Today in London herstory, 1908: Suffragettes rush on Parliament

1907-8 saw a sharp stepping up of the campaign by UK women to win the vote. Successive rejections of lobbying of MPs, attempts to get political parties onside and other conventional measures had pushed the Women’s Social & Political Union into direct action…

In September 1908, WSPU leaders Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughter Christabel, and Flora Drummond decided the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) would organise a ‘rush’ on the House of Commons – an attempt to enter en masse to demand the vote for women.

A deputation would attempt to enter ‘enter the House, and, if possible, the Chamber itself’.   To advertise the event, Christabel had thousands of handbills printed, as follows:

‘Women’s Social and Political Union

Men & Women
ON TUESDAY EVENING, 13th October, 1908 at 7:30

What Christabel meant by `rush’ was not made entirely clear on the leaflet, but asked to explain, she said, `By rushing the House of Commons, the suffragettes mean going through the doors, pushing their way in, and confronting the Prime Minister.’…

On 8 October, in the WSPU offices, Christabel apparently showed the new flyers (`Have you seen our new bills?’) to a visiting police officer, Inspector Jarvis.

On Sunday 11th October the WSPU held a large rally in Trafalgar Square, where Emmeline, Christabel and Flora addressed the crowd. Emmeline Pankhurst records that the police were present at the rally and had them under close surveillance, taking notes of the proceedings and following them [Emmeline Pankhurst My Own Story].  The next day all three were served with the summonses instructing them to attend Bow Street police station that afternoon, on a charge of ‘conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace in circulating . . . a certain handbill calling upon and inciting the public to do a certain wrongful and illegal act, namely, to rush the House of Commons’. None of the women obeyed the summons, however, instead going to a WSPU meeting in Queen’s Hall. Although the police were present at this meeting they did not arrest the women, but again ordered that they should attend Bow Street the following morning, the 13th, the day of the ‘rush’.  Again the women failed to turn up, eluding the police for a day, the three women presented themselves for arrest at 6 p.m., just before the demonstration.  (They had spent most of the day sitting in the Pethick-Lawrences’ roof­-garden, reading newspapers.) They consequently were unable to attend the ‘rush’ themselves.

That evening, about 60,000 people gathered in the vicinity of Parliament Square.   Five thousand constables had been placed on special duty, and the square was completely cordoned off.   As on previous occasions, groups of suffragettes tried to force their way past police lines, and were arrested for trying to do so.

Suffragette Constance Lytton, who witnessed the rush, wrote an account tells of a mixed gathering, women and men, those supporting the cause and those against, together with ‘curiosity-mongers who were fascinated by the fight although without interest for its cause’.

During the course of the evening, twenty-four women and thirteen men were arrested, and ten people were taken to hospital. One woman – Labour MP Keir Hardie’s secretary, Mrs Travers Symons – managed to enter the floor of the House while debate was in progress. Rather than make her way to the Ladies’ Gallery as expected she ran through the doors into the Chamber where MPs were debating the Children’s Bill.  She shouted ‘leave off discussing the children’s question and give votes to women first’ before being bodily removed by the attendant.

The day after the rush, Emmeline Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Christabel Pankhurst appeared at Bow Street court ,charged with conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace.  The subsequent trial lasted two days, attracting much press and public attention.

The women argued in court that ‘rush’ did not imply violence or any illegal act.  Christabel Pankhurst, a trained lawyer (though as a women unable to practice professionally) defended all three in court, causing a sensation when she tried to call two cabinet ministers as witnesses.  The judge found all three defendants guilty, and imprisoned them when they refused to pay fines.

The WSPU however considered the whole event a success, as the events had won them a lot of publicity.
After serving her sentence, Emmeline Pankhurst was released from Holloway Prison in December 1908.  She was met by a carriage escorted by two bands, women riding white horses and 200 women in white dresses.  The parade was followed by a breakfast of 350 people to celebrate the achievements of her action and she was awarded a WSPU medal to mark the event.


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Today in radical herstory, 1918: NUWSS celebrate (some) women winning the vote.

On the 13th of March 1918, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies held a victory celebration, at Queens Hall, Great Portland Street, in London’s West End, after women over 30 won the right to vote. The 1918 Representation of the People Act, passed in 1917, given royal assent in February 1918, extended the franchise to all men over 21 years old, but only women over 30 who held £5 of property, or had husbands who did. This meant an additional 5.6 million men and 8.4 million women, were now entitled to vote.

Over fifty years of campaigning, through many different organisations, a wide variety of tactics, had brought women to this point. For some of the women activists of the NUWSS, they had literally devoted their lives to the struggle.

At the time the 1918 Representation of the People Act seemed a major victory for the suffragist movements. Millicent Fawcett called the enactment of the act the greatest moment in her life. A victory party was held by suffragist societies at the Queen’s Hall in March 1918. Having witnessed in one act a jump from 0 to 8.4 million in terms of the number of women who could vote, many did see the act as a victory. However, there were women who still saw the act as a betrayal as it still classed them as second class citizens to men. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave all men over the age of 21 the right to vote (and aged 19 if the men had been on active service in the armed forces). Therefore, politically women were still not the equal to men in Britain even after the 1918 act.

While some continued to agitate for the extension of the vote to women on the same terms as men (which would take another ten years of campaigning), others were worn out and became disillusioned…

The Queens Hall celebration took the form of a concert; interestingly this featured a performance of the song ‘Jerusalem’, a William Blake poem set to music by composer Hubert Parry, who had happily accepted NUWSS guru Millicent Garret Fawcett’s request to use the song at the party – suffragists had been singing it for a year or so to Parry’s tune. Parry had been a supporter of suffrage and even assigned copyright of Jerusalem to the NUWSS. Jerusalem has come so far since Blake’s day, and is now considered almost an alternative national anthem – though this was clearly far from Blake’s intent (or even Parry’s, possibly).
The celebration also featured a large display of suffragist banners, speakers from the movement, most notably the NUWSS’s president and most illustrious activist Millicent Garret Fawcett…

“The Queens Hall celebration on March 13th, differed from all the thousands of Suffrage meetings that have gone before it not in degree, but in kind. We have. Most of us, very chequered recollections of the meetings of the past. We have all enjoyed some of them; it seems doubtful whether even the most cheerful member of the NUWSS can have enjoyed all. Even if some happy soul can look back with pleasure to all the gatherings in all the halls, and all the drawing rooms, and at al the street corners, which they have organized or at which they have spoke or listened in the past, they will admit that the enjoyment on the most delightful of those occasions was different and inferior in kind to what we felt on Wednesday night. Then we were striving for out freedom; now in great measure we have gained it. It was a wonderful meeting of numbers of those who have struggled side by side…”

Groups that took part included the Actresses Franchise League, the British Dominions Women’s Suffrage union, Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association, Free church League for Women’s Suffrage, Hastings and St Leonards Women’s Suffrage Propaganda League, Irishwomens’ Suffrage Federation, Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, Marchers Qui Vive Corps, Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, National Council for Adult Suffrage, National Industrial and Professional Women’s Suffrage Society, New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, Scottish Churches League for Women’s Suffrage, Scottish University Women’s Suffrage Union, the United Suffragists, and the Women’s Freedom League…

Theres images on flickr of reports from the meeting here and here


And here’s some musings… on the vote, campaigns for the vote, movements for social change, and the passing of time.

… on the hundredth anniversary of some women, and most of the remaining men) in the UK being ‘given’ the vote, in 1918.

Past Tense publishes ‘historically’ oriented texts, not because we want to live in the past, or as some sort of academic archeology, but because we desire a different present and hope to be part of building a future free from class divisions, hierarchy, and social relations based on property, wealth, and wage labour. We’re not historians; our interest in history is partly for inspiration and a link to people like us in the past, partly for a search for the origins of the world we inhabit, and partly to keep the story of struggles for a better existence alive. Exploration of ideas, shared experiences, ways of working and living freely together, are vital parts of this struggle, and discussion of ideas and movements of the past are central to why we study history, as is the geography of the areas we live work and play in, and understanding how they evolve, and are altered by social change. While we have used the term ‘radical history’ in the past to describe projects we have been involved in, some of us at are dissatisfied with it, both because the word ‘radical’ is broad and open to many interpretations, and because focussing on ‘history’ blinkers us a bit when what we’re interested inhabits many other fields as well: urban geography, philosophy, economics and much more.

Remembering events, personalities, and battles of days gone by is hollow and meaningless if not linked to social change in our own lives, and just as our contributions to present theoretical and practical debate should be critical of ideas we disagree with, we extend this to our delves into the past. While some historians believe in objectivity, refusing to comment critically on the ideas of past times (and while its true that you can’t impose the ideas and values of today on people living through times when those ideas and values hadn’t developed), its also fair to say that movements of the past were not monolithic, and a wide variety of ideas emerged, changed, evolved and conflicted. We don’t hold with shying away from being critical of ideas we disagree with; but we also see that its important to remember that a broad array of social movements in past centuries, with widely diverse ideas and tactics, contributed to improvements in people’s lives, to freeing up of ways of living.

As a result we feel it’s worth both celebrating the achievements of Emmeline Pankhurst, for example, AND being critical of her slide into nationalist chauvinism.

