MY FAMILY HERO
Readers reveal a gem from their family tree Ann-Louise Jones’ great great aunt Eva Woodthorpe suffered physical abuse as she campaigned for women’s rights
Ann-Louise Jones’ great great aunt Eva Woodthorpe was a brave suffragette
On 27 February 1913, the Nottingham Evening Post ran an article entitled ‘ Two Women Injured’, which reported: “Four suffragists were roughly handled at Leigh-on-Sea yesterday when they attempted to hold a sandwich board parade. A large crowd had gathered, and, raising the cry ‘We’ll have no suffragettes in Leigh’, they took away the women’s boards and handbills. Two of the women, Mrs Sky and Miss Woodthorpe, were struck and injured, and their hats torn off.”
The article highlights just what was at stake for women campaigning for the right to vote in the early years of the last century – a cause that has long fascinated Ann-Louise Jones whose great great aunt, Eva Woodthorpe, was one of the two brave women injured in that scuffle more than 100 years ago. Eva was born in 1867 to Lewis and Jane Woodthorpe – one of 14 children. She enjoyed a happy childhood and described her family home as having a “brooding peace”.
Eva was keenly interested in politics from a young age and canvassed for the local Conservative Party candidate. But no matter how hard she campaigned, she was still unable to cast a vote for any candidate – that remained strictly men’s business – and this injustice must have ultimately inspired her to take action. When Ann-Louise was growing up, her maternal grandmother would tell stories about how great great aunt Eva had chained herself to railings, and was even injured and imprisoned while campaigning for women’s suffrage; a struggle she was proud to have been involved in.
Southend Police Court records report that in 1902, Eva and another woman were summonsed for obstructing the footway in Alexandra Street in Southend, by wheeling their cycles on the path. They were fined five shillings each – it’s an event Ann-Louise is convinced must have been some kind of protest in support of the cause.
In 1913, Eva became treasurer of campaigning group, the Women’s Social and Political Union. Like the rest of her generation, Eva’s life was turned upside down a year later with the outbreak of the First World War, but she faced the challenges of life on the home front with the same bravery and stoicism that she applied to her politics.
On 12 May 1915, Eva wrote to her niece, May Blomefield: “Now I am sure you will like to hear of our adventure on Monday morning about 2.45am. Grannie woke me up saying, ‘Eve, there is a loud explosion!’ and then there was another one. The alarm hooter was sounded and we knew then enemy aircraft were about and all lights have to be put out and we have to go down to the basement. So we all fumbled about for a few things and came downstairs. I put Grannie in a blanket and eiderdown, then we heard the whirl-whirl of a Zeppelin, which flew over this house, having previously dropped bombs on Marine Parade, near Gasworks 5 in a field and one in a road a short distance from here, the bombs dropping on the tops of homes then passing right through from floor to floor, setting the places in flames.
“By this time, nearly all were up and many out of doors; Constable, Red Cross ambulance and civic guards, motor cars and cyclists were all hurrying to the scenes of the different disasters and fires which were all blazing almost simultaneously as the two Zeppelins did their dastardly work within about half an hour.
“One poor woman was burnt to death – the bomb fell upon the bed where she was asleep and her husband is also burnt and in great agony in the hospital.”
Ann-Lousie is hugely proud of her great great aunt’s bravery: “Though Eva was loved and highly respected by those who knew her, as an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union she would have been subjected to much disapproval.
“Public opinion of militant suffragettes was generally unsupportive and often hostile. They were considered a threat to society, destabilising the ‘natural order’ where women were subordinate. Their behaviour was seen as completely unacceptable; shocking and deranged.
“I have the greatest respect and admiration for Eva as well as her fellow campaigners for all that they suffered – fighting for women’s rights, against powerful and sustained opposition.” Matt Ford
Public opinion of militant suffragettes was generally unsupportive and often hostile
Top: Eva Woodthorpe; Inset: The NottinghamNotti Evening
Post report about her protest in Leigh- on-Sea, Essex