Sister Suffragettes: The Lilley family and the campaign for votes for women

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Researching the story of Kate and Louise Lilley, leaders of the women’s suffrage campaign in Clacton, I was put in mind of the song sung by Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins when she returns from a suffrage rally. The ‘sister suffragettes’ she sings about go ‘shoulder to shoulder into the fray’, which is just what Kate and Louise did. Kate and Louise are the best known of the Lilley family, but they were two of 10 siblings, and all three of their sisters and both their parents also took part in the campaign for votes for women.

The sisters were born in London, Kate in 1874 and Louise in 1883. Their father, Thomas Lilley, was one of the partners of the shoe manufacturers, Lilley and Skinner. The business had been begun by his father, and would stay in the family for several generations. The company became one of Britain’s largest shoe retailers, and for many years ran the largest shoe shop in the world on Oxford Street. (A selection of shoes made by the company can today be found at the Victoria and Albert museum.)

Thomas had married Mary Ann Denton in 1870, and they lived a comfortable life in London with several household servants. The help must have been useful – they had a total of 11 children together (although a son, Benjamin, died aged just 3). In 1908, Thomas had a new home built for the family in Clacton, Holland House, on the corner of Skelmersdale Road and Holland Road. (The building, somewhat extended, survives today as flats.)

At the time the family took up residence in Clacton, Kate would have been about 34 and Louise about 24. Tracing their activities through the Clacton Graphic, we can see that the sisters were extremely active within the Clacton branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant organisation led by Emmeline Pankhurst. They organised and spoke at meetings, helped run the WSPU shop on Rosemary Road, organised fundraising events, and sold the WPSU newspaper, Votes for Women.

From local papers we can even get an idea of the content of the speeches that the sisters made at meetings. One such speech, made at a meeting of the local Liberal Association, was reported in the Graphic on 15 April 1911. In front of a large audience, one of the sisters (the paper doesn’t specify which Miss Lilley spoke) put forward her arguments in favour of women’s suffrage:

They could have no true democracy, unless every class was represented, and that applied quite as much to sex as class. Some might say that there were men who would always look after the interests of a woman, but men could not understand the needs of a woman, so well as the woman herself.

Women, she said, ‘wanted to feel their responsibility and help to ameliorate certain social evils, which at one time women thought it right to ignore’. She agreed with the consensus of the time that the woman’s place was in the home, but in reality ‘every morning five million women had to go out of their homes in order to keep it.’

She also spoke about wage inequality, and the different application of laws to men and to women:

it was not fair to have one law for a man and another for a woman. They asked for fair play and no favour, and as long as woman had no political status she would always be bottom dog in the labour market.

Alongside their local activities, Kate and Louise also sometimes headed back to London to take part in the campaign. Both were arrested during Black Friday in November 1910, along with hundreds of other campaigners who had attempted to gain access to the Houses of Parliament. In that instance the sisters were not prosecuted, but in March 1912 they took part in the WSPU’s campaign of smashing windows, using large pieces of flint to each break a window at the War Office. They were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The sisters were committed to Holloway prison, and were placed in cells next door to each other. After their release, Kate wrote an account of her time in prison for the Clacton Graphic (4 May 1912). She began by explaining the reasoning behind the decision to damage property as part of their campaign:

What we feel we have to do now, is to make every just-minded person, especially the men, wake up to the fact that it is their duty to help. First of all public opinion may be against us, and great anger felt. We say we would rather anger than indifference. Indifference helps no one, and after 40 years’ experience we have found coaxing and persuading of no avail. How then, are we to wake up public conscience? For any woman who is yet doubting whether our cause is really worth the sacrifice of committing an offence, which, naturally, must be very repulsive to her, imprisonment, the risk of losing her friends and social position, and, in many cases, means of earning a livelihood, besides family sacrifice she has to make, let her go to Holloway Prison. She will come up against many hard facts in life; the ordinary prisoners will become real human beings to her, and not some vague class of individuals one reads of in the newspapers. They will impress her as looking very like ourselves, except for the ugly prison dress and the hopeless expression one sees on so many of their faces. As Dr. Garrett Anderson remarked the other day: “Suffragettes go to prison as a move in the fight to life the burden from women’s lives; the other prisoners go because this burden has been too great for them.” And we must not forget the chief cause of their crime is their status and their poverty. One has plenty of time to think in Holloway.

