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Votes For Women! Women’s Suffrage In Southampton & Portsmouth, Hampshire

  • Silent newsreel footage shot by British Pathe, early twentieth century, showing different Suffragette events in Britain. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.14.
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  • A parasol parade selling The Suffragette newspaper, Brighton, Sussex, April 1914. From left to right: Miss Reid, Mrs Goodier, Miss Gye, Mrs Brandon, Miss Rae, Mrs Bouvier. Brighton and Hove was one of the first Women’s Social and Political Union branches, founded in May 1907. By June 1908 they had a banner ‘beautifully designed and embroidered by members with the arms of Brighton’. Parasol parades were a regular feature of the union’s sales drives to increase its newspaper circulation in the summer months. Umbrellas were used in the rainy season. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

As part of BBC’s Taking Liberties season (programmes about democracy to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta), Professor Amanda Vickery presents a three-part documentary series, Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power. Professor Vickery explores the three hundred year-long campaign by women for political and sex equality in Britain. Embed from Getty Images

  • The Reverend Libby Lane smiles as she stands with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu outside York Minster after she was consecrated as the eighth Bishop of Stockport on January 26, 2015 in York, England. The Church of England consecrated its first female bishop during a ceremony at York Minster. The Reverend Libby Lane, who has been the vicar of St Peter’s Hale and St Elizabeth’s Ashley, in Greater Manchester, was ordained as the new Bishop of Stockport in a two hour service led by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Sunday 8th March was International Women’s Day (IWD) an annual event that has been observed since the early 1900s, in America the first event took place on 28th February, 1909. IWD celebrates women’s accomplishments and promotes global equality and this year’s theme is ‘make it happen’ which aims to encourage and recognise women in their professional fields.

Sunday 8th March was also when Britain’s first female bishop, The Revered Libby Lane (48) preached her inaugural sermon as she was installed in her home diocese, Chester Cathedral. The Church of England formally adopted legislation last November to allow women to become bishops. Rev. Lane was consecrated as the eighth Bishop of Stockport at York Minster in January.

Early Women’s Suffrage

In 1847, the first leaflet advocating votes for women appeared in Britain. In 1867, civil servant John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), tried, unsuccessfully, to secure votes for women in the Second Reform Act. The 1867 Reform Act: 1) granted the vote to all householders in the boroughs as well as lodgers who paid rent of £10 a year or more; 2) reduced the property threshold in the counties and gave the vote to agricultural landowners and tenants with very small amounts of land.

Mill’s failure to secure women the vote, led to the founding of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In 1861 (published 1869), Mill wrote one of the earliest essays on sexual equality written by a male author, The Subjection of Women. Although, it is entirely possible that Mill’s wife, Harriet (1807-1858) co-wrote the essay.

In 1868, MP Richard Pankhurst (1834-1898) (husband of Emmeline from 1878 onwards), also tried to push forward votes for women. He drafted the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill (the first women’s suffrage bill in England) and authored the bill which became the Married Women’s Property Act (1882). The latter gave wives absolute control over their property and earnings. In 1889, the Pankhursts formed the Women’s Franchise League.