The current flood of stories celebrating the extension of the voting franchise to women over 30 in 1918 has speaked much discussion, both around how far women’s liberation has come and how much is yet to achieve, and around the militant tactics of many of the women’s suffrage campaigners of a century ago.

There is little attention paid to the very real split in the movement campaigning for women’s suffrage – the ‘Militant’ versus ‘Constitutional’ suffragette division… Or why it arose; or even whether one was more effective than the other; or whether both contributed to the 1918 victory.

And amidst all the lauding of suffrage movements, it is never explicitly stated – but terror tactics that the militant suffragettes employed would get you jailed today, no question, and also spied on by the police, as the militant suffragettes were, and campaigners have been more recently by the  Special Demonstration Squad, NPIOU, etc… Time, and the fact of having ‘won’, distances the ‘terrorist’ label… No tory today could get away with labelling Nelson Mandela or Emmeline Pankhurst a terrorist, though they did at the time and merrily do so to anyone carrying out similar direct action tactics now.

The other elephant in the room is the huge comeback of chauvinism and male sexism, and the equally huge undercurrent of feminism still necessary to combat it.

Some of the history of divisions, diversity of tactics, and contradictions of the women’s suffrage movement ought to be aired more widely, in the midst of the self-congratulations of politicians.

In 1888, a majority of members of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, the first nationwide coalition of groups advocating women’s right to vote, voted to allow affiliation from organisations linked to political parties. This cause the NSWS to split into a number of factions. Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Franchise League, whose inaugural meeting was held at her Bloomsbury home in July 1889. The League was seen as a radical suffrage group, because it also advocated equality in inheritance and divorce law, and campaigned on wider social issues; more traditional suffrage activists denounced them as the “extreme left” of the women’s movement. The group was short-lived however, divisions arose when, in 1892, Emmeline disrupted a public meeting by pioneer suffragist Lydia Becker (who had come down on the other side in the NSWS split); in 1893 the League fell apart. In the same year the Pankhursts moved back up north. 
Emmeline and other suffragists later founded the militant Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903; they believed the existing pressure groups had failed, taking a too cautious approach, and a new militant organisation was needed… The WSPU went on to break new ground in direct action, with mass campaigns of criminal damage, window smashing and arson; many of its activists were jailed several times, (including Emmeline and her three daughters, Christabel, Adela and Sylvia), and force fed in prison repeatedly when they went on hunger strike. Both their ‘militant’ activity and the more ‘constitutional’ wing of the movement built up considerable pressure for reform up to the outbreak of World War 1; women’s suffrage became the dominant issue in British society, dividing opinion and provoking violent repression, attacks from hostile crowds of men, as well as increasing support. When the first World War broke out, though, both the ‘militant’ and ‘constitutional’ suffrage organisations ended their campaign (now’s not the time, stand by our country, blah blah) and threw their considerable organising ability into mass support for the war effort: or whipping up nationalistic hysteria to help push thousands of men to march off to slaughter and be slaughtered, as it’s known in the trade. Emmeline and other leading suffragists pushed for compulsory conscription, denounced pacifists, strikers and other war resisters as betraying the national interest; on at least one occasion Emmeline grassed up leaders of a strike and got them drafted and sent to the trenches. A small minority in the WSPU (including Emmeline’s daughter Sylvia, who had already been expelled from the WSPU for her left-leaning ideas), and a large minority in the NUWSS, plus some of the Women’s Freedom League, whose members had left the WSPU protesting the autocratic control of the Pankhursts) opposed the War and continued to fight for reform. Some, like Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard, for instance, moved further left during the war, coming to communist and in some cases anti-parliamentary positions; an interesting trajectory from campaigning for the vote, though not without its logic at the time.

But the large-scale involvement of women doing the jobs of men off dying in the trenches was quoted as an influential factor in the introduction of suffrage reform in 1918, when women over 30 won the vote.

It wouldn’t be to denigrate their sincerity or militancy, or the viciousness of the repression they faced, to say their class backgrounds to a large extent coloured the ideas of some leading suffrage campaigners. For instance, Emmeline Pankhurst and her husband hired a servant to help with the children, so that “she should not be “a household machine” and could spend time fighting for Women’s Suffrage. Presumably then, the servant became the ‘household machine’. More than reflecting itself in their social relations, did their social position help to push the Pankhursts to assume autocratic control within the WSPU? To capitulation to class snobbery, as with Christabel Pankhurst’s later moral improvement campaigns against working class men’s ‘inherent disgustingness’, and to nationalism and war mongering when World War 1 came? Its hard to say with the latter case, as most contemporary socialists and radicals of both sexes and all classes, it has to be said, joined in the war effort supporting the slaughter of millions.
Emmeline’s early enthusiasm for socialism is often contrasted to her later Tory politics, but it would be interesting to know how much her increasing dislike of socialist groups and trade unions was influenced by the widespread hostility of many male trade unionists, and members of organisations like the Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation, to the women’s struggle to assert themselves politically, especially around the 1890s/1900. (For example, when her husband Richard, a long-standing ILP member and worker for womens’ rights, died, a radical newspaper launched an appeal to support the Pankhurst family since their debts partly resulted from their political activity. Emmeline, however, refused to accept the money to pay for her children’s education, asking that the money should be used to build a socialist meeting hall in Richard’s memory. However when the hall was completed in 1903, she discovered that the Independent Labour Party branch that used it would not allow women to join. this and many similar examples of blatant inequality in the supposedly progressive movement gradually helped to push her out of it.) Traditional attitudes towards a woman’s role in society prevailed among men who in other ways were reasonably ‘progressive’, such that women’s suffrage groups had to on occasion fight physical battles to use ‘radical’ meeting places, and women workers were excluded from many trade unions and jobs… There were large numbers of exceptions to this, but the viciousness of the disapproval from what they may have at one time thought of as natural allies contributed to some of Emmeline and other WSPUers’ growing distance from the ‘labour movement’. (The WSPU has generally been characterised as a middle class organisation, but the majority of membership were working class women, especially in northern England, though also in London in areas like the East End, Lewisham and Woolwich; and there were several women of working class origins in the national leadership.While it’s also true that with no formal constitution, the WSPU could sometimes operate top-down, some historians have found evidence of greater democracy in many branches; others assert a democratic approach would not have been practical in its illegal militant activities… The last being an organisational question that rumbles on today…)

I hope it is not taken as ‘whataboutery’ to mention that this year is not only the 100th anniversary of women first being included, but also the 170th anniversary of the last great upsurge in the Chartist movement, possibly the largest political movement of working class people in this country of the last 200 years. A movement that had climaxed ten years before in mass rallies, an abortive general strike and then attempts at insurrection and revolutionary plotting, but had been heavily hampered by government repression, mass arrests and jailings, and drifted into infighting, dilution by alliances with middle class organisations. It’s worth noting that although the movement as a whole was bent on winning the vote for all adult men, Chartism contained a sizable female contingent (including the Female Democratic Associations), with some working to win men the vote and some even, heretically, suggesting that women too should be included… In 1848 the movement revived, focused on the 3rd petition for the Charter, with the famous rally and march from Kennington Common and attempt to reach parliament. The march did not achieve its aim, nor did a summer of riots or the plotting of the ‘Ulterior Committee’ that failed, again, to launch a radical uprising (like the suffragettes, the Chartists were under heavy police observation, penetrated by spies). The Chartist movement went into permanent decline after this… It took another 19 years before some working class men won the vote (again by mass campaigning), in 1867, then this franchise was again extended in 1884, but it was only in 1918 that anything resembling universal MALE suffrage was achieved.

Chartism was always divided (as the radical and reform movements had been for the fifty years before it) over the question of ‘physical force’ – whether violent action would be needed to push through the social change they demanded. Though the government feared Chartism’s revolutionary potential, in reality, revolution was always unlikely – mostly because the movement was kept in bounds by some cautious leaders and a largely cautious membership. The Newport uprising, the unrealised Sacred month of 1839, the Sheffield and Bradford plots of 1840, the 1848 plans to revolt aside, the rhetoric was often more violent than the reality. This is not to denigrate Chartism, which was a huge cultural and social force, as much as political and the legacies of its penetration into every aspect of daily life for millions did help produce the pressure in the 1860s and 1880s that did achieve part of the Chartist program.Why did chartists not go for individual acts of violence, while later movements did? By 1907, when the WSPU began their militant campaign for the women’s vote, time had very much changed. ‘Terror’ tactics had been common currency in many parts of the world for several decades, particularly individual acts of violence, which had proved effective shockers to the authorities when employed by nationalist or socialist/anarchist/etc circles (though their actual effect on social change remains open to debate). However, does class background, and the type/origin of your political movement, have an impact on the kind of direct action and violence you see as legit/effective? Are Middle class activists more likely to plump for individual acts of violence? Are class conscious proles more in favour of collective anonymous riot-style shindigs? Discuss…

The WSPU – NUWSS split shows that division over violence was still as fierce it had been 60 years before, and (despite the historically greater celebration of the actions WSPU) the ‘constitutional’ wing membership was always larger. But the question of the relation of mass movements to their smaller more ‘militant’ wings remains active, and the question of which achieved the results –  radical or moderate- is as hotly debated in present day activism as much as dusty historical exchanges. Did the poll tax see off Thatcher? If so was it mass non-payment wit dun it? Or the riots? Or both? The history of resistance to enclosure of common land and open spaces almost always shows up respectable campaigners and a direct action element – the list is as long as your arm.