She went on to give a description of the time she and Louise spent in Holloway, including long stretches of solitary confinement, and time in cells below ground level where they ‘suffered very much indeed from the cold’. They were allowed no letters and no visitors, but after a time were allowed two books a week from the prison library. One half-hour period of exercise was allowed per day to begin with, but as the women’s health began to suffer this was increased to two by the prison doctor.

On the subject of the hunger strike which took place at that time, Kate wrote ‘the horrors of it are still too fresh in my memory for me to feel able to dwell on any of the details’. The sisters must have taken part in the hunger strike, as on their release both were presented with hunger strike medals by the WSPU, which are today in the collections at the Museum of London.

Louise Lilley’s hunger strike medal from the Museum of London. Kate’s medal is also in their collection.

The sisters were released in early May, and returning home to Clacton they were ‘met with a most hearty welcome home from hundreds of spectators, including many women wearing the W.S.P.U. badge’ (Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912). The crowd cheered the sisters, and they were presented with bouquets. The Graphic further reported that ‘Their suffering for the cause, which they believe to be right and just, have not damped their ardour, and they are more determined than ever to go forward’. Two photographs published in the paper show the sisters arriving at Clacton station, and being driven away in their father’s motor car.

Kate and Louise Lilley return home to Clacton after their release from Holloway prison in May 1912. One of the women on the left of the photograph, possibly one of the sisters, carries a WSPU flag. Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912.

Kate and Louise Lilley leave Clacton station in their father’s motor car in front of a crowd of onlookers. Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912.

The sisters must have drawn strength from the support of their family, and the fact that they also joined in the campaign. I have not found any reference to any of their brothers campaigning, but their three sisters also pop up in the Clacton Graphic.

The oldest of the sisters was Mary Hetty Lilley, born in 1872. She had married Arthur Skyes (an architect, who actually designed the Lilley’s home in Clacton, Holland House), and she lived half a mile away from her parents and sisters, at Carnarvon Road in Clacton. She chaired and spoke at local suffrage meetings, and wrote to the Clacton Graphic to express her views on things.

In April 1912, for example, an auction was held to sell a pair of binoculars, which had been confiscated from a Miss Rose, who had refused to pay her taxes as a protest against women not being allowed to vote. Mary Sykes presided over a meeting after the auction, where she ‘explained in a few words that the reason why they had met together was because they wished to express their sympathy with Miss Rose in her protest, and because they felt she was perfectly right in so doing. Women had no voice or vote, and therefore should not be taxed’ (Clacton Graphic, 27 April 1912).

In March 1912 she wrote to the Graphic in support of her sisters’ acts of breaking windows at the War Office:

Sir, – Will you allow me through your paper to contradict a wrong report issued in some of the daily papers that Miss Kate Lilley and Miss Louise Lilley had broken windows because they had been influenced by speakers. This statement is incorrect. In both cases it was pleaded that they had broken a pane of glass valued at 3s. in a Government building as a protest against the Government, and they did not wish to offer any apology.

Yours truly,

M.H. Sykes

Clacton Graphic, 16 March 1912

The other two sisters, Helen Doris Marjorie Lilley, born in 1890, and Ada Elizabeth, born in 1893, are a bit more shadowy, but they do appear in local reports as being present at suffrage meetings, and as being part of a choir dressed all in white at a WSPU meeting at Clacton in February 1912.

