V&A off limits to women in 1913?

Museums considered banning female visitors at height of suffrage movement


Britain’s museums considered banning female visitors in April 1913, because of threats from suffragettes. This is revealed in papers in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) archives, on show in a small display marking the centenary of the naming of the museum by Queen Victoria “One hundred years of the V&A” (until 12 September). Following an attack on thirteen pictures in Manchester Art Gallery, the V&A drew up a list of options for national museums to consider: “It might be necessary for all the museums in London to close their doors entirely to women, in which case joint action would be necessary, and, if any exceptions were to be allowed, it was suggested that there might be some central place where permits could be issued.” In the end, it was decided to continue to allow female visitors. The V&A never became a target, although the threat was very real: Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus” was slashed by a suffragette at the National Gallery on 10 March 1914 and five Bellinis were vandalised on 22 May 1914 (this led to the public closure of both the National and Tate Galleries for three months).