Tag Archives: National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies

Suffragette City – Getting the Vote

During 2018 (and just before) Running Past has looked at the activities of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch and many of its activists. In this last post on the Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, which coincides with the centenary of the first General Election that women were able to vote in on 14 December 1918,  we look at the first electoral registers that they appeared in and those early elections that women were able to vote in.

The Electoral Registers

Sadly, Lewisham’s electoral registers for 1918 and 1919 seem to not have been retained – annual electoral registers were introduced in the Representation of the People Act of 1918); the earliest post-women’s suffrage records that Lewisham’s Archives possess are an addendum to the 1919 Electoral Register and the full Register of 1920. The previous Lewisham Register had been collected in 1915.  As part of the research for this post, the Electoral Registers of the addresses of all the key activists were reviewed to see who was there, and who was entitled to vote in 1920.

In virtually all of the properties where the suffragette activists had lived before the war the WSPU member and their household have moved on.  It had been thirteen years since Eugenia ‘Jeannie’ Bouvier had set up the Lewisham WSPU branch, and at least 6 years since most of the women had been actively involved in the WSPU.   The exodus was not surprising, as around three quarters of housing nationally was privately rented in 1918, and it was a sector with relatively little security of tenure, so moving home was relatively common.

7 Oakfield Road (above) had been the home of May Billinghurst – it was the address given at her various arrests and that used when May was secretary of the Greenwich WSPU branch.  Her father had died in 1912 (the top Register in the group above was for that year) and the family had moved on by the end of World War 1.  The Marsdens were living there with Henrietta’s name appearing on the 1920 Electoral Register, in part, at least due to a previous occupant’s sacrifices.

At 62 Manor Park (above), the Leighs had been replaced by the Coates.  Even had the Leigh’s still be there the Miss Leigh in charge of selling ‘Votes for Women’ (it was never clear which of the sisters it was) would not have appeared in 1920 as Cornelia would have been 29 and Gladys 27 – both younger than the 30 year old qualifying age for women voting.    The differences in the two registers is clear though with the large number of women appearing in the 1920 variant.

Perhaps the most militant of Lewisham’s suffragettes, or at least the one with the most brushes with the law, was Clara Lambert.  The Lamberts had moved on from the family home at 174 Glenfarg Road by 1916 (they weren’t there in the 1916 Kelly’s Directory) where they have moved in around 1906.  The beneficiary of suffragette activities there in 1920 was Kathleen Tidy.

The Berlin Road that Christina Campbell had lived in was no more, it had been renamed Canadian Avenue after the War.  The occupants in 1920 were the Cowells; Alice Cowell was to appear on the Electoral Register there in 1920, along with several male household members.

114 Burnt Ash Hill (below) had been home to the Llewhellin’s, they had moved on although what was, perhaps, more interesting in terms of social history was that the extent to which houses had been subdivided since 1911 into flats.  In 1911 the Llewhellins had been the only house split, this seems to have happened after Arthur’s early death in 1906.  By 1920, virtually all the houses in that part of Burnt Ash Hill had been divided into flats.

32 Mount Pleasant Road, had been home to the founder and stalwart of the Lewisham branch, Eugenia (Jeannie) Bouvier.  Jeannie was still just at Mount Pleasant Road in 1920, there were adverts offering Russian tuition there in the Workers’ Dreadnought in early 1921.  However, the only name on the Electoral Register for 32 in 1920 was George Lapman; it is quite possible that despite her years devoted to the struggle she never became a British Citizen.  In any case, she returned to Russia late in 1921, and, as we will cover later, she would never have had the opportunity to vote in a Parliamentary election anyway.

The only active Lewisham WSPU member that remained in the home she was active from was Caroline Townsend.  Caroline and her sisters, Annie and Hannah, had been living at 188 Malpass Road, but had moved to 27 Murillo Road (pictured below) ahead of the 1911 census.  They had presumably bought the house as Annie and Hannah were on the elector register for County and Local Council elections in 1915 – the 1894 Local Government Act had given the small number of women who were homeowners non-Parliamentary voting rights. But the 1920 Register saw the former Branch Secretary on the Elector Register too.

