Continuing the story of the two most influential campaigners for women’s rights in late Victorian Cornwall….. What Courtney and Conybeare had in common was they were two of the strongest campaigners in the South West for the rights of women to vote. As such, both were invited to become honorary vice presidents of the South West Suffragist Society. Both were to surround themselves with strong and able women whom they treated respectfully and as close to equals as was possible in this era where good manners were based on an unequal behavior code that demanded gentlemanly courtesies.
Conybeare was a highly energetic individual, who tended to take a leading position on every campaign and wait for others to catch up with him. As such, the local press discussion of his relations with women tends to be less obvious, hidden behind descriptions of his regular enthusiasms and battles. The main themes that are noticeable were his enthusiastic welcoming of women into mass political meetings and his thanks to a member of a local women’s organisation for appearing on the platform welcoming him home from imprisonment in Ireland. This particular organisation was the White Rose Society, a women’s Methodist group that it has been said were effectively a suffrage society in Cornwall. Conybeare campaigned upon his support for the women’s cause, and when one of his sisters visited, suffrage meetings were held in his local home. Knowledge about Conybeare is however limited by a lack of personal archive material and by a near complete lack of published works.
Leonard Courtney’s involvement with a fair number of well-known female campaigners on both suffragism and other issues is better known. His sister-in-law, Beatrice Webb, was to ensure that both his letters and his wife Katherine’s diaries were to be archived at LSE, the University where he had once taught. There is also a small amount of useful published material. Leonard was considered by Joe Chamberlain (leader of the party that held Leonard's allegiance) to have thrown his career away on the cause of proportional representation and suffrage, but it is unlikely that a man that is placed such a high value on integrity and honour above party loyalty was ever entirely suited to high government role. While Joe Chamberlain was to refer to Leonard as an ass, Leonard of thought even less of Chamberlain, writing to Beatrice Webb nee Potter to warn her that should she seriously consider becoming Mrs Chamberlain she would never be able to follow her own dreams; her political and social ambitions.
The next part of this series will appear soon and will focus on Kate, the wife of Leonard Courtney
Bradley, Katherine, Friends and Visitors: A First History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Cornwall, 1870-1914, Hypatia Trust, Penzance, 2000.
G.P. Gooch, Life of Lord Courtney (Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
Webb, B, The Diary of Beatrice Webb: 1873-1892,: Glitter around and Darkness Within (Virago, 1982). Images from: Furniss, Harry, M. P.'s in Session From Mr. Punch's Parliamentary Portrait available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29560/29560-h/29560-h.htm