An object lesson refers to a short critical analysis of a single object. This site is a digital object lesson for the cult board game Suffragetto (ce. 1908) created by the militant British Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU). The game is a contest of occupation between two opposing factions—the Suffragettes and the police—each aiming to occupy their opponent’s base while defending their own political home. This site is an exploration of the game’s impetus and context.
The WSPU was formed in response to the slow-moving pacifist tactics of other suffragette groups. They engaged in attention-getting strategies including disruption, occupation, destruction of public property, arson, and hunger-strikes. Police responded en force, leading the WSPU to create a thirty-woman bodyguard to protect its leaders and members. Known as the Amazons, they were trained in a form of jiu jitsu called bartitsu made popular by Sherlock Holmes, and promoted self-defense for women internationally. The game, Suffragetto, is a way to interact with the kind of physical feminism promoted by the WSPU, through leisure, and enacts feminist ideology in a hybrid fantasy-real world environment. Further, it allows players to experiment with alternative forms of resistance. As finding a vintage set of Suffragetto is practically impossible, this site has printable files for home enjoyment.
There is only one known surviving copy of Suffragetto, at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. Suffragetto was one of many children’s games about “kings and queens, the British world view, and war and conflict” created in the early 1900s [i]. These games present their histories through a specific, interactive lens—socialization through play. Though similarly Suffragetto draws on historic events, it is unique in its intent to disrupt traditional gender rules through domestic leisure.
As the game was produced by the WSPU, it retains a level of authenticity that might not occur if appropriated for profit. Suffragetto is a way to engage with feminist ideology, connect to community history and values, and mimic suffragette inventiveness, strategy, and activism. During play, ideas about bodies, gender, and social relationships become naturalized. Lastly, as the suffragettes engaged in pseudo-anarchist tactics, the game allows players to experiment with alternative identification and forms of resistance.
This site is part of a broader project concerning women, physical feminism, and technology. This portion of the project emerged out of a Media Archaeology course taught in the Digital Media program at Georgia Institute of Technology.