A Few Key Miletones Of Women’s Suffrage In Britain

  • Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was appointed Home Secretary in 1910 and was part of Herbert Henry Asquith’s (1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith) (1852-1928) Liberal Government (1908-1916);
  • Conciliation bills were put before the House of Commons in 1910, 1911 and 1912. These bills would extend the right of women to vote in Great Britain and Ireland to around 1,000,500 wealthy, property-owning women;
  • The 1907 Qualification of Women Act enabled women to sit on county or borough councils and boards of guardians;
  • The first female MP was Constance Georgine Markievicz (1868-1927), a socialist and suffragette. In December 1918, she was elected to the British House of Commons but did not take-up her seat;
  • Medical Act 1876 (Russell Gurney Enabling Act) – enabled, for the first time, women to study and graduate in medicine. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman to receive her medical degree in America (1854) and the first woman on the UK Medical Register. Her sister Emily (1826-1910) was the third woman in America to get a medical degree. English physician Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) was the first woman to qualify in the UK as both a surgeon and a physician.
  • Marriage bars. From the late nineteenth century until the 1960s, married women were prohibited from certain occupations such as administrative roles in the Civil Service. The Sex Disqualification Removal Act, passed in 1919, banned married women from the teaching profession. Lower paid professions were not affected. During World War Two, the laws were relaxed because of the labour shortage.Marriage bars in teaching were removed in 1944;
  • The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – ‘the Suffragists’, founded in 1897 was a collection of local suffrage societies. This union was led by Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), who believed in constitutional campaigning and non-violent methods of raising awareness of the suffrage cause. However, this softer approach was rather unsuccessful in drawing attention to their aims;
  • The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – ‘the Suffragettes’-  was the leading militant organisation campaigning for Women’s suffrage in Great Britain between 1903 (10th October) and 1917. Founded by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) she ran the organisations with her daughters Christabel (1880-1958) and Sylvia (1882-1960);
  • In 1908, the WSPU adopted the colour scheme of purple (dignity), white (purity) and green (hope). This colour scheme appeared on the organisations banners, flags, rosettes and badges. Non-militant suffragettes adopted red, white and green as their colour scheme;
  • The WSPU, under the editorship of Christabel Pankhurst, published an official publication The Suffragette (1912-1915). At one point it had a circulation of ten thousand copies. Previously, the WSPU published the periodical Votes for Women (1907-1912 and 1914-18, when the United Suffragists ran it);
  • Two suffragettes selling The Suffragette at the Henley Regatta.
  • In a photograph specially taken for the Suffragette paper, a woman sits engrossed in the Suffragette.
  • In the early twentieth century until World War One, approximately one thousand suffragettes were imprisoned in Great Britain;
  • Women in Great Britain over the age of 30, meeting certain property qualifications, were given the right to vote in 1918, and in 1928 suffrage was extended to all women over the age of 21. New Zealand was the first self-governing country to grant women the right to vote in 1893 when all women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections;
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  • Social History, Suffragettes, c.1910, The Suffragettes campaign office in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, photographed by local photographer Harold H,Camborn (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Women’s Suffrage In Southampton

I have recently been researching suffragettes and suffrage activities in Hampshire, in particular Southampton and Portsmouth. The first suffrage petition in Hampshire was sponsored by the Southampton MP, Russell Gurney (1804-1878), dated 13th May, 1869. The following year the town’s very first suffrage society was established. Founding members of the Southampton executive committee were: Rev. Edmund Kell, Mrs Edward Dixon, Miss Hart, Mrs Jemima Jane Sawyer. Mrs Sawyer was the society’s secretary and lived at Thanet House, Bevois (now Lodge Road).

On 27th February, 1871, Russell Gurney presented another women’s suffrage petition which recorded three hundred and seventy-four of the town’s residents supporting the petition. During the same year the first suffrage meeting was held in the town on the 8th April, a lecture by Millicent Fawcett was attended by two thousand people. Further suffrage meetings took place in 1873, 1876, 1878 and 1882 when crowds had increased sufficiently to hold  the meeting at Southampton’s Philharmonic Hall.

Between 1882 and 1902, there was very little suffrage activity in Southampton. (Source: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey by Elizabeth Crawford, pp. 163-170) Southampton had branches of both the NUWSS and WSPU but they were small in comparison to over parts of the country or indeed the county, for example Portsmouth.