The vote – for many chartists it wasn’t just about equality. Many saw even just getting the vote as a chance for working class to reshape society more in their own interests, redress economic power of the aristos and capitalists. A minority went further and articulated the need for working class power – to seize control of society completely. Many female suffrage activists 50-60 years later saw things in not dissimilar terms – that while equality was vital, the vote was a means towards a share in power, in the ability to decide policy and shape the way lives were organised, and in whose interests. Anarchists, and some anti-parliamentary socialists, of course, to some extent, decried the question of the vote, both as a distraction from where power really lies in capitalist society, and on the grounds that direct participation and control at a grassroots level trump representative democracy. Anarchist activists and writers also questioned whether the most immediate fight for many women was over the vote, or against the power the men in their own households had over them. Intelligent ruling class strategists worked out that ‘granting’ the vote could defuse more serious pressures… This was especially an issue at the end of World War 1 when revolution was seizing much of Europe and army mutinies and mass strikes seemed to threaten something similar here, at least to scared posh folk.

Press, politicians and all sorts of trite liberal commentators this month have been busy congratulating themselves that ‘we’ have reached the position of equality we have – decoded, meaning that further extensions in power to control our own lives on a day to day level are unnecessary, but that lip service can be paid to social movements that fought to bring us to where we are today. Actions celebrated when its historical would get you ten years in prison now, and the same voices lauding the suffragettes would jail anyone using similar direct action to

Neither the Chartist and suffrage movements were remotely homogeneous and both reflected wide class and other contradictions. Which were evident and open at the time, and should be discussed now, not brushed under a happy clappy carpet of ‘we’re all fine now ‘. Women fighting make violence, rape, systematic power imbalance, pay discrimination, unwaged reproductive labour, not to mention the intersection of race, class and gender relations, beg to differ. But I’ve also seen it recently expressed that ‘second wave feminism’ (meaning the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s-80s, broadly) achieved little and was only ever a movement of white middle class women interested in their own advancement. This huge historical slur is similar in some ways to some of the criticisms if the suffragettes (and not a million miles from over-simplifications levelled at Chartists). Yes, these movements had limits she seen from both our times and even according to the arguments of the time. But they all helped create the world we have, helped win gains we have enjoyed – limited as they be.

Their struggles also helped create the spaces our own movements operate in… People sometimes want to re-invent the wheel as if previous generations had never ridden, or pretend the wheel was square until they got hold of it and shaved off the corners. Young people eh? Read some fucking history.


An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Yesterday in suffrage/anti-war history, 1915: the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies splits over support for WW1.

This should have gone out yesterday… but we were partying with Lady Stardust…

By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women’s suffrage in the UK. This included the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage, Liberal Women’s Suffrage Society and the Central Committee for Women’s Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Millicent Garret Fawcett was elected as president. Other members of the executive committee included Marie Corbett, Chrystal Macmillan, Maude Royden and Eleanor Rathbone.

The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature. The main demand was for the vote on the same terms “as it is, or may be” granted to men. It was thought that this proposal would be “more likely to find support than a broader measure that would put women into the electoral majority, and it might nevertheless play the part of the thin end of the wedge.” (Remembering that up to two thirds of men were also unable to vote up until the twentieth century). Its message was directed at the Liberal Party, who it was hoped would win the next election. However, as one historian pointed out, the NUWSS’s achilles heel was that it remained “irrationally optimistic about the Liberal Party”. Liberal thinkers had been very supportive of votes for women individually, and Liberal-oriented groups had formed the original backbone of the movement that produced the NUWSS. But Liberal Party leaders consistently failed to implement women’s suffrage, gradually alienating many activists.

Dissatisfaction among women activist with the slow progress of support for women’s suffrage within the Liberal Party coincided with the increasing strength of a working class movement with an ambivalent attitude, at best, to women voting. While many Independent Labour Party, Social Democratic Federation members and trade unionists were supporters of female suffrage, just as many were opposed. However, many suffragists, both among what were later divided into the militant and constitutional camps, also became socialists, members of the Labour Party and trade unionists… If there is a tendency to portray suffragettes as posh (especially in fiction, films etc), the movement was in fact broad based, with mass working class membership; although in common with many other social movements, the power structures of the existing society were reflected in their organisation (a dynamic not unknown today…) and middle class women tended to dominate the leadership positions.

Though initially supportive of the militancy of the Women’s Social & Political Union when it was founded in 1903, including prison hunger strikes, NUWSS leaders like Millicent Garret Fawcett increasingly disagreed with the Pankhursts over their ‘violent’ tactics, especially deliberate property damage, which she thought were alienating MPs and the ‘voting public’. She favoured lobbying, education and gradual winning people over by persuasion, and focused efforts on Bills in Parliament, such as the 1912 attempt to give votes to all heads of households.

As growing political tension in Europe slid into World War One, in common with trade unions and socialists groups, the NUWSS campaigned against the possibility of war. IN Summer 1914, Millicent Garrett Fawcett issued a statement on behalf of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. “We, the women of the world, view with apprehension and dismay the present situation in Europe, which threatens to involve one continent, if not the whole world, in the disasters and horrors of war… We women of twenty-six countries, having bonded ourselves together in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance with the object of obtaining the political means of sharing with men the power which shapes the fate of nations, appeal to you to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences to avert deluging half the civilised world in blood.”

Two days after the British government declared war on Germany (on 4th August 1914), the NUWSS declared that it was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. That night Millicent Fawcett chaired a meeting against the war. Speakers included Helena Swanwick, Olive Schreiner, Mary Macarthur, Mabel Stobart and Elizabeth Cadbury. Fawcett said there were millions of women who thought that war was a “crime against society”. She added: “A way must be found out of the tangle… In the first place they should try and avoid bitterness of national feeling. They should on the one hand keep down panic and on the other the war fever and Jingo feeling.”

However, in common with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and the WSPU leadership, when it came down to it, Garret Fawcett and many NUWSS leaders supported the War effort, partly pragmatically, believing mass women’s support for the war effort would lead a grateful granting of the vote for women in response. But also, because the movement reflected the wider society, and if for some, the struggle to win the vote was just part of a wider program to change society for the better, there were others who wholeheartedly bought into the nationalist and imperialist mindset of the time. And that wasn’t just the suffragettes – millions of socialists, trade unionist and even some anarchists fell in behind the war myth.

Although Fawcett supported the war effort she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. The WSPU under Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s leadership took a very different view. After secret negotiations with the government, on the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: “I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy.”

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as “We Demand the Right to Serve”, “For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work” and “Let None Be Kaiser’s Cat’s Paws”. At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: “What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!”. Emmeline would go on to spearhead campaigns to shame men who had not volunteered into signing up, carry out vitriolic attacks on pacifists and opponents of the war, denouncing any opposition as treason and accusing anti-war activists of being German spies. (She went as far as specifically making lists of trade unionists who went on strike, passing the names to the army and demanding they be forcibly enlisted and sent to the trenches. On at least one occasion this was carried out.)

Despite not going anything like this far, Millicent Garret Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: “I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace.” Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: “She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union.”

The NUWSS contained probably more pacifist feminists than the WSPU; as a result the organisation’s support for the War was less strident, (and unlike the WSPU they continued to campaign for the vote throughout the slaughter). There was a tussle in the organisation over whether to support or oppose the war, though, and many pacifists were forced out, after they tried to push the NUWSS towards an anti-war position. On March 4th 1915, this split came to a head at an NUWSS executive meeting, and while the majority of the executive – and possibly the activists – were anti-war, the pro-war leadership managed to mobilise the mass of the (mostly passive) national membership, in support of their position.
Ray Strachey, a leading acolyte of Millicent Garret, and definitively pro-war, wrote to her mother: “We have succeeded in throwing all the pacifists out… They wanted us to send a delegate to the Women’s Peace Conference at the Hague, & we refused. Then they resigned in a body – and they included the majority of our senior officers and committees! It is a marvellous triumph that it was they who had to go out and not us – and shows that there is some advantage in internal democracy, for we only did it by having the bulk of the stodgy members behind us.”

After a stormy executive meeting all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned over the decision not to support the Women’s Peace Congress at the Hague. This included Chrystal Macmillan, Margaret Ashton, Kathleen Courtney, Catherine Marshall, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden. “Wounding language was used on both sides. Mrs Fawcett did not normally turn disagreements among friends into quarrels but this one she experienced as a personal betrayal. It became the only episode in her life that she wished to forget”.

Kathleen Courtney wrote when she resigned: “I feel strongly that the most important thing at the present moment is to work, if possible on international lines for the right sort of peace settlement after the war. If I could have done this through the National Union, I need hardly say how infinitely I would have preferred it and for the sake of doing so I would gladly have sacrificed a good deal. But the Council made it quite clear that they did not wish the union to work in that way.” According to Elizabeth Crawford: “Mrs Fawcett afterwards felt particularly bitter towards Kathleen Courtney, whom she felt had been intentionally and personally wounding, and refused to effect any reconciliation, relying, as she said, on time to erase the memory of this difficult period.”

