In the spring of 1914, Mary Wood entered the Royal Academy of Art’s summer exhibition with her shawl and a meat cleaver. Wood, described by news reports as a woman of “distinctively peaceable appearance,” stood in front of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the writer Henry James, took out her cleaver, and hacked the work with three quick swings, shouting, “Votes for women!” This is how the Sun newspaper reported what happened next:

The visitors to the gallery turned suddenly in the direction from which the shout came but were too late to prevent the mischief. They saw a middle-aged woman hacking the picture with a cleaver. The first jab broke the glass and cut the canvas. The second blow damaged the canvas still further, and although the woman was then seized by a detective, she succeeded in delivering a third blow.

Such “mischief” was decried in press reports, even… More…