Jeremy Corbyn has announced Labour would grant an official apology and pardon for the suffragettes if it wins the next election.
On the centenary of some women over 30 achieving the right to vote, the government is facing calls to overturn the convictions of female activists jailed before the implementation of the Representation of the People Act.
“As a country, we must recognise and honour the enormous contribution and sacrifice made by women who campaigned for the right to vote,” Corbyn said on Tuesday morning.
“Many of those women were treated appallingly by society and the state. Convictions of suffragettes were politically motivated and bore no relation to the acts committed. Some were severely mistreated and force-fed in prison post-conviction so a pardon could mean something to their families.
Speaking following a meeting of the shadow cabinet at the Museum of London’s suffragette exhibition, the Labour leader added: “Labour in government will both pardon the suffragettes and give an official apology for the miscarriages of justice and wider persecution they suffered.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said she will “look” at calls to pardon suffragettes, who were treated as criminals during their fight for the right to vote.
But she stressed it was “complicated” when looking at cases of arson and violence, but promised to analyse individual proposals.
Rudd said Turing’s Law, which pardoned thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now-abolished sexual offences, had set a precedent.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I have seen this campaign, I completely understand where it’s coming from, the extraordinary pained campaign, violence that these women went through in order to deliver the vote, which has been of such benefit to us for generations.
“So I will take a look at it, but I must be frank, it is complicated because if you’re going to give a legal pardon for things like arson and violence it’s not as straightforward as people think it might be, but I will certainly look at proposals.”
She added: “I think there is something different about them but I’m just pointing out, unfortunately, the practical reality of bypassing the law in this way, but as I said, I would like to take a look at individual proposals to see what can be done.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has joined others in pushing for pardons, saying the suffragettes were simply righting the wrong of voting inequality.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph she said: “Voting was a value judgment, not an intrinsic right.
“That inequality is one of the reasons why I support calls by family members to offer a posthumous pardon to those suffragettes charged with righting that wrong.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, named after suffragist Millicent Fawcett, said: “Suffragette activism was for a noble cause and many of them became political prisoners.
“It would be a fitting tribute to pardon them now. They made such sacrifices so that we could all enjoy the rights we have today. In any meaningful sense of the word, they were not criminals.”
While suffragists used peaceful methods to achieve women’s suffrage, the suffragettes employed more militant tactics in their campaign.
There were more than 1,300 suffragette arrests according to the England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914 collection.
Many went on to be jailed, including leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
As a founder member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Pankhurst was sentenced to repeated stretches in prison as a result of her militant activity.