The NUWSS was established in Southampton in 1905. They held meetings at the Bungalow Café (157, Above Bar, destroyed in World War Two by enemy bombing). During the 1910 election the society opened a shop at 3, Above Bar and in March the Actresses’ Franchise League staged three short suffrage plays, Cicely Hamilton’s Pot and Kettle , and How the Vote Was Won and The Apple by Inez Bensusan. (Source: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey by Elizabeth Crawford, p. 163)

Militant activities in Southampton did not begin in earnest until 1912 when:

 …some local suffragettes resort to what was by then the frequent militant practice of destroying letters by thrusting burning rags or pouring corrosive fluid into pillar-boxes. As early as 1907, however, the militants had begun to seize every opportunity of interrupting and trying to disrupt any meetings which members of the Government came down to address; as when in November a band of them had to be ejected from one at which Augustine Birrell the Secretary for Ireland was the principal speaker.

It was during the years 1911-1913, however, that militancy rose to its height in the country, and though the repercussions of this in Southampton were less violent than elsewhere, meetings addressed there by leading members of that wing were frequently marked by much heckling and rowdy interruptions. Throughout 1911, the question of women’s suffrage was kept prominently before the town by a succession of speakers from both wings.

(A History of Southampton 1700-1914, Vol III: Setbacks and Recoveries 1868-1914 (1975) by A. Temple Patterson, p. 137)

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Emmeline Pankhurst’s Visit To Southampton In 1911

Emmeline Pankhurst visited Southampton on Saturday 4th February, 1911 and addressed a large audience at the Palace Theatre. She spoke for an hour without any interruption from the floor. Various speakers who supported the suffrage movement came down to Southampton for this event including: Mrs Philip Snowden, the Countess of Selborne, H. N. Brailsford, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence whose wife Emmeline was a leading, militant suffragette who together with her husband started the publication Votes for Women in 1907. In 1914, Flora McKinnon ‘General’ Drummond (1878-1949), a prominent leader of the WSPU, also addressed a large crowd in Southampton.

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  • Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954), co-editor of Votes for Women, and business manager and Treasurer of the Women’s Social and Political Union, c1909. Before her involvement with the movement Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence had spent five years as a social reformer. In 1905 she founded the Esperance Girls’ Club and Social Settlement, and two years later the Maison Esperance, a cooperative dressmaking business which, unusually for the time, paid the workers a minimum wage of fifteen shillings a week for an eight-hour day, and gave them an annual holiday. She proved to be a remarkable fund-raiser and treasurer for the suffragettes, raising the equivalent of £3 million in five years. Arrested four times and serving over four months in prison, her last conviction (like her husband) was in 1912 for conspiracy to incite violence. She served only five weeks of her nine-month sentence and was released early, severely debilitated after her hunger strike and force-feeding. On their expulsion from the WSPU she and her husband continued to edit Votes for Women (thereafter the official newspaper of the WSPU would be The Suffragette.) They also founded the Votes for Women Fellowship, a new moderate militant organisation. Emmeline’s many publications include: The Need for Women MPs; Women as Persons or Property?; and The Meaning of the Woman’s Movement. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Southampton’s first woman mayor, Lucia Marion Foster Welch (nee Brown, c.1864-1940) was also a supporter of women’s suffrage and member of both the WSPU and the NUWSS. However, she did not condone the WSPU’s militant activities. Welch married twice, first to Philip Braham in 1884, with whom she had three children, and to Robert William Foster Welch in 1904.

Mrs Welch first came to Southampton in 1903 and was elected Conservative councillor for the city’s Newton area in 1918.When Emmeline Pankhurst visited Southampton in 1911, Welch invited friends and supporters of the WSPU to tea at her house, 61 Oxford Street, in order that they could meet the suffragette leader. Welch regularly provided hospitality for the NUWSS meetings.

