Mary Attacks Venus
March 10, 1914 - At 11 AM on this day a Canadian suffragette named Mary Richardson vandalized a 17th century masterpiece in a London museum.
The attack was one of many dramatic protests between 1913-1914 as women fought for the right to vote. It was Richardson's most notorious adventure in a two-year spree of high-profile civil disobedience. She was arrested 9 times for brazen behavior like presenting King George V a petition by leaping onto his carriage. She bombed a railway station and smashed windows at government offices. Mary was alongside fellow suffragette Emily Davison when she bolted in front of the King's racehorse and died from a fractured skull.
On the day she attacked the painting, Mary was especially distraught about the condition of her colleague, Sylvia Pankhurst, who was on a hunger strike in Holloway Prison.
Mary slipped a meat cleaver under her jacket and walked into London's National Gallery. She stood before Diego Velázquez's Rokeby Venus for a long time, contemplating the famous nude. Then she whipped out the cleaver, shattered the protective glass and slashed seven tears across the canvas before surrendering to a museum guard. She calmly told him:
Yes, I am a suffragette. You can get another picture, but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs Pankhurst.
Mary was sentenced to six months in prison for the vandalism. This was the maximum penalty for destruction of artwork.
World War I would push the suffrage movement out of the headlines and it would take another 14 years (1928) before women were finally granted the right to vote in England.
The Rokeby Venus was completely restored and returned to display.