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International Women's Day

"Shout, shout up with your song!
Cry with the wind for the dawn is breaking.
March, march swing you along,
Wide blows our banner and hope is waking,
Sing with its story, dreams with their glory,
Lo! They call and glad is their word!
Forward! Hark how it swells
Thunder and freedom, the voice of the Lord!"

~ The March of the Women, lyrics by Cicely Hamilton, 1910

When the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England was looking for a color scheme to distinguish their political movement, they chose purple, white, and green. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of Votes for Women, a weekly newspaper, explained “Purple, as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity… white stands for purity in private and public life… green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.” The suffragette colours also had significance in the encoding of the first letter of each colour: Green - ‘Give Women Votes’; White - ‘Women’; Violet -‘Votes’. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 enfranchised women over the age of 30 who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register. And in 1928, women received the vote on the same terms as men (over the age of 21).

This tartan marks the centennial of the passage of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, on the 6th of February, which gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote. This tartan honours suffragettes and all of the key figures who worked for women to be given the right to vote, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison.

This tartan encompasses the colours of the suffragettes; namely green, white and purple. The suffragette colours had significance as the first letter of each colour represented the words ‘Give Women Votes’. Green represented ‘G’ for ‘Give’; white represented ‘W’ for ‘Women’; violet represented ‘V’ for ‘Votes’.

Although the Isle of Man had enfranchised women who owned property to vote in parliamentary (Tynwald) elections in 1881, New Zealand was the first self-governing country to grant all women the right to vote in 1893 when women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections.


Women in South Australia achieved the same right and became the first to obtain the right to stand for parliament in 1895.


In the United States, white women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote in the western territories of Wyoming from 1869 and in Utah from 1870.  But by 1903 women in Britain had still not been enfranchised, and Emmeline Pankhurst had decided the movement would have to become radical and militant if it was going to be effective. The campaign became increasingly bitter, with property damage and hunger strikes being countered by the authorities with jailing and force-feeding, until it was suspended due to the outbreak of war in 1914.

Women in Britain over the age of 30, meeting certain property qualifications, were given the right to vote in 1918, and in 1928 suffrage was extended to all women over the age of 21

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.  It was adopted on August 18, 1920.


For more on the colours of the Suffragette movement, click the song sheet illustration (by Margaret Morris) for "The March of the Women," a song composed by Ethyl Smyth with lyrics by Cicely Hamilton.

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