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

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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

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