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  • 7th March 1913: A suffragette adding to messages written by others on a pavement in Kensington. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

I reviewed press coverage relating to Mrs Pankhurst’s Southampton visit in 1911 and include some extracts below from the Liberal supporting Southampton Times:

Mrs Pankhurst’s Visit: The Suffragettes have been busily engaged this week in advertising today’s meeting at the Palace Theatre. Handbills have been distributed in great quantities, and on Thursday the pavements were “chalked”. Yesterday members of the ‘Women’s Social and Political Union drove about the town in a motor car gaily decorated in the purple, white, and green colours of the Union, with placards announcing that Mrs Pankhurst’s meeting was at 3 o’clock this afternoon.

Votes for Women: The Women’s Social and Political Union held a very successful ‘at home’ last week in Southampton. The speaker was the Hon. Mrs Haverfield (hon. organiser for Paddington), Miss C. A. L. Marsh (organiser for Portsmouth and Southampton) opened with a short speech explaining the demand of the Union for votes for women on the same terms as men. Mrs Haverfield then dealt with the position of women in the industrial world, and explained the need of the vote to protect their interests. The speaker also pointed out that the laws were made without women being consulted at all, and she claimed that as legislation affected so much the lives of women and children, the women should be allowed to express their views through the ballot box. Several new members were made and collection was taken in aid of the local funds.

(Southampton Times and Hampshire Express, 4.2.1911)

Mrs Pankhurst’s visit: “The Privileges of Sex”. There was a large gathering at the Palace Theatre on Saturday afternoon when Mrs Pankhurst, leader of the “Votes for Women” movement, delivered an address on the auspices of the local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The chair was occupied by Miss Marsh, the local organising secretary, who remarked that as so many people had an entirely wrong idea of what the suffragettes were fighting for, it would be as well if the aims were explained.

Briefly, they were asking that what qualified a man for the vote should also qualify a woman. As women were called upon to pay taxes, and were expected to obey the laws of the country, it was only fair that they should have a chance of saying how their money should be spent, and what laws should be made. Unfortunately, they could not get Government  to do a thing merely because its justice was proved. Had that been possible, the women would have had the vote long ago (applause).

Mrs Pankhurst, who was speaking for nearly an hour, received a very attentive hearing. If there were no striking outbursts of applause, she had the sympathy of her audience to the end, and there was an entire absence of interruptions. She explained the objects of the Union at length, and desired to disabuse the minds of those who believed that, because women had been driven to extremities by the continuous refusal of their demands, they were making extreme claims. She urged that their claims were not only very moderate, but that they were also absolutely just.

Women had been fighting for fifty years against “the terrible privilege of sex”. She admitted that some small advance had been made in the position of women, such as was talked of by those who opposed the extension of the franchise. There were advantages of education, and an advance was made under the Married Women’s Property Act. These, said their opponents, were secured without women having the vote but people who used arguments of that sort did not know that those improvements were the by-products of the work of the Suffrage Societies of those days.

If women had the vote, not one tithe of the energy which had been spent to secure those reformers would have been necessary. Parliamentary candidates were very considerate towards the people who had votes, and it was the need of the vote that urged some to fight. It was the weakest who had the hardest struggle in life, and the least they could do was to set women free to develop the power of self- protection and self-development by giving them the status of citizenship. (applause)

At the conclusions of her speech, Mrs Pankhurst was presented with a handsome bouquet by Miss Kennedy, who, with Miss Cumberland, represented Southampton on the last deputation to the Prime Minister. The Chairman expressed the hope that if it was necessary to send another deputation to the Prime Minister, a greater number of Southampton ladies would volunteer for militant action.

It was also announced that next month a visit would be paid to the town by Mr Hugh Franklin, who, to quote Miss Marsh’s words, “has just served six weeks” (imprisonment) because he wished to show Mr Churchill that the members of the Men’s Political Union were very much disgusted by the way in which the government treated the women at the recent deputation.

Questions were invited and the first point was, has women’s suffrage proved a success in those countries where it exists? Absolutely, replied Mrs Pankhurst. Has anything been gained by militant methods? was the next question and Mrs Pankhurst said that one result has been that the question had been put is such a position that politicians could not ignore it. The Commons now discussed the matter seriously.