In May 1916 Millicent Fawcett wrote to Prime Minster Herbert Asquith that women deserved the vote for their war efforts. In August he told the House of Commons that he had now changed his mind and that he intended to introduce legislation that would give women the vote. On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. MPs rejected the idea of granting the vote to women on the same terms as men. Lilian Lenton, who had played an important role in the militant campaign later recalled: “Personally, I didn’t vote for a long time, because I hadn’t either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30.”

The Qualification of Women Act was passed in February, 1918. The Manchester Guardian reported: “The Representation of the People Bill, which doubles the electorate, giving the Parliamentary vote to about six million women and placing soldiers and sailors over 19 on the register (with a proxy vote for those on service abroad), simplifies the registration system, greatly reduces the cost of elections, and provides that they shall all take place on one day, and by a redistribution of seats tends to give a vote the same value everywhere, passed both Houses yesterday and received the Royal assent.”

The First World War ended in November 1918. Millicent Fawcett lost “no fewer than twenty-nine members of her extended family, including two nephews” in the war. Whereas the WSPU “were prepared to accept votes for women on any terms the government had to offer… the NUWSS continued to press its old case for equality with men”. Garret Fawcett was urged to stand for Parliament in the 1918 General Election, but aged seventy-one, she decided to retire from politics.

After the granting of the franchise for women under 30 in 1919, the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, working mainly for a lowering of women’s voting age to 21 to match men.

Read a PDF of The British Women’s Peace Movement during World War I. 


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Today in London suffrage history, 1907: the Women’s Parliament ends in scuffles at Parliament.

Topical, topical… In all the self-congratulation of politicians around the 100 years since (some) women got the vote, there is a lot of deliberate ignoring of the hard realities of the vicious violence meted out to the female suffragists. It began early in the Women’s Social and Political Union’s campaign, with abuse in the street from authorities and hostile men, developed into systematic police aggression, mass arrests, and continued as the militant campaigns against property got underway, with prison terms, force feeding, torture and innovative surveillance.

Another snippet from the campaign:

On 13 February 1907 the `Women’s Parliament’ met at 3 p.m., at Caxton Hall, Westminster.

Tickets for the event had been sold out well in advance… The WSPU planned to march from the Caxton Hall to Parliament following the rally, held the day after the King’s Speech.  In the north of England, WSPU organisers sought out women willing to go to prison, and arrangements were made for them to stay in the homes of London suffragettes.  Two days before the demonstration the WSPU held secret meetings at which 200 delegates were divided into fourteen groups, and each group was provided with a leader.

“Amidst great excitement, a resolution condemning the omission of women’s suffrage from the King’s Speech was passed, as was a motion that the resolution be taken to the Prime Minister.   Then Mrs Pankhurst’s cry `Rise up, women!’ was answered by shouts of `Now!’ and a procession of about 400 women was formed.   Mrs Despard led the marchers out into bright sunshine, and some of them sang, to the tune of `John Brown’:

Rise up, women! for the fight is hard and long;
Rise in thousands, singing loud a battle song.
Right is might, and in its strength we shall be strong,
And the cause goes marching on.

When the first contingents reached the green beside Westminster Abbey, the police announced that the procession could continue no further.   The women refused to halt.   As they went forward, mounted policemen began to ride through their ranks, in an attempt to break up the march, and constables on foot seized women and shoved them down side streets and alleys.   The struggle continued for several hours, as bedraggled women hurled themselves again and again against the police.   Fifteen women managed to reach the lobby, where they were promptly arrested.”

By 10 p.m. the melee had ended. For the first time, arrests had not been confined to a handful of WSPU leaders – fifty-one women had been arrested in addition to Charlotte Despard, and Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst.

The following day at Cannon Row Police Station, 59 suffragettes (including 2 men) were tried and most sent to jail for 2 or 3 weeks. In the first few months of 1907, 130 women were jailed for suffragette acts, some repeatedly.


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Today in gardening history: suffragette attack on Kew Gardens orchid houses, 1913.

So; 100 years since some women got the vote (yesterday). Funny how NOW lots of politicians and journalists are falling over themselves to invoke the name of the militant suffragists who fought for it in the years before the war. When they would have clamoured for them to be sectioned at the time. And pretty much think any of us who protest anything should be spied on, blacklisted and… if possible sectioned. Or deported. 


In 1912 the militant suffragette campaign to force the British government to give them the vote stepped up to arson. There were attacks on churches, the houses of leading anti-suffrage politicians; this moved on to railway stations, cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses…

In February the orchid houses at the tea house were attacked, in what looked like a part of this campaign.

According to a newspaper report of the time:

“considerable damage was found on Saturday to have been done in the early hours of the morning to three of the orchid houses in Kew Gardens. Despite investigation there is so far nothing whatever to show to whom the outrage is to be attributed. The popular theory, of course, puts it down to suffragettes.

The damage done to the houses is small: between 30 and 40 panes of glass were broken; but the damage inflicted upon the valuable specimen orchids in the houses it is impossible to estimate.

Whoever the perpetrators may have been, it is thought that they probably concealed themselves overnight among the trees and bushes of the gardens before the gates were closed at 5.30, though it is possible the high wall round the gardens was scaled in the dark.

The grounds are patrolled by keepers throughout the night, and all state that they noticed nothing unusual upon their beats. The last inspection seems to have been made shortly after one o’clock on saturday morning, when everything was safe. At eight o’clock, however, when a fresh force of men went on duty, it was found that three orchid houses not far from the curator’s office had been broken into and flowers and plants strewn upon the floor.

Chief detective inspector McBryan, of the Special Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department, has the matter in hand.”
(the Guardian, 1913)

Chief Inspector McBryan wasn’t up to all that much, possibly, as the perpetrators were never found but the votes for women leaflets at the scene suggested the involvement of suffragettes.

Kew’s tea pavilion was burned down by suffragettes a fortnight later, in a much more serious attack. Olive Wharry and Lilian Lenton were imprisoned for that attack in March 1913. The court refused to recognise it as political, so Wharry hurled a legal book at the magistrates, sadly missing! Lenton, who contracted pleurisy after being force-fed, was released almost immediately, while Wharry was released after a 32-day hunger strike.

There is some more interesting info on the suffragette arson campaign here


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Today in London rebel history: Marion Wallace Dunlop begins first suffragette hunger strike, 1909

On 5 July 1909, the imprisoned suffragette Marion Wallace Dunlop, a sculptor and illustrator, went on hunger strike; pretty much inventing the tactic as a modern political weapon.

A member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903 to campaign for the parliamentary vote for women, she had been sent to Holloway prison for printing an extract from the bill of rights on the wall of St Stephen’s Hall in the House of Commons. In her second division cell, Wallace Dunlop refused all food as a protest against the unwillingness of the authorities to recognise her as a political prisoner, and thus entitled to be placed in the first division where inmates enjoyed certain privileges. Her hunger strike, she claimed, was “a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me … refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction”. After three and a half days of fasting, she was released.

Marion Wallace-Dunlop, the daughter of Robert Henry Wallace-Dunlop, of the Bengal civil service, was born at Leys Castle, Inverness, on 22nd December 1864. She later claimed that she was a direct descendant of the mother of William Wallace.

She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and in 1899 illustrated in art nouveau style two books, Fairies, Elves, and Flower Babies and The Magic Fruit Garden. She also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1903, 1905 and 1906.

Wallace-Dunlop was a supporter of women’s suffrage and in 1900 she joined the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage. She was also a socialist and from 1906 she was an active member of the Fabian Women’s Group. By 1905 the media had lost interest in the struggle for women’s rights. Newspapers rarely reported meetings and usually refused to publish articles and letters written by supporters of women’s suffrage. Emily Pankhurst, the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), advocated a new strategy to obtain the publicity that she thought would be needed in order to obtain the vote.

During the summer of 1908 the WSPU introduced the tactic of breaking the windows of government buildings. On 30th June suffragettes marched into Downing Street and began throwing small stones through the windows of the Prime Minister’s house. As a result of this demonstration, twenty-seven women were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison. The following month Wallace-Dunlop was arrested and charged with “obstruction” and was briefly imprisoned.

While in prison she came into contact with two women who had been found guilty of killing children. She wrote in her diary: “It made me feel frantic to realise how terrible is a social system where life is so hard for the girls that they have to sell themselves or starve. Then when they become mothers the child is not only a terrible added burden, but their very motherhood bids them to kill it and save it from a life of starvation, neglect. I begin to feel I must be dreaming that this prison life can’t be real. That it is impossible that it is true and I am in the midst of it. I know now the meaning of the screened galley in the Chapel, the poor condemned girl sits there with a wardress.”

On 25th June 1909 Wallace-Dunlop was charged “with wilfully damaging the stone work of St. Stephen’s Hall, House of Commons, by stamping it with an indelible rubber stamp, doing damage to the value of 10s.” According to a report in The Times Wallace-Dunlop printed a notice that read: “Women’s Deputation. June 29. Bill of Rights. It is the right of the subjects to petition the King, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitionings are illegal.”

Wallace-Dunlop was found guilty of wilful damage and when she refused to pay a fine she was sent to prison for a month. On 5th July, 1909 she petitioned the governor of Holloway Prison: “I claim the right recognised by all civilised nations that a person imprisoned for a political offence should have first-division treatment; and as a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me, I am now refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction.”

In her book, Unshackled (1959) Christabel Pankhurst claimed: “Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded.”