Most extraordinarily, there are even photographs of the Lilley sisters out in force, campaigning together:

This montage of photographs in the Clacton Graphic shows the Clacton branch of the WSPU at work, including all five of the Lilley sisters. All of them appear in the top photo; photo number 3 shows Mary Sykes, and photo number 5 shows the four unmarried Lilley sisters parading together in their sandwich boards.

The Lilley parents, Mary and Thomas, also got involved in the suffrage campaign. In June 1911, Mary Lilley hosted an ‘at home’ at Holland House (described in the Clacton Graphic, 10 June 1911), and she often attended suffrage meetings, and lent plants from her garden to help decorate halls and stages.

Thomas Lilley, who in addition to being a company director was a local JP and president of the local Liberal Association, was a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage. He chaired and spoke at suffrage meetings, supported women’s suffrage at Clacton town council meetings, and expressed his views in the local papers:

We are shouting, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” What right have we to deprive a woman of her vote simply because she is a woman? For shame! This is indeed tyranny and injustice combined.

Letter to the Clacton Graphic, 13 May 1911

The family business, Lilley and Skinner, also publicly supported the campaign, decorating their window displays with ribbons in the suffragette colours of purple, white and green. They advertised in the WSPU magazine, Votes for Women, thereby financially supporting the organisation, and even made a slipper died in purple white and green.

Uncovering the extent of the Lilley family’s joint campaigning activities has been a surprising research journey (especially the bit about the purple, white and green slippers). Again the words of Mrs Banks’s song Sister Suffragettes comes to mind; the Lilley family were indeed ‘dauntless crusaders for women’s votes’.


If you would like to trace the stories of other local suffragettes, a really good place to start is the British Newspaper Archive online, which you can use for free at ERO and at Essex Libraries.

If you need to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date, you can do so here.

The smashing Rock sisters: Dorothea and Madeleine Rock, Essex Suffragettes

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, in the centenary year of some British women getting the parliamentary vote for the first time, we have been finding out about sisters Dorothea and Madeleine Rock of Ingatestone, who both spent time in prison for their part in the campaign for votes for women.

Dorothea and Madeleine were daughters of Edward Rock, an East India tea merchant, and his wife Isabella. They were born in Buckhurst Hill, Dorothea in 1881 and Madeleine in 1884, but by 1891 the family had moved to Station Lane in Ingatestone. The sisters had a middle class upbringing, with a governess, a cook, and a housemaid all employed in the household.

Sisters Dorothea and Madeline Rock of Ingatestone, left and centre. The caption on the back of the photograph does not tell us which sister is which, or the identity of the third woman, although she may be their governess, Louisa Watkins. This photograph has been digitally restored. (T/P 193/13)

In 1908 both joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a militant  organisation led by Emmeline Pankhurst. After decades of petitioning and lobbying with little result, the WSPU approach was ‘Deeds not Words’. Their tactics included smashing windows of government buildings and upmarket shops, setting fire to letter boxes, vandalising golf courses, and in extreme cases arson of unoccupied buildings.

We can track some of the WSPU activities of the Rock sisters by searching local newspapers (this is made so much easier and faster by accessing the newspapers through the British Newspaper Archive online, which allows you to search for key words. You can use the BNA for free at ERO and Essex Libraries).

The first mention of the Rock sisters’ WSPU activities that I have found so far is in the Essex Newsman of 13 March 1909. A short piece in the local news columns descibes a rummage sale held at the Rock residence, the Red House, to raise funds for the WSPU.

On Monday 6 September 1910, Madeleine presdied over an open-air meeting in the market square at Ingatestone, where, the Chelmsford Chronicle (9 September) reported, ‘There was a good attendance’. The meeting was given a ‘spirited address’ by a Miss Ainsworth. A few weeks later (reported in the Essex Newsman, 29 October 1910), Dorothea spoke on votes for women at the Ingatestone Debating Society; the meeting passed a resolution in favour of the Conciliation Bill then going through parliament which would have given some women the vote (the Bill was later defeated).