The Elections

The first election under the new rules brought in by the Representation of the Peoples Act that meant women over 30 (and all men over the age of 21, plus all soldiers of 19 or over) could vote was held on Saturday 14 December 1918. The election had been due in 1916 but had been postponed due to the war. There was subsequent legislation, which received Royal Assent in November 1918, which allowed women to stand for election – the age limit was to make little sense in that women over 21 were able to stand for Parliament but couldn’t vote until they were 30.

While many women up and down the country exercised their right to vote – a few stood for election including Christabel Pankhurst standing for the short-lived Women’s Party in Smethwick and one, Constance Markievicz, of Sinn Fein won a Dublin seat although like other members of the party she didn’t take her seat.

In Lewisham though, there were no elections, and women had to wait to exercise their vote for the first time in Parliamentary terms at least.  In both Lewisham East and Lewisham West there were Conservative Coalition Candidates who were elected unopposed Assheton Pownall and Sir Edward Feetham Coates respectively.

The reason for the unopposed election lay within the Coalition of Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party that had emerged from World War One.  Most Conservatives, some Liberals and a couple of Labour candidates were given what were referred to as ‘Coalition Coupons’ which meant that they were not opposed by other parts of the coalition.  The Conservative candidates in both the Lewisham constituencies had Coalition Coupons.

The constituencies of Lewisham East and Lewisham West were not wildly different to their current counterparts; Lewisham East consisted the following wards – Blackheath (Blackheath north of the railway), Church (centred around St Margaret, Lee), Manor (much of the present Lee Green ward), South (Grove Park and south Lee), along with parts of Lewisham Park (Hither Green), and some of Catford (the largely rural area to the south of Brownhill Road).  Lewisham West consisted of Brockley, Forest Hill, Sydenham, and the remaining parts of the wards of Catford and Lewisham Village.

The first election then that Lewisham’s women and poorer men would have been able to vote in were the London County Council (LCC) elections on 6 March 1919.  The LCC was a forerunner of the current Great London Authority, albeit over a smaller area and having very different responsibilities. The Conservatives and Liberals didn’t stand in the LCC elections using what were effectively proxy parties, Municipal Reform and Progressive Party  as surrogates.  In Lewisham West the two Municipal Reform candidates narrowly defeated those put up by the Progressives.  In Lewisham East, as in several other constituencies, Municipal Reform candidates were elected unopposed.

So, for the women of Lewisham East, there was an even longer wait, until the Borough Elections in November 1919 to be able to put their marked voting slips into a ballot box.

In Parliamentary terms, the first time that Lewisham women had a vote was in a by election in Lewisham West in September 1921, following the death of Sir Edward Coates.  This was a slightly odd affair – with the Conservative, Phillip Dawson, then known as Unionist, candidate just holding off the Anti-Waste League, backed by the Daily Mail owner in protest against what it saw as high levels of Government spending; a Liberal candidate also stood.   The National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, the successor of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, had held a public meeting during the campaign with all three candidates speaking.  In the end the NUSEC decided not to back any candidate.

In Lewisham East, the first Parliamentary vote in the constituency was not until the General Election of 1922,  but like buses, three came along quite quickly with further elections in 1923 and 1924. The Conservative/Unionist Sir Assheton Pownall was returned on each occasion, he was finally defeated by Labour’s Herbert Morrison in 1945.

Credits

  • The press cutting is  from The Times of Thursday, Sep 08, 1921
  • Access to the Electoral Registers was via the always helpful Lewisham Archives, the help was particularly beneficial on this occasion, as I had failed to notice the early registers in a separate cupboard.
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Blackheath’s Suffragists – From John Stuart Mill to a ‘Pilgrimage’

During 2018, Running Past has been celebrating some women getting the vote in 1918.  The focus so far has largely been on the Lewisham Branch of the Women’s’ Social and Political Union (WSPU).  This post looks at both those who came before the WSPU and some of those who disagreed with the approach of the WSPU in terms of direct action including damage to property –the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – they were the suffragists rather than suffragettes.  As there was a clear Blackheath link to the early campaigning for votes for women, we’ll look at the Blackheath branch of the NUWSS too.