Frederick Pethick-Lawrence wrote to Wallace-Dunlop: “Nothing has moved me so much – stirred me to the depths of my being – as your heroic action. The power of the human spirit is to me the most sublime thing in life – that compared with which all ordinary things sink into insignificance.” He also congratulated her for “finding a new way of insisting upon the proper status of political prisoners, and of the resourcefulness and energy in the face of difficulties that marked the true Suffragette.”

Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, the authorities decided to release her after fasting for 91 hours. As Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), has pointed out: “As with all the weapons employed by the WSPU, its first use sprang directly from the decision of a sole protagonist; there was never any suggestion that the hunger strike was used on this first occasion by direction from Clement’s Inn.”

Soon afterwards other imprisoned suffragettes adopted the same strategy. Unwilling to release all the imprisoned suffragettes, the prison authorities force-fed these women on hunger strike. In one eighteen month period, Emily Pankhurst, who was now in her fifties, endured ten of these hunger-strikes.

Wallace-Dunlop later joined forces with Edith Downing to organise a series of spectacular WSPU processions. The most impressive of these was the Woman’s Coronation Procession on 17th June 1911. Flora Drummond led off on horseback with Charlotte Marsh as colour-bearer on foot behind her. She was followed by Marjorie Annan Bryce in armour as Joan of Arc.

The art historian, Lisa Tickner, described the event in her book The Spectacle of Women (1987): “The whole procession gathered itself up and swung along Northumberland Avenue to the strains of Ethel Smyth’s March of the Women… The mobilisation of 700 prisoners (or their proxies) dressed in white, with pennons fluttering from their glittering lances, was, as the Daily Mail observed, “a stroke of genius”. As The Daily News reported: “Those who dominate the movement have a sense of the dramatic. They know that whereas the sight of one woman struggling with policemen is either comic or miserably pathetic, the imprisonment of dozens is a splendid advertisement.”

Wallace-Dunlop ceased to be active in the WSPU after 1911. During the First World War she was visited by Mary Sheepshanks at her home at Peaslake, Surrey. Sheepshanks later commented: “We found her in a delicious cottage with a little chicken and goat farm, an adopted baby of 18 months, and a perfectly lovely young girl who did some bare foot dancing for us in the barn; we finished up with home made honey.”

In 1928 Wallace-Dunlop was a pallbearer at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst. Over the next few years she took care of Mrs Pankhurst’s adopted daughter, Mary.

Marion Wallace-Dunlop died on 12th September 1942 at the Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Guildford.

This post was shamelessly nicked from spartacus educational.


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Today in London suffrage history: Dora Montefiore barricades her home against bailiffs, 1906.

On 23rd May 1906, Mrs Dora Montefiore barricaded her home, at no 32 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, against the threat of bailiffs entering her house to seize goods. A leading campaigner for women’s suffrage, Dora had refused to pay income tax, so long as women did not have the vote, and a court had ruled that her possessions should be taken to pay the amount owed.

As Dora later wrote, in a chapter in her 1927 autobiography, From a Victorian to a Modern, devoted to her tax resistance and the “Siege of Montefiore”, this wasn’t the first time her goods had been ‘distrained’ for non-payment of income tax:

“I had already, during the Boer War, refused willingly to pay income tax, because payment of such tax went towards financing a war in the making of which I had had no voice. In 1904 and 1905 a bailiff had been put in my house, a levy of my goods had been made, and they had been sold at public auction in Hammersmith. The result as far as publicity was concerned was half a dozen lines in the corner of some daily newspapers, stating the fact that Mrs. Montefiore’s goods had been distrained and sold for payment of income tax; and there the matter ended.

When talking this over in 1906 with Theresa Billington and Annie Kenney, I told them that now we had the organisation of the W.S.P.U. to back me up I would, if it were thought advisable, not only refuse to pay income tax, but would shut and bar my doors and keep out the bailiff, so as to give the demonstration more publicity and thus help to educate public opinion about the fight for the political emancipation of women which was going on. They agreed that if I would do my share of passive resistance they would hold daily demonstrations outside the house as long as the bailiff was excluded and do all in their power outside to make the sacrifice I was making of value to the cause. In May of 1906, therefore, when the authorities sent for the third time to distrain on my goods in order to take what was required for income tax, I, aided by my maid, who was a keen suffragist, closed and barred my doors and gates on the bailiff who had appeared outside the gate of my house in Upper Mall, Hammersmith, and what was known as the “siege” of my house began.

As is well known, bailiffs are only allowed to enter through the ordinary doors. They may not climb in at a window and at certain hours they may not even attempt an entrance. These hours are from sunset to sunrise, and from sunset on Saturday evening till sunrise on Monday morning. During these hours the besieged resister to income tax can rest in peace. From the day of this simple act of closing my door against the bailiff, an extraordinary change came over the publicity department of daily and weekly journalism towards this demonstration of passive resistance on my part. The tradespeople of the neighbourhood were absolutely loyal to us besieged women, delivering their milk and bread, etc., over the rather high garden wall which divided the small front gardens of Upper Mall from the terraced roadway fronting the river. The weekly wash arrived in the same way and the postman day by day delivered very encouraging budgets of correspondence, so that practically we suffered very little inconvenience, and as we had a small garden at the back we were able to obtain fresh air.

On the morning following the inauguration of the siege, Annie Kenney and Theresa Billington, with other members of the W.S.P.U., came round to see how we were getting on and to encourage our resistance. They were still chatting from the pavement outside, while I stood on the steps of No. 32 Upper Mall, when there crept round from all sides men with notebooks and men with cameras, and the publicity stunt began. These men had been watching furtively the coming and going of postmen and tradesmen. Now they posted themselves in front, questioning the suffragists outside and asking for news of us inside. They had come to make a “story” and they did not intend to leave until they had got their “story.” One of them returned soon with a loaf of bread and asked Annie Kenney to hand it up over the wall to my housekeeper, whilst the army of men with cameras “snapped” the incident. Some of them wanted to climb over the wall so as to be able to boast in their descriptions that they had been inside what they pleased to call “The Fort”; but the policeman outside (there was a policeman on duty outside during all the six weeks of a siege) warned them that they must not do this so we were relieved, in this respect, from the too close attention of eager pressmen. But all through the morning notebooks and cameras came and went, and at one time my housekeeper and I counted no less than twenty-two pressmen outside the house. A woman sympathiser in the neighbourhood brought during the course of the morning, a pot of home-made marmalade, as the story had got abroad that we had no provisions and had difficulty in obtaining food. This was never the case as I am a good housekeeper and have always kept a store cupboard, but we accepted with thanks the pot of marmalade because the intentions of the giver were so excellent; but this incident was also watched and reported by the Press.

Annie Kenney and Theresa Billington had really come round to make arrangements for a demonstration on the part of militant women that afternoon and evening in front of the house, so at an opportune moment, when the Press were lunching, the front gate was unbarred and they slipped in. The feeling in the neighbourhood towards my act of passive resistance was so excellent and the publicity being given by the Press in the evening papers was so valuable that we decided to make the Hammersmith “Fort” for the time being the centre of the W.S.P.U. activities, and daily demonstrations were arranged for and eventually carried out. The road in front of the house was not a thoroughfare, as a few doors further down past the late Mr. William Morris’s home of “Kelmscott,” at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson, there occurred one of those quaint alley-ways guarded by iron posts, which one finds constantly on the borders of the Thames and in old seaside villages. The roadway was, therefore, ideal for the holding of a meeting, as no blocking of traffic could take place, and day in, day out the principles for which suffragists were standing we expounded to many who before had never even heard of the words Woman Suffrage. At the evening demonstrations rows of lamps were hung along the top of the wall and against the house, the members of the W.S.P.U.speaking from the steps of the house, while I spoke from one of the upstairs windows. On the little terrace of the front garden hung during the whole time of the siege a red banner with the letters painted in white:

“Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay.”

This banner appeared later on during our fight, so it has a little history quite of its own.

The members of the I.L.P., of which there was a good branch in Hammersmith, were very helpful, both as speakers and organisers during these meetings, but the Members of the Social Democratic Federation, of which I was a member, were very scornful because they said we should have been asking at that moment for Adult Suffrage and not Votes for Women; but although I have always been a staunch adult suffragist, I felt that at that moment the question of the enfranchisement of women was paramount, as we had to educate the public in our demands and in the reasons for our demands, and as we found that with many people the words “Adult Suffrage” connoted only manhood suffrage, our urgent duty was at that moment to gain Press publicity up and down the country and to popularise the idea of the political enfranchisement of women.