The first time the local papers mention the sisters being arrested is in late 1910. From the Chelmsford Chronicle of 25 November 1910 we learn that the Rock sisters had been arrested for taking part in a raid on the House of Commons, along with other Essex suffragettes:

Essex Suffragettes Raid

Among the 116 ladies arrested during the raid of the suffragettes on the House of Commons on Friday were the Misses K. and L. Lilley, of Clacton-on-Sea; Madeline Rock and Dorothea Rock, of Ingatestone; and Mrs Emily K. Marshall, of Theydon Bois, a daughter of Canon Jacques… The defendants surrendered to their bail at Bow-street, on Saturday, when Mr. Muskett, under instructions from the Home Secretary, withdrew from the prosecutions, and the whole of the ladies were discharged. The suffragettes regard the action of the authorities as a great triumph for the cause.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 November 1910

In April 1911, the sisters joined in with the boycott of the census. Instead of completing the household return with details of the occupiers, Dorothea filled the page with a message:

I, Dorothea Rock, in the absence of the male occupier, require to fill up this census page as, in the eyes of the law, women do not count, neither shall they be counted

The enumerator later added some details of the people who lived there – Mrs Rock, 55, Dorothea Rock, 27, described as a ‘News vendor’ (presumably distributing copies of the WSPU paper), and Madeleine, 25, along with three unnamed servants. (If Dorothea had known doubtless she would have been annoyed.)

Not everyone agreed that the census boycott was a good idea. A few days before the census was held, there was a meeting of the Chelmsford branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) at Shire Hall (reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle on Friday 31 March 1911). The meeting was addressed by Miss K.D. Courtney, honorary secretary of the National Union, who described the census boycott as ‘futile and a waste of time’. A Miss Rock (the Chronicle doesn’t specify which one) defended the boycott, saying it aimed ‘to show the Government how many women there were who would submit no longer to being treated as mere chattels’.

The sisters again took militant action in November 1911. The Chelmsford Chronicle reported:

Suffragette riot in London

Essex women arrested

A serious riot was the result of Tuesday’s demonstration by the militant section of Suffragettes in London. The women essayed to approach the House of Commons with a view to some of their number entering the House. A strong cordon of police, however, prevented the women from carrying out their object. Many disgraceful scenes took place, and 223 arrests were made. Organised bands of women appeared in different parts of the West End, breaking windows with hammers and stones, the damage being estimated at hundreds of pounds. Among those arrested were the following Essex women: – Grace Cappelow [sic], Hatfield Peverel; Marie Moore, Forest Gate; Emily Catherine Marshall, Theydon Bois; Constance Nugent, Leytonstone; Dorothy [sic] Rock, Ingatestone, Madeline Rock, Ingatestone; and Sybil Smith, Chigwell.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 24 November 1911

Madeleine at least was sentenced to a week in prison; her release was reported in the Chronicle of 1 December 1911.

The next mention I’ve found of the Rock sisters in the Chelmsford Chronicle is 23 February 1912, when Dorothea spoke at a suffrage meeting in Chelmsford:

The Suffragettes have held several successful meetings in the open air, and on Wednesday a well-attended drawing-room meeting was held at Yverdon, London Road, the residence of Alderman and Mrs. Maskell. The expected speaker, Miss Wylie, was called away to work in the Glasgow Bye-election, so Miss Dorothea Rock took her place, with Miss Grace Blyth in the chair. In the evening there was a meeting for shop assistants. Miss Chapelow [sic] recited “The Song of the Shirt,” and Miss Rock again spoke.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 23 February 1912

A few short weeks later the Rock sisters were back in London, smashing windows at Mansion House with hammers and stones. This incident led to the longest Chelmsford Chronicle article that I have come across about the Rocks:

This newspaper column was preserved along with the photograph of the sisters posted above (T/P 193/13)

At the Mansion House on Tuesday, four Suffragists – Dorothea Rock, 30, and Madelaine Rock, 27, both giving addresses at the Red House, Ingatestone, the former described as of no occupation and the latter as a poet; Grace Chappelow, 28, The Villa, Hatfield Peverel, no occupation; and Fanny Pease, 33, of 4 Clements’s Inn, hospital nurse – were charged before Sir George Woodman with wilfully breaking windows at Mansion House.

