Suffragette procession after release from prison in Dundee featuring Maud Joachim. Courtesy of Library of Congress © CC 4.0

East-End Suffragette medal auctioned to women’s library in Scotland

A hunger strike medal awarded to an East End suffragette was auctioned to Glasgow Women’s Library earlier this month. 

A medal awarded by the Women’s Social and Political Union to East London Suffragette Maud Joahchim in 1909 was auctioned off to Glasgow Women’s Library at a bid of £41,000 on 3 October.

The medal, now over a century old, was awarded to Joachim after a four-day group hunger strike in November 1909 at Dundee prison. Joachim was convicted after disrupting a talk by Winston Churchill who referred to ‘a band of silly, neurotic, hysterical women’ at his constituency in Dundee. This radical act was the first hunger strike by a group of Suffragettes in Scotland and the medal is a key artefact of Women’s history in the UK. 

Though the medal commemorating Joachim’s bravery is now held in Glasgow, the history of her activism can be traced back to the East End. Born in Paddington of Hungarian descent, Joachim was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union and East London Federation of Suffragettes alongside Sylvia Pankhurst. 

Following her release, Joachim departed from the WSPU in 1903 due to ideological disagreements and found a new home in the East End. Focusing her socialist activism in Bow, she supported the struggle of working class women alongside campaigning for the vote. Alongside Sylvia Pankhurst, Joachim managed an unemployment bureau and the East London Toy Factory on 45 Norman Grove, which ran from 1914 to 1934. Through her work, she tackled local unemployment and supplied women in the area with manufacturing and trading skills, at the same pay rate as their male counterparts. 

A well-educated and militant woman, Joachim was imprisoned three times for her involvement in the Suffragette movement. It was during her third imprisonment in Dundee that she went on hunger strike alongside five other suffragette prisoners, for which she received the medal. 

The medal was previously held as part of a 109-lot collection of Suffragette memorabilia collected by Lesley Mees since the 1980s. It came to auction at Bonham’s auction house where it caught the attention of the Glasgow Women’s Library, a public archive and charity, the only accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements.

The charity began its plea to bid on the artefact in September, tweeting: ‘In prison she became the first suffragette to undergo hunger strike in Scotland. That is why this medal is so special, rare and significant. We are hoping to raise around £7K’. 

The medal was originally estimated to go for a bid of £18,000 but was auctioned online for £41,000 on 3 October. This was funded by a grant from the Scottish Government’s National Fund for Acquisitions in addition to £28,000 raised in individual donations. 

Suffragette Hunger Strike Medal awarded to Maud Joachim for valour 1909 courtesy of Bonhams
Suffragette Hunger Strike Medal awarded to Maud Joachim for valour 1909 courtesy of Bonhams

Joachim’s medal is presented in a traditional military-style, imitating the Victoria Cross. It comes with its original purple box and green velvet lining. The wording on the inside lid, printed in gold on white silk, reads: ‘Presented to Maud Joachim by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’. 

From a prison in Dundee to a Toy Factory in Bow, the medal commemorating Joachim’s activism and commitment to women’s rights now marks a piece of East End history in the heart of Scotland. This new addition to the Glasgow Women’s Library is an incredible display of grassroots fundraising and national support for heritage institutions. 

If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating history of the Suffragettes in the East End, read about the East London Federation of Suffragettes here

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