So the siege wore on; Press notices describing it being sent to me not only from the United Kingdom, but from Continental and American newspapers, and though the garbled accounts of what I was doing and what our organisation stood for often made us laugh when we read them, still there was plenty of earnest and useful understanding in many articles, while shoals of letters came to me, a few sadly vulgar and revolting, but the majority helpful and encouraging. Some Lancashire lads who had heard me speaking in the Midlands wrote and said that if I wanted help they would come with their clogs but that was never the sort of support I needed, and though I thanked them, I declined the help as nicely as I could. Many Members of Parliament wrote and told me in effect that mine was the most logical demonstration that had so far been made; and it was logical I know as far as income tax paying women were concerned; and I explained in all my speeches and writings that though it looked as if I were only asking for Suffrage for Women on a property qualification, I was doing this because the mass of non-qualified women could not demonstrate in the same way, and I was to that extent their spokeswoman. It was the crude fact of women’s political disability that had to be forced on an ignorant and indifferent public, and it was not for any particular Bill or Measure or restriction that I was putting myself to this loss and inconvenience by refusing year after year to pay income tax, until forced to do so by the powers behind the Law. The working women from the East End came, time and again, to demonstrate in front of my barricaded house and understood this point and never swerved in their allegiance to our organisation; in fact, it was during these periods and succeeding years of work among the people that I realised more and more the splendid character and “stuff” that is to be found among the British working class. They are close to the realities of life, they are in daily danger of the serious hurts of life, unemployment, homelessness, poverty in its grimmest form, and constant misunderstanding by the privileged classes, yet they are mostly light-hearted and happy in small and cheap pleasures, always ready to help one another with lending money or apparel, great lovers of children, great lovers when they have an opportunity, of real beauty. Yet they are absolutely “unprivileged,” being herded in the “Ghetto” of the East End, and working and living under conditions of which most women in the West End have no idea; and I feel bound to put it on record that though I have never regretted, in fact, I have looked back on the years spent in the work of Woman Suffrage as privileged years, yet I feel very deeply that as far as those East End women are concerned, their housing and living conditions are no better now than when we began our work. The Parliamentary representation we struggled for has not been able to solve the Social Question, and until that is solved the still “unprivileged” voters can have no redress for the shameful conditions under which they are compelled to work and live.

I also have to record with sorrow that though some amelioration in the position of the married mother towards her child or children has been granted by law, the husband is still the only parent in law, and he can use that position if he chooses, to tyrannise over the wife. He must, however, appoint her as one of the guardians of his children after his death.

Towards the end of June, the time was approaching when, according to information brought in from outside the Crown had the power to break open my front door and seize my goods for distraint. I consulted with friends and we agreed that as this was a case of passive resistance, nothing could be done when that crisis came but allow the goods to be distrained without using violence on our part. When, therefore, at the end of those weeks the bailiff carried out his duties, he again moved what he considered sufficient goods to cover the debt and the sale was once again carried out at auction rooms in Hammersmith. A large number of sympathisers were present, but the force of twenty-two police which the Government considered necessary to protect the auctioneer during the proceedings was never required, because again we agreed that it was useless to resist force majeure when it came to technical violence on the part of, the authorities.

Some extracts from interviews and Press cuttings of the period will illustrate what was the general feeling of the public towards the protest I was making under the auspices of the W.S.P.U.

The representative of the Kensington News, who interviewed me during the course of the siege, wrote thus:—

Independent alike in principles and politics, it is the policy of the Kensington News to extend to both sides of current questions a fair consideration. Accordingly our representative on Tuesday last attended at the residence of Mrs. Montefiore, who is resisting the siege of the tax collector, as a protest against taxation without representation.

On Hammersmith Mall, within a stone’s throw of the house wherein Thomson wrote “The Seasons”; of Kelmscott House, the home of William Morris, and within the shadow of those glorious elms planted by Henrietta Maria, the consort of Charles Ⅰ, a bright red banner floats in front of a dull red house, inscribed: “Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay”….

Certainly as mild a mannered a demonstrator as ever displayed a red banner, refined of voice and manner, Mrs. Montefiore, who is a widow, would be recognised at once as a gentlewoman. We were received with charming courtesy, and seated in the dining-room proceeded with our work of catechising.

Primarily we elicited that Mrs. Montefiore resented the term suffragette. “It emanated, I believe from the Daily Mail, but is entirely meaningless. The term ‘suffragist’ is English and understandable. What I object to most strenuously is the attempt of certain sections of the Press to turn to ridicule what is an honest protest against what we regard as a serious wrong.”

“So far, what has happened?”

“The tax collector has been, with the sheriff, and I have refused them admittance, barred my doors, and hung up the banner you saw outside.” Then questioned as to the reason for her action, Mrs. Montefiore explained:

“I am resisting payment of, not rates, but the Imperial taxes. I pay my rates willingly and cheerfully, because I possess my municipal vote. I can vote for the Borough and County Councils, and on the election of Guardians. I want you to understand this; my income is derived mainly from property in Australia, where for many years I resided. It is taxed over there, and again in this country. I never objected to paying taxes in Australia, because there women have votes both for the State Parliament and for the Commonwealth. There women are not disqualified from sitting in the Commonwealth Parliament. One lady at the last election, although unsuccessful, polled over 20,000 votes.”

“You were not one of the ladies who created a disturbance behind the House of Commons grille?”

“No. I was, however, one of the deputation to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and I listened to his very unsatisfactory answers. This action of mine is the rejoinder to Sir Henry’s reply. He said we must educate Parliament — so we thought we would, in my active resistance, give Parliament an object lesson. Remember, it was the first Reform Bill that definitely excluded women from the franchise. Prior to that Bill they possessed votes as burgesses and owners of property. We only seek restitution. After the Reform Bill certain women in Manchester actually tested their right to be registered as voters, and the judges decided against them. Mr. Keir Hardie, who is our champion, deals with this in his pamphlet.”

“You are selecting certain candidates to further your cause in Parliament,” we suggested.

“Certainly,” was the reply. “The women employed in the textile factories at Wigan ran a candidate of their own at the last election, and I addressed vast meetings at every street corner at Wigan. I have received many messages of sympathy and encouragement from the women and the men in Wigan.”

“Have you taken Counsel’s opinion on your resisting action?”

“No, I am relying on the justice of my cause.”

“What is the next step you anticipate?”

“I believe their next weapon is a break warrant. I have had my furniture distrained on and sold twice already in this cause. Of course, I am only a woman. I know the law, as it stands, is stronger than I, and I suppose in the long run I shall have to yield to force majeure, but I shall fight as long as I am able. Only,” the lady added with a plaintiveness that might have appealed to the most implacable anti-Woman Suffragist, “one would have thought that men would have been more chivalrous, and would not force us to fight in this way to the bitter end for the removal of the sex disability.”

“Do you look for assistance from any, and which, political party?” we asked. Mrs. Montefiore shook her head.

“Our only policy is to play off one, against the other. I am a humble disciple of Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy, who, now 73 years of age, has for 41 years been a worker in the woman’s cause. She has witnessed fourteen Parliaments, but has never seen a Cabinet so inimical to Woman’s Suffrage as the present. Every time the franchise is extended the women’s cause goes back; her hopes are far less now with seven millions on the register than they were with half a million. Gladstone was the worst enemy woman’s suffrage ever had.”

In conclusion Mrs. Montefiore said: “We claim that the word ‘person’ in Acts of Parliament connected with voting should include women. We believe that action goes further than words. I am taking this action to bring our cause before the public.”

Without committing ourselves on the question of the cause itself, we could not resist expressing the hope that the lady’s devotion to it had not entailed hardship or suffering. She smiled bravely, and said: “I have received much sympathy and encouragement, and many kindnesses.” We ventured one more question: “Are you downhearted?” The answer was a smiling “No!” and we left Mrs. Montefiore’s residence impressed at any rate with the sincerity of her belief in, and her devotion to, the cause she has espoused.

The Labour Leader of June, 1906, had the following:—

“No taxation without representation” is one of the cardinal doctrines of the British Constitution. But like many other ideas of British liberty it exists more on paper than in reality.

It has been left for the modern generation of suffragettes to point out that one whole sex subject to all the taxes which are imposed, has yet absolutely no representation on the body which determines and passes those taxes.

The siege of “Fort Montefiore” is the tangible expression of this protest.

On two previous occasions Mrs. Montefiore has had her goods seized for refusing to pay income tax.

This year she determined upon more militant tactics. Some eight or nine weeks ago she was called upon for the income tax. As she persisted in her refusal to pay, a bailiff was summoned. Mrs. Montefiore’s reply was to bolt and bar her house against the intruder, and to display a red flag over her summerhouse, with the inscription: “Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay.”

Fort Suffragette, as Mrs. Montefiore’s house may be called, is an ideal place, in which to defy an income-tax collector; and a few determined women could hold it against an army from the Inland Revenue Department. It is a substantial three-storeyed villa in a narrow road (Upper Mall, Hammersmith).

A few feet from the front the Thames flows by; and the house is guarded by a high wall, the only access being through a stoutly built arched doorway. The “siege” began on 24th May, and up to the present the bailiff has not succeeded in forcing an entry. Meanwhile, important demonstrations have taken place outside, and the crowd has been addressed by various speakers, including Mrs. Montefiore, who has spoken from an upper window of her house.

On one of these occasions Mrs. Montefiore alluded to the Prime Minister’s reply to the recent deputation on Women’s Suffrage, in which he advised them “to educate Parliament.” She was giving Parliament an object lesson. “They had had enough abstract teaching,” she said, “now a little concrete teaching may do them good, and they will see that there are women in England who feel their disability so keenly that they will stop at nothing, and put themselves to every inconvenience and trouble in order to show the world and the Men of England what their position is, and how keenly they feel it”… A resolution was carried declaring that taxation without representation was tyranny, thanking Mrs. Montefiore for her stand, and calling upon the Government to enfranchise women this session.

Susan B. Anthony was one of my dear and valued friends in the suffrage movement, and I received from New York the following interesting communication with cordial wishes for the success of my protest:—

Appeal made yearly by Susan. B. Anthony to the City Treasurer, Rochester, New York, When paying her property tax.