The cases of Dorothea Rock and Grace Chappelow were taken first, and a constable said that about 10.15 on the previous evening he saw the two defendants walk up to the kitchen window of the Mansion House, in Walbrook, and deilberately break eight panes of glass with two hammers and stones. He arrested them, and at the statino a hammer and two stones were found on Rock and three stones on Chappelow, whose hammer had been left on the window sill.

Evidence having been given that the damage done was to the value of £2, Chappelow said she thought that was rather a high estimate.

Dorothea Rock: This thing is not done as wanton damage – we have done it as a protest against being deprived of the vote.

The Alderman: But it was wanton damage, whatever you may call it. Are you Londoners?

Rock: no, we have come up from Essex.

The Alderman: For this little prank. (Laughter.)

Rock: No, to do our duty… We selected the Mansion House because of the insult offered to our women here the other day by the Lord Mayor ordering them to be ejected from a meeting here.

The Alderman: I cannot find any excuse for treating you leniently or differently from other people. You are either criminals or lunatics, one of the other, and you will each have two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

In the case of the other prisoners, Madelaine Rock and Fanny Pease, evidence was given by P.c. Washer that he recognised Rock as a seller of the “Votes for Women” paper in the vicinity of the Mansion House. He saw her throw a hammer enclosed in a glove at one of the windows of the basement of the Mansion House, but the weapon rebounded off the iron protections. The other prisoner was with her, and three two stones at the window.

Rock: It was my stone with broke it.

Both prisoners made statements in their defence on the lines of the previous two women.

The Alderman said he was sorry to punish these women in this way, but they were acting under an entirely mistaken view of their case. They were violent as agaisnt the public, and that was bound to bring punishment in its train. He must punish them equally as he would do a poor wandering man in the street who broke windows, and they must go to prison for two months with hard labour.

Pease: We are not afraid.

The Alderman: I can’t talk to you. You must remember that you are dealing with Englishmen, who are not to be driven to do that which they will not do of their own free will.

Interested spectators of the proceedings were the Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress, who were seated in the counsel’s seats.

So began two months in Holloway prison for the Rock sisters, along with several other fellow Suffragettes arrested in the March window smashing campaign. Many of the Suffragette prisoners went on hunger strike as a protest, and the prison authories responded by forcibly feeding them. This involved restraining the woman and pushing a rubber feeding tube through their nose or mouth into their stomach. Emmeline Pankhurst, in her book My Own Story, wrote that ‘Holloway became a place of horror and torment… I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears’.

The Rocks appear in the volume of poetry published by the imprisoned campaigners, Holloway Jingles. Madeleine is described in some documents as a poet, and one of her poems was included in the book (you can read more about this in this preview of Glenda Norquay’s book Votes and Voices). Dorothea, meanwhile, is believed to be the subject of a poem, “To D.R.”, written by Joan Baillie Guthrie under the pseudonym Laura Grey.

While in Holloway Dorothea met Zoe Procter, who was to become her lifelong partner. Zoe had become involved in the WSPU in 1911 when her sister took her to a meeting, and she joined the Chelsea branch, running the lending library. An impassioned speech by Christabel Pankhurst inspired Zoe to take part in the window smashing campaign on 1 March that year, and armed with a hammer concealed in a large muff she smashed her window, and was sentenced to six weeks in Holloway.

However unpleasant their experience in Holloway, the Rock sisters were undeterred from pursuing further militant activitie. In July 1913 Madeleine was arrested for allegedly attempting to protect Sylvia Pankhurst from arrest:

INGATESTONE SUFFRAGIST ARRESTED.

“TOOLS OF THIS TYRANNY.”

