the 20th century and whilst there many women prepared to risk liberty and limb to carry their fight in orthodox ways to the authorities, many others were precluded either by their nature, geographic distance or pressure from their families from following suit. One way to experience the thrills and spills of demonstrating your support for suffragism (or, indeed, your opposition to it) was to play a board game.

One that would suit a budding suffragette was one produced by Sargeant Brother Limited for the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 as a novel way to raise funds for the cause. Called Suffragetto, it came in a plain box with red borders, with the game’s name emblazoned in red and the enticing slogans of “the very latest craze” and “an interesting and original game of skill between suffragettes and policemen, for two players” in an olive script.

The game came with a board which represented the streets of Edwardian London around the Houses of Parliament and the Albert Hall, which was the suffragettes’ base. The player representing the suffragettes, you can imagine that this honour was keenly fought over, played with sixteen green (representing the rank and file) and five purple (the leaders) markers while the other player was armed with 16 blue (constables) and 5 white (inspectors) markers representing the forces of male oppression aka the police. Suffragettes start the game on squares marked “S” and

The objective of the game for the suffragettes was to evade the police lines and break through into the Houses of Parliament whilst preventing the police from disrupting their rally at the Albert Hall. The winner was the first to get six of their markers into their opponent’s building. Players took it in turns to reposition a marker, either by moving one square horizontally or diagonally or by hopping over another marker into an unoccupied space.

If the marker you hopped over belonged to your opponent, they were either arrested, if a suffragette, and sent to the prison or injured, if a policeman, and taken to hospital. An inspector or leader could arrest or injure any of their opponent’s markers, but the constables could only arrest the rank and file and vice versa. If, at any point, there were twelve or more inmates in the prison or hospital, then either player could insist on an exchange of six of fewer. Each prisoner or police officer exchanged had to be of equal value, a leader for an Inspector or a member of the rank and file for a constable.

And that seemed to be it. It was a game of strategy with a twist, enabling the players to re-enact the battle of wits that was being played out on the streets. The only known surviving copy of the game is held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. If you have a complete set lying about in the attic it will be worth a small fortune. A curious period piece, indeed.

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