Getting women's history out of the ghetto

Our review of an important volume of essays on the impact of the Suffrage Movement on British politics after 1918 has just come out in the Institute of Historical Research's Reviews in History. One of the editors Julie Gottlieb had the opportunity to respond and we're really exciting about the opportunity to get new women's history back on the mainstream agenda in time for the 2018 centenary of the Representation of the People Act and 90 years since the universal women's franchise was granted.

Should we be returning to women's history and is there scope for getting women's history "out of the ghetto" and into the mainstream? Both reviewer and author ponder this question.

Read the review and the response.

The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender, and Politics in Britain, 1918-1945 edited by: Julie Gottlieb, Richard Toye Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, ISBN: 9781137015341; 268pp.; Price: £19.99.

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Courtney and Conybeare: Women's suffrage campaigns in Cornwall part 1

Leonard_Courtney

Eleanor Tench, Cornish historian, on the politics of two Cornish politicians and their views on women's suffrage. 

The Third Reform Act of 1884 was a watershed event in British politics that got a large proportion of the working class men the vote. Although when Gladstone pushed for reform, he was told that the working classes, particularly in London, would likely vote Tory, he followed the Liberal shibboleth of ‘trust the people'. A proportion of MPs wanted to go further. Not only to enfranchise the rest of the working class men, but to also enfranchise women.

Two of the strongest supporters of women’s rights in parliament were representatives of Cornish constituencies, Leonard Courtney and C.A.V. Conybeare.

Leonard Courtney

He believed that parliament should avoid legislating on any major issues until after those had been achieved, because only then, could the true will of the people be known.

Courtney was from a Penzance family, middle class, but not hugely well off. His father worked for Bolitho’s bank, where Leonard also worked while waiting for a place at university. Leonard was to become a barrister, a statistician and later a professor of politics at LSE, there are rumours that the quote, ‘there are lies, dammed lies and statistics’ can be originally attributed to him.

Although he was generally Whiggish in his politics, he was, like many of his contemporaries, radical in one area. As a disciple of John Stuart Mill, he promoted Universal adulthood suffrage and proportional representation. He believed that parliament should avoid legislating on any major issues until after those had been achieved, because only then, could the true will of the people be known.

C.A.V. Conybeare

The rights of women were always going to be one of his major platforms.

On the other hand, Conybeare never met a cause he wouldn’t campaign for. An exceedingly energetic and intelligent man, he had inherited enough family wealth to ensure working was not a necessity for him.

As such, he became a campaigning barrister, and even before he stood for parliament, he was known as a troublemaker. His 1885 election campaign in Camborne  against the Whig incumbent Arthur Pendarves Vivian caused ructions throughout Cornwall.

He was unable to resist a cause, anything from mining reform, suffrage reform, Irish land rights and independence, to the gating of local common land. The rights of women were always going to be one of his major platforms.

One of his publications was on the need for and the effect of the Married Women’s Property Act, that gave women the right to hold their own property after marriage. When he married a women’s suffrage campaigner, he was to gift her half of his inherited estate, an almost unheard of act during this era.

More to follow…

Further reading

Bradley, Katherine, Friends and Visitors: A First History of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Cornwall, 1870-1914, Hypatia Trust, Penzance, 2000.

Deacon, B. Conybeare For Ever, in Knight, T., Old Redruth: Original studies of the town's history. Redruth Old Cornwall Society, Redruth, 1992.

Votes for women in Cornwall

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

To join the commemoration and celebration of the Women's Suffrage movement, particularly the centenary of the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913, we are publishing a series of articles on the women's suffrage movement in Cornwall.

Starting with this retrospective, based on The Cornishman newspaper's archives, we will then be hosting guest posts from historians about the impact of this movement on Cornish politics and culture.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s.

This is a slightly extended version of an article I wrote for The Cornishman which came out today [Errata: The Cornishman mis-edited my original article suggesting that the Suffrage Pilgrimage as being organised by the Suffragettes. Correction sought. Ed.] It also highlights the work of other projects, notably Dreadnought South West's play, Oxygen and the forthcoming social history exhibition at Penlee House, which are marking this momentous event which changed the lives of tens of thousands of women.