Among the persons arrested at the Suffragist gathering at the Pavilion on Monday, and who appeared before Mr. Denman at Marlborough Street in Tuesday on charges of obstruction and assault, was Madeleine Rock, 30, described as a poet, of Ingatestone.

Inspector Riley stated that after he had arrested Mrs. Pankhurst the defendant, with two others, attempted to prevent him leaving the theatre with her.

Defendant Rock said she did nothing, but she felt Sergt. Cox’s stick. It came down on her head when she was not doing anything.

One of the defendants, Francesca Graham, was discharged.

Mr. Denman said the other two defendants must enter into recognisances to keep the peace for six months.

Miss Rock: I will not keep the peace; how long will you be the tools of tyranny?

Mr. Denman said if defendants were not willing to be bound over they must find two sureties in £20 each, or in default go to prison for twenty-one days.

Eventually the defendants found sureties.

Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 25 July 1913

With the outbreak of the First World War in the following year, most militant campaigning activity ceased.

Madeleine continued to write poetry and published two volumes of her work, Or in the Grass in 1914 and On the Tree Top in 1927. She lived until 1954, leaving the residue of her estate to Marjorie Potbury, her cousin and a fellow suffragette.

Dorothea lived with Zoe Procter at 81 Beaufort Mansions, Chelsea, and Shepherds Corner, Beaconsfield. She wrote plays, in some of which Zoe performed. Zoe died in 1962 aged 94, leaving a substantial estate to Dorothea. Dorothea herself died in 1964, leaving bequests to Grace Chappelow and to Marjorie Potbury.

Votes for Women: Essex girls on the march

6 February 2018 marks 100 years since some UK women were granted the right to vote in parliamentary elections, after decades of campaigning.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the right to vote to women over 30 who met a property qualification – 8.4 million women in total. With so many men having been killed in the First World War, there was a fear that if equal voting rights were given female votes would outnumber male voters, and the country would end up with a ‘petticoat parliament’.

(It’s also worth noting that before the Act, only 60% of men over 21 had the right to vote. This meant that many of the men returning from military service would not have been able to vote. In addition to granting the vote to women, the Act also extended it to all men over 21, an additional 5.4 million men.)

The campaign for votes for women had stretched over decades, and for most of that time made little progress. In this blog post we take a look at some of the local women and men who took part in this momentous national campaign.

Lilian and Amy Hicks – Great Holland

Photographic postcard of Lilian Hicks, produced by the Women’s Freedom League (D/DU 4041/1)

Lilian Hicks (née Smith) was born in Colchester in 1853. She married Charles Hicks, and they made their family home at Great Holland Hall near Frinton-on-Sea. From the 1880s, when she was the mother of young children, Lilian worked for the women’s suffrage movement, organising meetings across East Anglia, and when she was older her daughter Amy joined Lilian in her campaigning. They belonged to various suffrage organisations over the years, joining the militant WSPU in 1906 before breaking away with the more peaceful Women’s Freedom League (WFL) in 1907, then ultimately rejoining the WSPU. Mother and daughter were arrested together on 18 November 1910 at the protest which became known as Black Friday, a struggle between campaigners and police in Parliament Square which turned violent.

Amy took part in the WSPU window smashing campaign in March 1912, and was arrested and sentenced to four months hard labour. She spent time in Holloway and Aylesbury prisons, including time in solitary confinement. She was one of the suffrage prisoners who went on hunger strike, and was subjected to the brutal procedure of forcible feeding.

Read more about Lilian and Amy Hicks in our previous blog post about them

 

Dorothea and Madeleine Rock – Ingatestone

Sisters Dorothea and Madeline Rock of Ingatestone, left and centre. The caption on the back of the photograph does not tell us which sister is which, or the identity of the third woman, although she may be their governess, Louisa Watkins. This photograph has been digitally restored. (T/P 193/13)

Sisters Dorothea and Madeline Rock of Ingatestone both spent time in prison for their campaigning activities. They were daughters of Edward Rock, an East India tea merchant, and his wife Isabella. Dorothea was born in 1881 and Madeline in 1884, and they had a middle-class upbringing, with a governess, a cook, and a housemaid employed in the household.