Asked what prospect there was of the Government doing anything for women, Mrs Pankhurst said the prospect was very good, if the women of the country would keep the representatives “up to the mark”. The two local members were friends of the movement but they had done nothing for it.

Another question was: if the object of the Union is to obtain the vote on the same qualification as men, how do you propose to obviate the over-representation of property in parliament? The reply was that of the million and a quarter women who would obtain the vote under the proposed Conciliation Bill, over eighty per cent, were earning their own living and therefore the power of property would not be strengthened.

Another lad asked what good could accrue  to the thousands of factory girls if the vote was only given to propertied women, and Mrs Pankhurst said that the limited franchise for men had proved to be a good thing, and she did not see why a limited franchise should not do a great deal of good in improving the positions of women.

(Southampton Times and Hampshire Express (11.2.1911))

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  • English suffragette Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (1882 – 1960) stands on a platform to paint the front of the Women’s Social Defence League premises in Bow Road, East London, 11th October 1912. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Educational Reform For Women

Feminist, educational reformer and suffragist, Sarah Emily Davies (1830-1921) was born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. The fourth child of the Rev. John Davies, D.D. rector of Gateshead who was working in Southampton as a locum vicar at the time of Emily’s birth. Although she had no formal education, Emily met John Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) through her brother and as such was drawn into educational circles. When her father died she and her mother moved to London where she set about achieving her aim of higher education for women. (Source: Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983, p.22) Emily lived to cast her vote in the 1918 general election, aged 88, she died several years later in 1921.

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  • ‘Food Values in our Restaurants’, 1917. The effect of university education for women on everyday life. A waitress, late of Girton College, Cambridge, is able to advise a surprised diner on the nutrition he will derive from his meal. Cartoon from Punch. (London, 14th February 1917). (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

In 1869, Emily Davies co-founded Girton College, Cambridge University, along with Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891) and Lady Henrietta Maria Stanley Alderley (1807-1895). Originally, the college was located in Hitchin in Hertfordshire before later moving to Girton, near Cambridge. Newnham, Cambridge first admitted women in 1871, Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford in 1879, and the Royal Holloway College, London in 1886.

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  • Female students at the Royal Holloway College in Egham, Greater London, c.1887. Originally a women-only college, it became part of the University of London in 1900 and began to admit male students in 1945. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • 13th June 1908: Suffragettes who are students at Royal Holloway College march to the Albert Hall for a protest meeting. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In 1878, University of London (founded by Royal Charter on 28th November, 1836), was the first university in Britain to admit women to its degrees. In 1880, four women passed the BA examination and in 1881 two women obtained a BSc. By 1895, over ten per cent of the graduates were women and by 1900 the proportion had increased to thirty per cent. (Source: University of London)

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  • c.1900: Female undergraduates at work in the laboratory at Girton College, Cambridge University.  (Photo by Reinhold Thiele/Thiele/Getty Images)

Florence Exten-Hann, a young socialist and feminist clerk from Southampton as well as WSPU member was one of the suffragettes known for her early morning pavement chalking activities. She joined the women’s section of the Shopworkers’ Union. Her father had been a member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) which was active between 1881 and 1911. SDF was Britain’s first, organised, socialist political party.

She was also a member of the Clarion Cycling Club (CCC) formed in 1895 which had its roots in socialism (Clarion was the name of Robert Blatchford’s socialist newspaper). The CCC encouraged working class people to enjoy the freedom of a bicycle. By the early 1900s there were over eight thousand members of the CCC in Britain and it still exists today (National Clarion CC) with other one thousand six hundred members in over thirty sections.