Enclosed please find cheque for tax on my property for year ending May, 1902, with a protest in the name of ten thousand other tax-paying women in the City of Rochester, who are deemed fully capable, intellectually, morally and physically of earning money, and contributing their full share towards the expenses of the Government, but totally incapable of deciding as to the proper expenditure of such money. Please let the record show as “paid under protest.”

Yours for justice to each and every person of this Republic.


Enclosed find County tax for 1904. A minor may live to become of age, the illiterate to be educated, the lunatic to regain his reason, the idiot to become intelligent — when each and all can decide what shall be the laws, and who shall enforce them; but the woman, never. I protest against paying taxes to a Government which allows its women to be thus treated. Please so record it.



Dora’s house on the Thames the tow path remained ‘under siege’ for some six weeks during the summer of 1906, and became the centre of widely-reported daily demonstrations and speeches of solidarity from suffrage groups converging from all over London. Newspapers at the time labelled this as ‘The Siege of Hammersmith’, (though Dora’s house was also known among suffragists as ‘Fort Montefiore’!) The house, surrounded by a wall, could be reached only through an arched doorway, which Montefiore and her maid barred against the bailiffs. For six weeks, Montefiore resisted payment of her taxes, addressing the frequent crowds through the upper windows of the house.

The ‘siege’, in reality mostly a stand-off without much in the way of actual attempts to distrain her goods, ended on 3 July 1906 when bailiffs broke in using a crowbar, while Dora was out, (in fact supporting suffragettes on trial at Marylebone police court). The bailiffs confiscated silver cutlery and other household items to the value of the income tax owed, some £18. Dora had already deciced not to resist: “Towards the end of June, the time was approaching when, according to information brought in from outside the Crown had the power to break open my front door and seize my goods for distraint. I consulted with friends and we agreed that as this was a case of passive resistance, nothing could be done when that crisis came but allow the goods to be distrained without using violence on our part.”

Dora’s maid, also a suffrage campaigner, was in the house, though decided not to resist the incursion… A few days later Mrs Montefiore bought back everything that had been taken, at the auction in Goldhawk Road, paying around £20… while a suffragette demonstration outside protested.


Born Dora Fuller, the eighth child of Francis and Mary Fuller, in 1851, Dora’s father was a wealthy land surveyor and railway entrepreneur. She was educated at home at Kenley Manor, near Coulsdon, and then at a private school in Brighton.

In 1874 she went to Australia, where she met and married George Barrow Montefiore, a wealthy businessman in 1881. Her husband’s death in 1889, projected her into the feminist movement: she discovered that she had no rights of guardianship over her own children unless her husband had willed them to her. Angered by this, she became an advocate of women’s rights and in March 1891 she founded the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales. This would be the first step in a lifetime of political activism.

Returning to England in 1892 she worked under Millicent Fawcett at the National Union of Suffrage Societies, and joined the Social Democratic Federation and eventually served on its executive. She also contributed to its journal, Justice. Dora had originated the idea of the Women’s Tax Resistance League in 1897, which encouraged women to refuse to pay tax until they got the corresponding civil rights they felt taxation should confer…

While living at Upper Mall, she also became attracted to the ideas of William Morris, who lived just a few minutes walk down the river at Kelmscott House.

Shortly after the ‘Siege’, in October 1906, Dora was jailed in Holloway Prison, for demonstrating illegally in the lobby of the House of Commons. She was accompanied to the Prison by a group of supporters: ‘My brothers and sisters were mostly apathetic about or hostile to my militant work, so I determined to send for no-one of my own relatives, but I was surrounded by many good friends and fellow-workers who had come to give us a word of cheer’.

Shortly after this, she broke with the Pankhursts. Montefiore disagreed with the authoritarian and centralised way Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst ran the WSPU, making decisions without consulting members, and objecting to the small group of wealthy women like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence who she felt were having too much influence over the organisation. However, she remained close to Sylvia Pankhurst, who shared her belief in socialism, which Emmeline and Christable Pankhurst had moved away from. Montefiore was not alone in her opinions of the leadership of the WSPU. In the autumn of 1907, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Dora Marsden, Helena Normanton, Margaret Nevinson and Charlotte Despard and seventy other members of the WSPU left to form the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). Dora Montefiore also joined the WFL.

Montefiore was first and foremost a journalist and pamphleteer, penning a women’s column in The New Age (1902–6) and in the Social Democratic Federation journal Justice (1909–10). She later wrote for the Daily Herald and the New York Call. Most of her pamphlets were on women and socialism, for example, Some words to Socialist women (1907). Montefiore was also interested in an international approach to women’s suffrage and socialism and travelled a great number of congresses and conferences in Europe, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

In 1907 Montefiore joined the Adult Suffrage Society and was elected its honorary secretary in 1909. She also remained in the Social Democratic Federation. Montefiore’s biographer, Karen Hunt, has pointed out: “Within the SDF she developed a woman-focused socialism and helped set up the party’s women’s organization in 1904. An energetic although often dissident worker for the SDF until the end of 1912, Montefiore resigned from what had become the British Socialist Party as an anti-militarist.”

In 1913 she was briefly imprisoned in Dublin for leading a campaign to transfer the children of poor Irish workers to foster homes in England during the Dublin lockout of striking workers. In 1915 and 1916 she worked with Voluntary Aid Detachments and French cooks in the Pas de Calais running ‘Cantines des Dames Anglaises’ for French soldiers resting from the trenches. After the war she was one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

After the death of her son in 1921 (from the affects of the mustard gassing he had suffered while serving on the Western Front during the First World War), she joined his widow and children in Australia. In the summer of 1924 she attended the Moscow International Congress as a delegate of the Australian Communist Party. In 1927 she published her autobiography, From a Victorian to a Modern.

Towards the end of her life Dora moved to Crowborough and then Bexhill and Hastings for her health. She died in 1933 at the age of 83, and was cremated at Golders Green, Middlesex.

Thanks to,, and David Broad’s account of his grandmother’s ‘Siege’…


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s radical history: Suffragette attempt to burn posh Dulwich College fails, 1913.

“Dulwich College, the famous school in the southern suburb of London, was set on fire in two places at an early hour this morning, and suffragette literature pinned to trees in the neighbourhood with women’s hatpins is accepted as proof that a militant suffragette “arson squad” was responsible for the crime.”

In 1912-13 the militant campaign for women’s suffrage stepped up a gear.

Decade of legal agitation, several years of escalating direct action, harassment of politicians, window smashing and hunger-strikes in prison having failed to shift the weight of the male establishment, the Pankhurst-dominated leadership of the Women’s Social & Political Union prepared to turn to arson.

In July 1912, Christabel Pankhurst began organising a secret arson campaign. Attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes.

One of the first arsonists was Mary Richardson. She later recalled the first time she set fire to a building: “I took the things from her and went on to the mansion. The putty of one of the ground-floor windows was old and broke away easily, and I had soon knocked out a large pane of the glass. When I climbed inside into the blackness it was a horrible moment. The place was frighteningly strange and pitch dark, smelling of damp and decay… A ghastly fear took possession of me; and, when my face wiped against a cobweb, I was momentarily stiff with fright. But I knew how to lay a fire – I had built many a camp fire in my young days -a nd that part of the work was simple and quickly done. I poured the inflammable liquid over everything; then I made a long fuse of twisted cotton wool, soaking that too as I unwound it and slowly made my way back to the window at which I had entered.”

Some leaders of the WSPU such as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, disagreed with this arson campaign. When Pethick-Lawrence objected, she was expelled from the organisation. Others like Elizabeth Robins, Jane Brailsford, Laura Ainsworth, Eveline Haverfield and Louisa Garrett Anderson showed their disapproval by ceasing to be active in the WSPU and Hertha Ayrton, Lilias Ashworth Hallett , Janie Allan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson stopped providing much needed funds for the organization. Sylvia Pankhurst also made her final break with the WSPU and concentrated her efforts on helping the Labour Party build up its support in London.

In 1913 the WSPU arson campaign escalated and railway stations, cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses being set on fire. Slogans in favour of women’s suffrage were cut and burned into the turf. Suffragettes also cut telephone wires and destroyed letters by pouring chemicals into post boxes. The women responsible were often caught and once in prison they went on hunger-strike.

This is the context for the attempt to set fire to Dulwich College on September 5th 1913… for which no-one was ever arrested or convicted.

Is it possible there was a South London suffragette arson squad active in 1913…? St Catherine’s Church on Telegraph Hill, New Cross, had been set on fire in May – there were widespread rumours this was also a suffragette job, though nothing was ever proved. Before that Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry had been arrested and convicted of setting fire to the tea gardens at Kew gardens in February 1913.

More on the suffragette arson campaign:

Founded in 1618 by actor (and Bankside brothel-owner) Edward Alleyn, Dulwich College is an independent school, which costs £6300 a term or £12-13,000 a term for boarders… If originally founded “to educate 12 poor scholars as the foundation of God’s Gift”, over the centuries it became one of the poshest schools in the London area. It provided a hefty contingent of students to scab during the 1926 General Strike…

It’s now the biggest independent school in the country, which selects boys from the brightest 20 per cent and spends almost £8,000 a year on each pupil. Dulwich College ensures that 95 per cent of its pupils get A-C passes at GCSE and sends 95 per cent of sixth-formers to top universities – 12 or so pupils go to Oxbridge each year.