In 1908, the sisters both joined the WSPU, and in December 1911 both were sentenced to 7 days’ imprisonment for smashing windows. Undeterred, the sisters smashed further windows in March 1912, and were arrested with fellow Suffragettes Grace Chappelow, from Hatfield Peverel, and Fanny Pease. The four attended a hearing together, which heard that they had smashed windows at London’s Mansion House with hammers and stones. A newspaper account of the hearing reported Dorothea defending their actions:

‘This thing is not done as wanton damage – we have done it as a protest against being deprived of the vote.’

 

Kate and Louise Lilley – Clacton

Kate and Louise Lilley are welcomed back to Clacton after being released from prison in May 1912. The pair were met at the station then driven home in their father’s motor car (Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912, photo from Hoffman’s Studio)

Sisters Kate (b.1874) and Louise Lilley (b.1883) were daughters of Clacton magistrate and company director, Thomas Lilley JP. They were also both members and officials of the Clacton branch of the WSPU. Like the Rock sisters and Amy Hicks, they took part in the March 1912 WPSU window smashing campaign and were sentenced to two months’ hard labour as a result.

They were released in early May, and returning home to Clacton they were ‘met with a most hearty welcome home from hundreds of spectators, including many women wearing the W.S.P.U. badge’ (Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912). The crowd cheered the sisters, and they were presented with bouquets. The Graphic further reported that  ‘Their suffering for the cause, which they believe to be right and just, have not damped their ardour, and they are more determined than ever to go forward’.

Kate herself wrote a piece for the Graphic about their experience, and why the sisters had taken the course they had:

‘I should like to state that the reason why my sister and I decided to take our courage in both our hands, and make a protest by damaging property was: – we were following the dictates of our conscience and our reason. We know we had to make an active protest to call attention to the need of the great and urgent reform and so long delayed Act of Justice, i.e., Enfranchisement of Women.’

On the hunger strike which took place while they were in Holloway, Kate could only write:

the horrors of it are still too fresh in my memory for me to feel able to dwell in any way on the details.

 

Eliza Vaughan – Rayne

Millicent Fawcett's Hyde Park address1913

The NUWSS pilgrimage which Eliza Vaughan took park in in July 1913 ended with a rally in Hyde Park address by their leader, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (photo from the Women’s Library at LSE)

Eliza Vaughan was born in Brixton in 1863. Her father was a vicar, and later moved the family to Finchingfield when he became vicar there. From 1895 Eliza lived in Rayne near Braintree, and researched and wrote about the local area.

Eliza was an active member of the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) for many years. Unlike the WSPU, the NUWSS believed firmly in sticking to peaceful campaigning activities.

In July 1913 Eliza took part in a march organised by the NUWSS which brought together suffrage campaigners from across the country, all the contingents eventually meeting for a rally in London. On 25 July 1913 a letter from Eliza was published in the Chelmsford Chronicle explaining why the march was taking place:

‘The just end of this gigantic undertaking is to demonstrate to the nation throughout the length and breadth of England the dertermination of non-militant suffragists to obtain justice for their own sex, so that the needs of women, particularly the toilers in our great industrial centres, may be adequately represented in Parliament.’

Eliza was one of the leaders of the Essex contingent, beginning in Colchester and marching through through several town and villages including Mark’s Tey, Coggeshall, Braintree, Witham, Kelvedon, Chelmsford and Romford. The marchers included both men and women, and in each place they stopped they made speeches, distributed leaflets and had conversations with people about women’s suffrage. Throughout the march they took pains to distance themselves from the militant actions of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The audiences at the meetings are described by Eliza as being mostly orderly, but the marchers were in places subjected to abuse and egg-throwing.

