Fo­cus on suf­fragettes

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jane Robin­son is a writer and re­searcher cur­rently work­ing on Hearts and Minds, a ma­jor his­tory of the fight for the vote

Suf­fragettes were pre­pared to risk their rep­u­ta­tions, jobs and even their lives in pur­suit of what they called ‘ the Cause’

Noth­ing con­nects us more closely with his­tory than our own fam­ily. There’s a real thrill in search­ing in­dexes on­line or in an ar­chive and dis­cov­er­ing a name that we recog­nise, per­son­ally beck­on­ing us back into the past.

How ex­cit­ing would it be if that name not only helped to make us who we are, but rev­o­lu­tionised the way we live? Log on to the re­cently re­leased Ances­try data­base, pro­duced in as­so­ci­a­tion with The Na­tional Ar­chives, and you might find out. In Oc­to­ber, to cel­e­brate the re­lease of the film Suf­fragette, Ances­try made the de­tails of more than 1,000 in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested in the UK be­tween 1906 and 1914 avail­able at: (search.ances­try.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid= 61005). This is a list of suf­fragettes the Home Of­fice pro­vided amnesty to at the start of the First World War.

Their crime was to fight for the right of women to vote in Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Like the hero­ine of the film, they were so pas­sion­ate that they were pre­pared to risk their rep­u­ta­tions, jobs and even their lives in pur­suit of what they called ‘the Cause’. Most re­fused to pay fines, which meant they were given cus­to­dial sen­tences, sac­ri­fic­ing their phys­i­cal free­dom for a political voice we can too of­ten take for granted to­day.

This strug­gle had been go­ing on for more than 50 years (the first mass pe­ti­tion for women’s

suf­frage was pre­sented to Par­lia­ment in 1866), but it wasn’t un­til the early 1900s that cam­paign­ers be­gan to use vi­o­lence to em­pha­sise their de­mands, dra­mat­i­cally catch­ing the at­ten­tion of the pub­lic – and the po­lice. Many of them were mem­bers of the hard­line Women’s So­cial and Political Union (WSPU), led by the charis­matic Em­me­line Pankhurst and her three daugh­ters Christa­bel, Sylvia and Adela.

Im­pris­oned women

In 1906, the Daily Mail dubbed all mil­i­tant pro­test­ers ‘suf­fragettes’; that same year, three of them – An­nie Ken­ney, Jane Spar­bor­ough and Ade­laide Knight – were ar­rested in Maryle­bone and sent to Hol­loway Gaol. Th­ese were the first suf­fragettes to be im­pris­oned in Lon­don. Dur­ing the next eight years around 900 women were ar­rested, to­gether with more than 100 male sup­port­ers. Some served sin­gle terms; many were re­peat of­fend­ers and con­tin­ued their protest while in­car­cer­ated by go­ing on hunger strike or re­fus­ing to drink.

In Au­gust 1914, women’s suf­frage cam­paign­ers agreed to re­di­rect their en­er­gies from political ac­tivism to war work.

How­ever, they were still li­able to be re­ar­rested at any time un­der the terms of the no­to­ri­ous Tem­po­rary Dis­charge for Health, or ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act of 1913, whereby pris­on­ers weak­ened by hunger strike were re­leased be­fore they could starve to death, only to be im­pris­oned again as soon as they had re­cov­ered.

In re­turn for the suf­fragettes’ pledge to stop throw­ing bombs, set­ting fire to (usu­ally empty) houses, hurl­ing stones wrapped in stock­ings or con­fronting po­lice­men and politi­cians, the Home Of­fice granted them an amnesty, promis­ing not to re­ar­rest them and us­ing the data­base they had built up of of­fend­ers for ref­er­ence. It orig­i­nated as a card in­dex. In 1922, the in­for­ma­tion was copied into a ledger now held by The Na­tional Ar­chives (se­ries HO 45/24665), and re­pro­duced on the Ances­try site. It lists names, in­clud­ing aliases if known, and the dates and places

of ar­rest. Though the ma­jor­ity of pro­test­ers were con­victed in Lon­don, it is clear that mil­i­tant ac­tivism was go­ing on through­out the UK. This is far more than a direc­tory of suf­fragettes. Use it as a start­ing point for trac­ing fur­ther records of well-known names like the Pankhursts, Dr El­iz­a­beth Gar­rett t An­der­son or Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, and of the unsung g hero­ines of your own fam­ily. The e names are ar­ranged al­pha­bet­i­cally y by sur­name and the script is gen­er­ally leg­i­ble.

The date will help you to find lo­cal news­pa­pers that may well have re­ported the in­ci­dent dur­ing which an ar­rest took place. The press was only too pleased to bring th­ese sen­sa­tional l sto­ries to its read­ers’ at­ten­tion. Look on the sub­scrip­tion sites www.british­news­pa­per­ar­chive.co.uk or find­my­past. co.uk, or in ar­chives, his­tory cen­tres lo­cal to the ar­rest for th­ese re­ports.

Most ar­chives have cat­a­logues that are free to search on­line; en­ter a name and you could be sur­prised by what emerges.

Suf­fragettes may have em­bar­rassed their fam­i­lies at the time – al­though there are some ex­am­ples of whole­hearted sup­port – but fu­ture gen­er­a­tions were quick to recog­nise how coura­geous they were. Cher­ished fam­ily pa­pers of­ten found their way into pub­lic ar­chives, de­posited there as a trib­ute.

Vi­tal re­sources

Na­tional col­lec­tions are also use­ful. A name is all you need to search the Suf­frage Fel­low­ship Col­lec­tion at the Mu­seum of Lon­don ( col­lec­tions. mu­se­u­moflon­don.org.uk), which in­cludes a glo­ri­ous ar­ray of march­ing ban­ners, badges, posters and pho­to­graphs, most of which have been digi­tised. Greater Manch­ester’s suf­fragettes are ref­er­enced on the Greater Manch­ester Lives web­site ( gm­lives.org.uk). The Women’s Li­brary at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics ( bit.ly/1H0193v) holds records re­lat­ing to the WSPU and non-mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Na­tional Union of Women’s Suf­frage So­ci­eties, led by Mil­li­cent Fawcett; the Artists’ Suf­frage League; the Women’s Free­dom League and the Men’s League for Women’s Suf­frage.

Fi­nally, look at El­iz­a­beth Craw­ford’s The Women’s Suf­frage Move­ment: A Ref­er­ence Guide 1866-1928 (UCL Press, 1999), which is avail­able at larger pub­lic li­braries. It’s a rich source of con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion about in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in this great en­ter­prise, whose courage is well known but whose names – un­til now – have re­mained hid­den.

Above: Uni­formed suf­fragettes demon­strate in Lon­don in 1906

A march of the Na­tional Union of Women’s Suf­frage So­ci­eties in 1908

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