The year was 1913
, the place was England
An organization going by the name of the Woman's Social and Political Union
), headed up by Emmeline Pankhurst
had just upped the ante
in their quest for obtaining the right to vote for women. The suffragette
s had abandoned their earlier policies that leaned towards non-violence and set out to destroy both public and private property in order to achieve their goals.
As a result of this change in policy, many of the women were arrested and subsequently imprisoned. In order to protest both the conditions of the prisons and to further their cause, many went on a hunger strike. Their jailors had, at what first seemed a simple solution, to force feed them. Force feeding involved up to half a dozen of the jailors holding down the prisoner while a "doctor" forced a long tube down their nostrils, into their throat and eventually into their stomachs. The treatment however, caused constant vomiting and inflicted terrible pain. The food was often poured into the womens' lungs, almost choking them to death and causing pneumonia and pleurisy. It was not long before the public got wind of these stories and sympathy started to swing in favor the women.
The British Government, in order to avoid further embarrassment and to prevent these women from becoming martyrs, passed the Prisoners Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act. The gist of it was, that while the imprisoned suffragettes were allowed to go on hunger strikes, they would be set free once they became ill. Once they were on the "outside" and recovered, they would be re-arrested and returned to prison in order to complete their sentences. Hence, the "Cat and Mouse Act".
As an aside, in 1913 alone, Emmeline Pankhurst was imprisoned under the Cat and Mouse Act six times. She was 55 years old at the time. All told, before her death, I believe she was imprisoned at least twelve times under similar circumstances.