One of the earliest proponents of women’s suffrage in Blackheath was John Stuart Mill.  He seems to have moved to 113 Blackheath Park soon after his marriage to Harriet Taylor in 1849.  He was to live there for around 20 years – including much of the time that he active in work on women’s suffrage and other issues around the emancipation of women.  Although after Harriet’s death in 1858 her daughter, Helen Taylor acted both as his housekeeper and secretary, living at 113 Blackheath Park – she worked with his on his treatise The Subjection of Women.

The house is still there, a Grade II listed building, although very secluded by trees

Mill stood in the 1865 General Election as the Radical candidate for the Westminster seat in Parliament and was elected. Once in the Commons Mill campaigned with others  for parliamentary reform and in 1866 presented the petition organised by Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett and Dorothea Beale in favour of women’s suffrage.  The petition was the first mass petition for Votes for Women presented to Parliament – it contained just over 1500 signatures – including around 10 from Blackheath and neighbouring parts of Lewisham.

  • Dean, Ellen – Blackheath
  • Laird, Ellen – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E.
  • Laird, E. B. – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E
  • Lindley, Caroline – Kidbrooke Terrace Blackheath
  • Strahan, Elspet – Eliot Lodge Blackheath S.E.
  • Taylor, Helen – Blackheath Park S.E.(Mill’s Stepdaughter)
  • Drayson, A – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Ellis, L – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Lewin, E. – 12 Blessington Road Lee Kent
  • Harman, Emmeline L. – 2 Limes Grove North Lewisham

The petition, pictured below, was defeated but Mill added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men, this too was defeated.

There is a slightly tenuous women’s suffrage and Blackheath in a link to Millicent Garrett Fawcett (pictured below); along with her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was educated at an odd little school in Dartmouth Row run by the Browning sisters who were aunts of Robert Browning who lived from 1841 in New Cross.  It was known as the  College for the Daughters of Gentlemen; Millicent Garrett Fawcett attended from about 1845 to 1854.

Millicent’s  mother, Louise, seems to have taken the sisters to hear John Stuart Mill speak on the issue of Women’s Suffrage in 1865, probably in relation to his Parliamentary campaign.  Millicent was clearly impressed by Mill – “This meeting kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women’s suffrage.”   Millicent Garrett Fawcett remained active in the struggle for votes for women throughout her life with involvement in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, disagreeing fundamentally with the approach taken by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

A statue of her was unveiled in Parliament Square in April 2018.  She remains one of the tiny number of suffragists and suffragettes with a blue plaque (in Gower Street in Bloomsbury).  English Heritage although at the time of writing (November 2018) English Heritage were considering an application for the Blackheath born May Billinghurst.

The Blackheath and Greenwich Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) informally formed in mid-1909 with several meetings published in the NUWSS newspaper, ‘The Common Cause.’  It wasn’t formally constituted until October 1909 (1).  By its first Annual General Meeting in December, held in Jobbins Tea Rooms at 21 Montpelier Vale, it had 115 members (2), it had already held several   drawing room’ meetings mainly at the home of Constance Duckham at Red House, Dartmouth Grove (3).

The activities of the Blackheath NUWSS branch in many ways were similar to their more militant counterparts in Lewisham WSPU who had public meetings in Lewisham town centre most weekends, a series of shops and offices and well as some bigger public meetings in halls.  Despite the level of membership probably being higher than the WSPU branch, the number and scale of activities was always much lower.

The Blackheath NUWSS meetings were much in the form of ‘At Home’ events – these continued throughout the period that the branch was active – Red House was used frequently, such as ones in 1910 (4) and (1913 (5), Jobbins Tea room often used to during 1910 (6), with St German’s Lodge, Shooters Hill Road, home of Helen Ward, being added as a venue in 1911 (7).

