Princess Sophia Singh: Unsung hero of women’s suffrage


Starting the first of many articles for OBV is our new US intern from North Carolina, Chapel Hill - a Pschology major, Dominique Brodie.  He will be writing regularly for OBV up until mid-April.  Welcome Dominique!

This week, we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage in England. In 1918, The Representation of the People Act granted the vote to women over 30 who met certain property requirements. This is quite the occasion, given the long struggle for women’s voting rights, and is being commemorated as such by the Royal Mail with a collection of centenary stamps featuring key figures of the suffragette movement.

Among the figures honoured by the stamp collection is one not-so-familiar face: that of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Sophia was the daughter of Sikh ruler Maharajah Duleep Singh, and goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Sophia was born in 1876 and grew up quietly with her exiled father in Suffolk. It wasn’t until adulthood, upon personal travel to India that she developed the revolutionary spirit we celebrate today. After having moved in with her godmother Victoria at Hampton Court Palace, and enjoying a privileged life as a young socialite, she was astonished upon witnessing the extreme poverty in India.

This ignited with her a passion for seeking justice and equality for oppressed peoples. In 1909, Princess Sophia joined the suffragette movement, and in 1910, led a march to Parliament alongside well know suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. During this march, many protestors were injured and detained by police, leading the day to become known as 'Black Friday'. In 1911, on the day of the King’s speech to parliament, Sophia jumped in front of the car of the prime minister, with a sign reading “Give women the vote.”She was also known for being called to court for refusing to pay taxes in support of the “no taxation without representation” movement.

As we revisit and seek to redefine a movement that typically focuses on the contributions of the indigenous women of the UK , this memorialisation of Sophia—a brown woman who used her position of privilege to make a statement against unjust societal conditions -- is a necessary departure from the norm. Particularly as a woman who was connected to the monarchy, and who worked alongside high-profile contributors to the fight for women’s suffrage like the Pankhursts, Sophia’s story is one that we should already know.

As we continue to fight for more inclusive and accurate representations of history, stories of women like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh are vital to truly understanding the impact of people, often women and often people of colour, excluded from the mainstream historical record.

Dominque Brodie