It’s the preserve of the rich. Compared to local comprehensives it commands massive resources giving the rich kids who attend a leg up to maintaining the class system for another generation. It is funded by the Dulwich Estate, which owns a huge swathe of property over this part of South London, has massive playing fields and top class facilities, but luckily is a charity so avoids a lot of tax. The estate funds Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and James Allen’s Girls’ (or JAGS), which shared £5,815,840 of moneys from the Estate in the most recent year for which there are figures (to March 31, 2015). These are also registered charities.

Earlier this year a few hundred people gathered in Herne Hill, to demonstrate against the behaviour of the Dulwich Estate. The Estate owns 1,500 prime acres of Dulwich and the surrounding area, including the freeholds on 600 flats and maisonettes and the vast majority of the shops and pubs as well as local amenities. The focus of the demo was the closure of a much-loved toy shop, Just Williams, forced out of business by a 70% rent rise combined with a more general concern about the threat of similar rent rises forcing out other shops. They are likely to be replaced by ones which, to pay those increased rents, and will be prohibitively expensive to shop in. The Estate has also proposed selling off a piece of land used as a play area by children at the local Judith Kerr Primary school for flats, and left a popular pub, the Half Moon, closed and empty for over two years. Now that they finally have a proposal for the pub they seem set to accept, it does not include a live music room, which has been a part of it for decades and which locals want re-instated.

More at:

Maybe we don’t burn it down… but we should definitely take it over… So much that could be cone to share out the resources a bit…


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in parliamentary history: George Lansbury protests torture of jailed suffragettes & gets suspended from Parliament, 1912.

George Lansbury, Labour MP for Bow and Bromley, peace activist, opponent of the Boer War and World War 1, and probably the most leftwing leader the Labour Party ever had (without exception), was also a passionate supporter of the campaign for women to be win the right to vote.

His support sometimes got him into trouble…

Suffrage activists from the Women’s Social & Political Union had engaged in a campaign of direct action to press for votes for women. Smashing windows, attacking the odd politician… Their tactics had escalated to arson. In response to the increased fury of the movement the Liberal government had been jailing suffragettes, and force-feeding them when they went on hunger strike. Force-feeding was a brutal and dangerous procedure which left many women permanently injured.

On 25 June 1912 the Speaker suspended him from Parliament. The pacifist Lansbury, white with rage over the forcible feeding of imprisoned suffragettes, had shaken his fist in the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith’s face, shouting “You will go down to history as a man who tortured innocent women.”

In response to an appeal to release imprisoned suffragettes, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had replied they could leave prison that day of they would give an undertaking not to repeat their offences.

This enraged Lansbury, who shouted: “You know the women cannot give such an undertaking! It is ridiculous to ask them to give an undertaking!”

Shouts of “Order, Order cam from all over the house, but Lansbury continued, and came forward towards the prime minster… He “immediately launched himself at the Treasury Bench shaking his fist in the faces of Premier Asquith and the other ministers. With his face only a few inches from that of Mr Asquith, Mr Lansbury screamed:’ Why, you’re beneath contempt. You call yourself a gentleman, and you forcibly feed and murder women in this fashion. You ought to be driven out of office.”

Described as ‘almost choking with emotion and passion’, Lansbury carried on, despite the speaker telling him to leave, and other MPs shouting their disapproval.

“It is the most disgraceful thing that has happened in England. You are going to go down to history as the man who tortured innocent women. The government have tortured women. It is disgraceful, disgusting, contemptible. You are murdering these poor women. You cannot tell them they they have the opportunity of walking out of prison. You know they can’t do it.”

The house was quickly consumed in disorder. The Speaker finally secured quiet and “ordered Mr Lansbury to leave. He replied, ‘I am not going out while these contemptible thugs are torturing and murdering women.’ He yelled this in a loud voice and appeared to be much overwrought, but when the Speaker warned him that he would be forcibly thrown out unless he went of his own accord the Labour members gathered about their colleague and induced him to quit.”

Lansbury found little support in his fight for women’s suffrage from his parliamentary Labour colleagues, whom he dismissed as “a weak, flabby lot”. In parliament, he denounced the prime minister, H. H. Asquith, for the cruelties being inflicted on imprisoned suffragists: “You are beneath contempt … you ought to be driven from public life”. He was temporarily suspended from the House for “disorderly conduct”.

He was ordered to leave the chamber by the Speaker, or he’d be ejected.

Lansbury’s passion on the issue came not only from his fierce sense of principle. A number of the suffragists facing force-feeding were his friends and comrades.

Later that year, Lansbury resigned his seat, to re-stand as a ‘Votes for Women’ candidate, but lost. Support for women’s suffrage among Labour voters was mixed – many of Lansbury’s previous supporters refused to support his position.

Campaigning on the same issue in 1913, he refused to be bound over to ‘keep the peace’ and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, part of which was remitted after he went on hunger strike.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: Suffragettes target Chancellor Asquith’s house, 1906.

The Women’s Social & Political Union’s militant campaign for women’s suffrage stepped up in 1906, with one of the main tactics being to invade Liberal election meetings and heckle, demand support from and put pressure on candidates.

They focused especially on the Liberal cabinet members, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Herbert Henry Asquith (later Prime Minister).

“The general trend of events now made us feel the necessity of securing a personal interview with Mr. Asquith, and we therefore wrote asking him to receive us. He replied that his rule was not to receive any deputation unconnected with his office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we then wrote as follows :
To THE Right Hon. H. H. Asquith, Chancellor of   THE Exchequer. Sir: I am instructed by my Committee to say that the subject of the enfranchisement of women, which they desire to lay before you, is intimately bound up with the duties of your office. Upon no member of the Cabinet have women greater claims than upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Your Budget is estimated on a system of taxation which includes women. Women not being exempt from taxation have a right to claim from you a hearing. Women are told that you are mainly responsible for the refusal of the Prime Minister to deal with their claim. But being convinced of the justice of giving votes to women they renew their request that you receive a deputation on an early date in order that their case may be presented to you.
Faithfully yours, E. Sylvia Pankhurst. Hon. Sec. of the London Committee of the Women’s Social  and Political Union 45, Park Walk, Chelsea, S.W.

Mr. Asquith returned no answer to this, our second letter, and therefore, without making any further attempt to obtain his consent, we wrote to him saying that a small deputation would call at his house, No. 20 Cavendish Square, on the morning of Tuesday, June 19th. On the appointed day the women arrived just before 10 o’clock in the morning, but, early as it was, they were told that Mr. Asquith had already gone to the Treasury. They thereupon decided that half their number should wait on the doorstep and that the other half should go to look for him. Those who went to the Treasury were told that Mr. Asquith had not arrived, and those who remained on guard at his house were equally unsuccessful, for whilst they had been standing there waiting, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had escaped through the back door in a closed motor car.”

Two days later, they returned to Asquith’s house:

“Our determination to meet Mr. Asquith face to face was still strong, and after our failure to see him on the Tuesday we at once wrote to say that we were sending a larger deputation to interview him in two days’ time. We had now three flourishing branches of the Union in London, one in the centre and two in the East End, and some thirty or forty representatives, partly drawn from these branches and partly from our central Committee, formed the deputation. Carrying little white Votes-for- Women flags and headed by Theresa Billington, some thirty of the East End members marched off in procession for Mr. Asquith’s house ; but on arriving at the edge of Cavendish Square, they were met by a strong force of police who told them that they must at once turn back. The poor women stood still in affright, but would not turn. Then the police fell upon them and began to strike and push them and to snatch their flags away. Theresa Billington tried in vain to prevent this violence, “We will go forward,” she cried “You shall not hit our women like that,” but a policeman struck her in the face with his fist and another pinioned her arms. Then she was seized by the throat and forced against the railings until, as was described by an onlooker, “she became blue in the face.” She struggled as hard as she could to free herself but was dragged away to the police station with the East End workers following in her train.   Immediately afterwards Annie Kenney, with a number of others, most of whom were members of our Committee, came into the Square. Annie knew nothing of what had taken place and, preoccupied and intent on her mission, she walked quickly across the road, but, as she mounted the steps of Mr. Asquith’s house and stretched out her hand to ring his bell, a policeman seized her roughly by the arm and she found herself under arrest. Following this, Mrs. Knight, one of the East End workers, who, because she suffered from hip disease had felt that she could not walk in the procession, came into the Square and crossed the road. On seeing none of the other women she concluded that they had already gone into Mr. Asquith’s house. She intended to join them but, just as she was about to step on to the pavement opposite No. 20, she was roughly pushed off the curb-stone by a policeman and arrested as soon as she attempted to take another step forward. Mrs. Sparborough, a respectable elderly woman dressed with scrupulous neatness in worn black garments, who by the work of her needle supported herself and her aged husband, stood watching this scene in deep distress. Noticing that two maid servants and some ladies at the window of Mr. Asquith’s house were laughing and clapping their hands, she turned to them protesting gravely: “Oh, don’t do that. Oh, don’t do that. It is a serious matter. That is how the soldiers were sent to Featherstone!”A policeman immediately pounced upon her and dragged her away.”

Nicked from: The Suffragette; the history of the women’s militant suffrage movement, 1905-1910


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online