Lewisham’s Suffragettes

2018 marks the centenary of some women getting the vote; the story of what happened nationally has been well documented.  However, activities locally have been largely lost – only recorded in snippets in the press at the time, with many of the journals and newspapers long since gone.  While Iris Dove produced a small booklet in 1988 -‘Yours in the cause: A brief account of suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich’, it has been long out of print and probably only a handful of copies remain.

During the year (and for a few months before) Running Past has been celebrating the work of local suffragettes and some of the suffragists.  The Lewisham Branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was a militant one – run by formidable, awe inspiring women – the blog posts below tell the story of some of the individuals involved.

May Billinghurst – disabled since she was a child and largely confined to an invalid tricycle, but she still engaged in militant activities being arrested several times, she was active in the early years of the Lewisham Branch, taking on the role of secretary whilst Jeannie Bouvier was recovering after a hunger strike, she went on to form the Greenwich branch in 1910.

Eugenia (Jeannie) Bouvier – a Russian émigré who was secretary of the branch for many years, she was the public face of the branch, a regular and rousing speaker, close to Sylvia Pankhurst, she returned to Russia after the revolution.

Caroline Townsend – branch secrearty for several years after Jeannie Bouvier stood down – a reguar speaker in Lewisham town centre, imprisoned in 1909 for obstruction

Clara Lambert – a working class woman who let her actions speak, she never appears to have mounted the soapbox in Lewisham Market or elsewhere, but was imprisoned several times

Olive Llewhellin – arrested several times and imprisoned for smashing the window of the home of the Chief Whip in Downing Street – she designed and fund raised for the Branch banner

Miss (Cornelia or Gladys)  Leigh– organised the selling of ‘Votes for Women’ and later ‘The Suffragette’ and very occasional speaker

Christina Campbell – was joint branch secretary with Caroline Lambert (will be included in a post in October 2018)

Emily Davison – while she was never a member of the Lewisham branch she was born and briefly lived in Blackheath and returned to speak several times – she is the best known of the local suffragettes.  The post looks at both her life and death as an active WSPU member as well as telling to story of the house she lived in.

There are also a series of area based posts covering activity within the main areas covered by Running Past – Lee, Hither Green, Blackheath, Lewisham and Catford – they are all prefixed with Suffragette City – most of these are yet to be published but will be during the rest of 2018

Hither Green and Lee – covers the full range suffragette activities from pillar box ‘outrages’, to the arson of a cricket club and jam making

Lewisham, the Post Office Attacks – the main Lewisham Post Office and sorting office were regular targets for attack in the couple of years leading up to World War 1 (late September 2018)

Lewisham Town Centre Meetings  – the Market, the Obelisk and Catford Tram terminus were the locations for meeting most weeks from 1908 until the outbreak of World War 1

Lewisham Branch Organisation – the women, the shops, the displays, the paper sellers

Non Militant Women’s Suffrage in Blackheath John Stuart Mill to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS)

Blackheath, the WSPU Rallies and Meetings – mainly at Whitefield’s Mount, below, they attracted many of the best known WSPU national activists – including Christabel Pankhurst to a rally which 30,000 attended.

Getting the Vote – looks at changes to the electoral registers and the elections immediately after the 1918 Act