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  • England / Social History, Colour illustration, Suffragettes, Three women confront the Minister in their fight for votes outside the Houses of Parliament, c.1910 (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The Primrose League

Another Southampton resident who played an important role in the political emancipation of women was Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842-1885). In between his many globe-trotting adventures, Burnaby resided in Carlton Crescent. Burnaby along with Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), Sir Henry Drummond Wolff (1830-1908), Sir John Eldon Gorst (1835-1916) and Percy Mitford established the Primrose League in 1883 following their first meeting at the Carlton Club, London.

Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s (1804-1881) favourite flower was the primrose. This group of Disraeli admirers, led by Lord Churchill, set-up the Primrose League to promote Conservative aims and values. The League sought to encourage members of the working classes to be interested in Conservative politics by simplifying its manifesto in order to reach this target group.

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  • Margaret Elizabeth Child-Villiers (1849 – 1945), Countess of Jersey, addresses a meeting of the Ladies’ Grand Council of the Primrose League at Princes Hall, Piccadilly, London, 1894. The Primrose League was founded in 1883 to promote Conservative principles in Britain. It was disbanded in 2004. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Foundation of the Primrose League was an important milestone in the history of women’s suffrage. The League was the first political organisation to give women the same status and responsibilities as men. Women could join in the various social events and community activities giving them an invaluable insight into political campaigning including canvassing at election time and supervision of voter registration.

A separate Ladies Branch and Grand Council were formed. The founder of the Ladies Grand Council was Lady Borthwick (later Lady Glenesk) and the first meeting of the committee took place at her house in Piccadilly in March, 1885. Lady Borthwick’s husband was owner of the Morning Post which merged with The Daily Telegraph in 1937.

However, in 1889, the organisation forbade members to take part in suffrage activities or to support the franchise for women. After women finally obtained the vote in 1918, membership dwindled. The Primrose League was wound-up in December 2004.

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  • The arrest of suffragettes, left to right, Flora Drummond, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, with James Jarvis reading the warrant at Clement’s Inn, London on 13th October, 1908. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Janie Terrero

One of Southampton’s militant suffragettes, Janie Terrero (1858-1944), lived at Fir Tree Lodge, Bannister Road from 1898 with her husband Manuel until they moved to Rockstone House, Pinner, Middlesex in 1913. Mrs Terrero become Hon. Secretary of the Pinner WSPU. Mrs Terrero had support from her husband who was himself a member of the Men’s Political  Union. Whilst living in Southampton Janie Terrero held drawing-room meetings for the society in 1905 and 1907.

In March 1912, Mrs Terrero took part in a series of window-smashing demonstrations in London to coincide with the reading of the Conciliation Bill in Parliament. The women damaged shop windows, using hammers or stones, in the West End, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea. Over two hundred women were arrested, including Terrero who was sentenced to four months in Holloway prison . Whilst incarcerated, she wrote her thoughts on the experience:

I was in close confinement for twelve days, was in two hunger strikes and was forcibly fed in April and again in June. To those who intend to be actively militant, I want to say this; you cannot imagine how strong you feel in prison. The Government may take your liberty from you and lock you up, but they cannot imprison your spirit. The only one thing the Government really fears is the hunger strike. They fear it not because of our pain and suffering, but because it damages their majorities. How strong that weapon made us feel. If they had only dared, they would have put us in a lethal chamber. Some people wonder at the courage of our women, but I believe physical courage is a common attribute, and I do not see why women should possess it in a lesser degree than men.

(Source: The Suffragette Handkerchief)

Whilst in Holloway Prison, Terrero worked a handkerchief, bordered with purple, white and green, containing sixty-six embroidered signatures and two sets of initials of suffragettes who joined demonstrations in London, March, 1912. The handkerchief was probably embroidered during the women’s limited exercise periods. Most of the women who signed the handkerchief had taken part in the March demonstrations (Source: The Suffragette Handkerchief). The handkerchief is part of the Priest House’s collection, West Hoathly, West Sussex.