The first thing to note is that although the Suffragettes have remained in popular consciousness as the face of Votes for Women, there were in fact two movements campaigning for broadening the franchise (i.e. reforming the law so all women could have the vote) and other issues of social justice such as child poverty, poor working conditions and bonded white labour (slavery).

The Great Suffrage Pilgrimage was initiated by the Suffragists who prided themselves on their peaceful tactics: rallies, marches and petitions. Millicent Fawcett was the face of the Suffragists and their colours were red, green and white.

The Suffragettes who came to be known through names such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison (who died tragically at on Derby Day 1913) took direct action. Their cause was to  use drastic measures to draw attention to the appalling injustice that allowed the law to be based on the decisions of men only. Their colours were purple, green and white.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

In the 19 June 1913 edition of The Cornishman, sandwiched between a report on the output of black tin from Botallack Stamps and a physician’s advice about curing indigestion, was a short notice headlined MRS. PANKHURST RELEASED.

Emmeline Pankhurst was a Suffragette leader and had been on hunger strike, enduring the torture of force-feeding, while incarcerated at Holloway Prison for conspiracy to commit property damage. Emily Davison had also tragically lost her life while trying to pin Suffragette colours to the King’s horse at the Epson Derby barely a week before.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s. Cornish activists enjoyed widespread support, from the dominant Liberal political class and influential religious groups such as Quakers headed by families such as the Foxes of Falmouth.

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs"

Newspaper extract from  The Cornishman,  21 June 1913.

Newspaper extract from The Cornishman, 21 June 1913.

The tragedies of Pankhurst’s treatment and Davison’s death rallied peaceful Suffragists into action and on Thursday 19 June an amazing thing happened. Seven women gathered at Land’s End to start the Suffrage Pilgrimage, a gruelling march through Cornwall and up country to London. The Cornishman reported:

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs; but surely, when it is realised that not one of the marchers has been guilty of breaking the law or inciting others to break the law, they will be treated with as much respect as would be a procession of Oddfellows or Freemasons.”

Scenes at Penzance

“This little band of zealots comprised Miss Misick (organising secretary), Mrs. Ramsay (Plymouth), Miss Raby (Exeter), and Miss Helen Fraser (London). Mrs. Robins Bolitho, who is actively interested in the non-militant movement, gave the party a hearty send-off, whilst a number of men who had assembled raised a cheer. Along the route to Penzance literature was left at the houses, and the idea of the movement explained.”

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

The march came to Penzance and paused at Trereife crossroads. The report continued, “Quite a crowd of people had assembled to witness the junction, and the numbers were constantly added to as the procession neared Penzance. Being market day, the processionists did not parade the main streets, but simply marched up Clarence-street and dispersed at the Pig Market.”

A rally led by Fraser took place on a makeshift stage in the Pig Market where a large crowd gathered, including the “hobble-de-hoy.” Fraser’s eloquence was complemented by the reporter, “few orators of the masculine gender could have held and swayed an audience in the open air as did Miss Fraser.” A scuffle broke out after her rousing speech as she had apparently been kicked in the ankle. The leaders had to be escorted by police to a safe-house on Clarence Street.

“…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

The march resumed on the Friday morning from Clarence Street, “up Alverton, through the Green Market, and on their way to the station, on the second stage of their long, self-imposed tramp to London.”

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Invoking the last great march of Cornish people to London in 1497, the report ends, “…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women in 1928.

A small number of women were finally given the vote after World War 1 in 1918 as part of the Representation of the People Act. About 8.4 million enfranchised women (related to status and property holding) over the age of 30 voted.

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women over the age of 21 in 1928. That was a full 15 years after the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage and the height of Suffragette action.

Further reading

Katherine Bradley, Friends and Visitors: a History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Cornwall 1870-1914 (2000, The Hypatia Trust). Available from the Hypatia Trust Online Bookstore. £5.