In an account of the march titled ‘Humours of the Road’ (T/Z 11/27) Eliza describes the march as a pilgrimage ‘journeying to a shrine, dedicated to Justice and Right’.

 

Rosina Sky – Southend

Suffrage Campaigning: Women's Tax Resistance League1909-1914

Badge of the Women’s Tax Resistance League (photo: LSE Women’s Library)

Rosina Sky led the charge for votes for women in Southend. She was born in Whitechapel in 1877, the daughter of a Russian tobacconist and pipe manufacturer. She married William Sky, and they had three children together, before divorcing. As a single mother of three, Rosina ran a tobacconists shop of her own in Southend at 28 Clifftown Road. As a woman in a man’s world, Rosina had all the responsibilities of running a business with none of the rights accorded to men in the same position. She was treasurer of the Southend branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and a member of the Tax Resistance League, whose slogan was ‘No Vote, No Tax’. Their key argument was that it was unjust for women to pay tax when without a vote they had no say in how it might be spent.

In September 1911, bailiffs seized goods belonging to Rosina in lieu of the taxes she had refused to pay. The goods were publicly auctioned, accompanied by a parade of the WSPU in Southend to protest. Further goods were confiscated from Rosina and sold in June 1912. She continued to run her shop until her death in 1922.

________________________________________________________________

A small display of records relating to Essex suffrage campaigners from the ERO’s collections is currently on display in our Searchroom, until the end of April 2018.

Document of the Month, February 2018: Women make it into the electoral register

Katharine Schofield, Archivist

Our Document of the Month for February 2018 is an electoral register for the Saffron Walden Division from 1918 (C/E 2/8/1) – the first year that women appear in registers of parliamentary voters.

On 6 February 1918 the Representation of the People Act gained royal assent.  This entitled all men over the age of 21 to vote, previously only 60% of men who met the property and residential qualifications had been eligible.  More famously, for the first time women over 30 were able to vote in parliamentary elections, provided that they met certain property qualifications.  In the 1918 general election the electorate trebled from 7.7 million to 21.4 million, with women accounting for 43% of the total.

The register outlines the qualifications needed to vote. Women over 30 could qualify on their own account, or through their husband’s occupation.

The immediate impetus behind the change was the First World War.  Under the previous Act of 1884, many men who had fought would not have been entitled to vote.  The war years had also seen women working in jobs vacated by men as well as working as part of the war effort, in munitions factories such as the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey where more than 3,000 were employed.  Women had long worked in many industrial areas of the country, particularly the mill towns of the north-west.  In 1901 nearly 30,000 women signed the Mill Girls’ Petition and two years later the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded in Manchester.  Three years later, in 1906, the first London branch was founded in Canning Town.  Interestingly, the Canning Town branch was expelled from the WSPU in 1914 when the women’s campaign broadened into other issues such as housing and working conditions which affected the women of the area.

Harriett Byford of 25 Mount Pleasant, Halstead, appears among other Halstead women who could vote in parliamentary elections for the first time. Her sisters however, had to wait until 1928 to be able to vote.

In Halstead the new Act doubled the parliamentary electorate.  Harriett Byford of 25 Mount Pleasant had previously been entitled to vote in local elections, but was for the first time listed among the parliamentary electors.  She was 62 and at the time of the 1911 census, a silk weaver, presumably employed in Courtauld’s silk weaving factory in the town.  Her younger sisters Tamar, 59 and Emily, 53, who lived at the same address in 1911 and were also employed in silk weaving, were still not entitled to vote as they did not meet the property qualification.  Women like Tamar and Emily had to wait until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 extended the right to vote to all women aged over 21.

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing stories of some local Essex campaigners and the actions they took, peaceful and militant, as part of the decades-long campaign to achieve votes for women.

Digitised copies of the electoral registers for Essex from 1918 and 1929 are available on our catalogue, Essex Archives Online. These are the first registers in which women appear – in 1918 those who met the qualifications, and in 1929 all women over 21. Who might you discover in these essential records?