The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

British suffragettes from 100 years ago are hailed as heroes, yet the government still considers them criminals

Students re-create a suffragette protest march in Egham, England, on Feb 6. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Britons celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the law granting women the right to vote, lauding the efforts of the suffragettes who made it possible.

“Those who fought to establish their right — my right, every woman’s right — to vote in elections, to stand for office and to take their full and rightful place in public life did so in the face of fierce opposition,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May. “They persevered in spite of all danger and discouragement, because they knew their cause was right.”

Yet many of those women are still officially considered criminals. More than 1,300 of them were arrested during sometimes-violent protests at the time, and many were jailed. Now some Britons would like to see them pardoned, and the government seems open to the idea.

“We have done things like this in the past. It's quite complicated elements of law which can't be overstepped because we've changed our views on things. But I have said that we will take a look at it,” Home Secretary Amber Rudd said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said he supports a posthumous pardoning of suffragettes. If elected as prime minister, he pledged, he would “give an official apology for the miscarriages of justice and wider persecution they suffered.”

But while the suffragettes are now universally hailed as heroes, not everyone believes they should receive a pardon — including some people on the front lines of the ongoing fight for gender equality.

“These radical women didn’t want a pardon. They didn’t want a pat on the head. They wanted equality,” said feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez in the New Statesman, a center-left British magazine.