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  • May 1921: British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst on her release from prison. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • ‘The Cat and Mouse Act’, 1914. Suffragette poster which graphically depicts the workings of the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, known by the WSPU as the Cat and Mouse Act. During 1913 and 1914 the force-feeding of suffragettes on hunger-strike stopped. Instead, the weakened campaigners were released from prison on a special license but were liable to be re-arrested to complete their sentence when their health improved. The large, bloody-toothed cat represents the police, the prison authorities and the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, who was responsible for the Act. The ‘mouse’ is a small and injured suffragette. Intended to wear down the morale and resolve of the suffragettes, the Cat and Mouse Act failed in both theory and practice: when suffragettes were released they were nursed in suffragette nursing homes and then went into hiding, from where many of them continued to commit yet more militant ‘outrages’. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
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  • Suffragettes on a ‘poster parade’ selling the Suffragette, 31st July, 1914. The women carry newspaper satchels and flags, and wear sandwich boards advertising their newspaper the Suffragette. The cover of the issue they are selling shows a suffragette being force-fed. Suffragettes were regarded by many as a public enemy, therefore it is to their credit that they parade their allegiances so openly. This was the last full week that they were able to campaign before the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Women’s Suffrage In Portsmouth

Although Southampton had a vibrant suffrage scene, a few miles down the road in Portsmouth, activities reached new political heights. The Southampton branch of the NUWSS worked in association with the Portsmouth Women’s Suffrage Society (1911-14), inviting local members of the WSPU to their meetings. On Portsmouth Socialist Network’s website, there is a timeline of the women’s fight in Portsmouth, click here.

The Portsmouth branch of the NUWSS seems to have been best organised. It even had its own headquarters by November 1913 at 2, Kent Road, Southsea. Fundraising was accomplished through jumble sales, sales of work and collections made at public meetings and in the streets. A young lad, Lancelot Surry, recalled a memorable cake and candy sale organised by the WSPU to which his mother sent a cake iced in purple, green and white. Sadly, no-one would buy it, so it was raffled.(Source: Hampshire Times, 7.11.1913 & Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983, pp.20-21)

Portsmouth is a naval town with a reputation for strong-minded, independent women used to surviving whilst their husbands were away at sea. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a large majority of the town’s women were employed in the dress, corset and tailoring trades, other popular professions included domestic service, public administration and teaching. The middle and working classes of Portsmouth found a strong collective voice in the women’s suffrage movement.  (Source: Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983)

The different strands of the movement for women’s suffrage came together in Portsmouth. Women had played a significant role in the economic life of the town throughout the nineteenth century. Between 1841 and 1901, as dress-makers, seamstresses and staymakers, they accounted for between 21 per cent and 33 per cent of the town’s industrial employment. There was of course a large available female labour force: the wives of dockyard workers, naval men and soldiers and foreign service.

When there were so many important questions before the country, a large proportion of which materially affected women’s interests. A wealthy woman who owned houses and land, who employed servants and work people was yet debarred, merely because of her sex, from having any say by way of a vote, in the political questions which were so vital to her interests.

(Source: Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983, pp. 4 & 6)

The first recorded act of militancy in Portsmouth in support of women’s suffrage was reported in June 1913 when Frederick Blessley, a ‘well-known speaker on behalf of “the cause” ‘ was charged with smashing a pane of glass worth 12s. 0d. in the Town Hall. The arson campaign continued throughout the summer, with only a brief respite during the holiday months of July and August. (Source: Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983, p.17)

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  • Songsheet of ‘The March of the Women’, 1911. Songsheet in the suffragette colours of purple, green and white, showing women and children marching with the banner of the Women’s Social and Political Union, demanding votes for women. This anthem was written by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) in 1911 and was dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading campaigner in the suffragette movement. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Nora and Margaret O’Shea were two Portsmouth sisters who belonged to the local branch of the NUWSS. Margaret wrote the women’s suffrage song ‘Forward, Ever Forward’. The sisters’ interests were not confined to the suffrage campaign. They also devoted themselves to the welfare of animals, vegetarianism and the study of herbal remedies. Their hair, universally admired by their followers, owed its magnificence to the fact that they washed it in a solution of sage and other herbs grown in their garden. (Source:Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983, p. 8)

Forward, brave and dauntless

Daughters of this earth.