There were a couple of meetings in Blackheath Concert Halls (above) – in late 1910 Millicent Garrett Fawcett returned to Blackheath and saw the Halls ‘quite filled… and the audience most enthusiastic.’  She and a Mr Cholmley gave ‘witty and convincing speeches.’ (8).   Maud Pember- Reeves and Rev Llewyllin Smith were due to speak there on 29 February 1912 (9).

There were a small number of open-air meetings in open meetings, although nothing like the volume of those undertaken by the WSPU.  Maude Royden (pictured, on a Creative Commons) spoke at Whitfield’s Mount in July 1913 (10).  There were also a couple of open air meetings at unspecified locations on the Heath in June 1910 (11).

 

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

There was briefly a shop at what was then 5 Blackheath Village, now occupied by Winckworths Estate Agents, opposite the station (pictured above from a postcard of a similar era).  It opened in February 1910 and the branch sold The Common Cause from outside there (12).  An edition from soon after the shop opened is pictured (13).

The branch seemed to go through a steady stream of branch secretaries – it was initially Miss Duckham from Red House (see above) (14); by 1911 the incumbent was a Miss Theobald from 49 Micheldever Road; she had been replaced by a Miss Bowers from 38 Boyne Road by March 1912 (16) closely followed by a Miss Peppercorn from 97 Blackheath Park by July 1912 (17); a Miss Frood from 14 Royal Parade had taken over the reins by October 1913 (18) and finally handing over to a Mrs Shuttleworth from Crooms House, Crooms Hill – her tenure lasted through much of the Great War (19).

One of the best known names in the Branch was Florence Gadesden (Gadsden) She was born in Paris in 1853, her mother Ester (nee Atlee) was from Lewisham, her father was a Professor of Music.  After attending Girton College she taught at several fee paying schools before becoming Headmistress of Blackheath High School in 1886. She became president of the Association of Head Mistresses (AHM) for 2 years from 1905 to 1907 and backed a resolution demanding women’s suffrage in terms which avoided support for militancy.

Her support for women’s suffrage was always non-violent – she was one of the signatories of the Clementina Black’s Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee’s petition demanding the vote (20), which was signed by 257,000 women.

She retired to Norfolk from the school in 1917.

The most significant activity that the Blackheath NUWSS branch were involved with is the Pilgrimage in July 1913 which was organised in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote but also in reaction to the increasingly militant activities being carried out by the WSPU both nationally, and as we have seen in various posts, locally as well.  There were pilgrimages from several parts of the country.

The Kentish Pilgrims had congregated at Lee Green, something covered in the post on Lee and Hither suffrage activities.  They were met by the Blackheath NUWSS and marched to Whitefield’s Mount (pictured above) where speakers included Maud Royden (see above) and Ruth Young (21).

The following day the Pilgrims marched down the A2 to another meeting in Pepys Road, New Cross before heading to the Kings Hall at Elephant and Castle (22).  On July 25 the various pilgrimages walked from various locations around central London, the Kentish Pilgrims from Trafalgar Square (23) with around 50,000 converging on Hyde Park.

Notes

  1. Common Cause – 30 December 1909
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  5. Common Cause 04 July 1913
  6. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  7. Common Cause – 25 May 1911
  8. Common Cause 17 November 1910
  9. Common Cause 22 February 1912
  10. Common Cause 18July 1913
  11. Common Cause 30 June 1910
  12. Common Cause 10 March 1910
  13. ibid
  14. Common Cause 30 December 1909
  15. Common Cause 05 October 1911
  16. Common Cause 28 March 1912
  17. Common Cause 4 July 1912
  18. Common Cause 03 October 1913
  19. Common Cause 29 May 1914
  20. From information board outside Lewisham Archives March 2018
  21. Common Cause 08 August 1913
  22. Ibid
  23. Common Cause 18 July 1913

Picture Credits