Let your dormant talents

Spring to glorious birth.


Children, toiling sisters,

Cry, and never rest;

Answer! We shall help you

Coming to our best.


Forward, fighting evils,

Deborahs, awake!

Up! And help your sisters

Victims at life’s stake.

(Margaret O’Shea’s women’s suffrage song, ‘Forward, Ever Forward’)

Not all of Portmouth’s women were supportive of the suffrage movement. The inaugural meeting of the Portsmouth branch of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was held at Sandringham Hall on 9th February, 1909. The  granddaughter of the town’s most famous novelist, Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Mary Angela Dickens (1862-1948) was one of its founding members. Mary spoke in Dublin about the suffrage activities and commented that:

What was called the irresponsible vote – the vote of the man who does not know and does not care – was already sufficiently large. Woman, if she devotes her time to domestic work – what time had she for the study of Imperial politics?

(‘Opponents of the Cause’, The Irish Times, 17.10.2012)

…the whole of the Suffragist propaganda was based on the ignoring and defying of the fundamental differences fixed by Nature herself between the existence of men and women… for the nation women’s suffrage would mean a huge, increased, irresponsible vote, ultimate petticoat government, and a weakening of that respect for law and order which was the very bulwark of the State.

(Mary Angela Dickens quoted in The Hampshire Times, 27.1.1909)

The Portsmouth branch of the NUWSS in the person of their chairman, Mrs Julia Hawksley, challenged Miss Dickens to take part in an open debate upon the subject of women’s suffrage. The debate never took place since the Anti-Suffragists finally declined the invitation. (Source: Votes for Women: The Women’s Fight in Portsmouth by Sarah Peacock, 1983)

In 1918, forty-five thousand women in Portsmouth were entitled to vote and the town was the first in which women were called to vote. On the 18th November that year, Kate Edmund was elected Councillor in the town, by a majority of over six hundred votes.

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  • Helena Bonham Carter takes part in filming of Suffragette at Parliament on April 11th, 2014 in London. This is the first time filming for a movie has been allowed in The Houses of Parliament. Suffragette is due for release September 2015 (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
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  • Actors (L-R) Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter take part in filming of the movie Suffragette at Parliament on April 11th, 2014 in London. This is the first time filming for a feature film has been allowed in The Houses of Parliament. Suffragette is due for release September 2015. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)


Social historian, based in the UK.

6 thoughts on “Votes For Women! Women’s Suffrage In Southampton & Portsmouth, Hampshire

    1. Thanks so much for all your lovely ‘likes’ and your very kind words. I do take lots of time & care researching my articles. Although I do have a new website coming soon, weird and hidden histories BUT in bitesize chunks, short reads. I will always keep Come Step Back in Time going as a platform to delve deeper into a topic but in this age of ‘time is so short’ I think providing a website for those who want to discover something quirky about history but don’t have the time to invest in a long read, is the right thing for me to do, ’twas different when I started in 2011:) btw love your Dismaland response. The Shirley Hotel has some beautiful tiles on the front, I just hate to think of the building being demolished and those tiles disappearing forever. There is so much beauty in decay. Thanks again for your kind words. Emma.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much. Such kind words:) My new website is called ‘Cabinet of British Curiosities’, no content up there yet but I am buried in notes at mo. There will be lots about the dark side of food history too. Although lots more coming on ‘Come Step Back in Time’ too so stay tuned. Thank you again for all your support. Emx

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Working in care he bothers me just how little us women have actually progressed in the last 100 years in terms of equality.
    Demonstration and lobbying is having no impact even our equalities minister ad engage turns her back on equality anti gay marriage etc


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