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.

Oxygen. Celebrating women's voices

Imagine that fifteen women gather. They have a conversation that maps eight geographic arteries across England and Wales, like points on a compass. These arteries reach out towards a singular destination like roots forming a tree. The destination is Hyde Park. At Land’s End, a group of women start putting one foot in front of the other. For them there is no going back.

It’s June 1913 and the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage begins.

Oxygen by Dreadnought South West

Tomorrow, on 19 June, an amazing thing will happen. In the footsteps of our female ancestors, Dreadnought South West will perform Oxygen, a brand new play by Natalie McGrath, along an historic route from Land's End to Hyde Park exactly 100 years after the greatest march from Land's End to London since 1497.

An episode will be symbolically performed at Land's End before the first full performance will take place in the Plen-an-Gwarry in St Just. Oxygen runs for 90 minutes with 21 episodes. The full-length play will be performed at venues along the route, with episodes taking place at various points in public, non-theatre spaces as trailers for the full production.

View the itinerary and book tickets.

The play focuses on two sisters, and what happens to their relationship when one of them decides to take the militant path and the other chooses to participate in the peaceful pilgrimage. An ensemble piece that will be infused with the real stories and experiences of those who took part in the march, the play will also feature music composed by Claire Ingleheart, who has worked with Wildworks Theatre and Kneehigh.

Dreadnought South West is a new organisation that works with arts and heritage to champion women’s voices and stories. As the play tours from Land’s End to London, retracing the steps and thoughts of 100 years ago, it will be accompanied by a series of responding events, discussions and land journeys that celebrate the courage of those who participated in the pilgrimage, and questions how women’s lives have changed since 1913.

Oxygen & Dreadnought SW Media Pack

The Hypatia Trust has been a supporter of Dreadnought South West since its inception. Natalie McGrath, the playwright, was a Hypatia Resident Scholar last summer. We are delighted to be supporting Dreadnought South West.

History, drama and entertainment rolled into one.

As a tribute we have donated copies of Katherine Bradley's classic study on the Suffrage movement in Cornwall, published by the Hypatia Trust, to be sold to benefit their further work.

You should be able to buy a copy at one of the performances so what are you waiting for! History, drama and entertainment rolled into one.

Keep a lookout here for our guest historian, Eleanor Tench, who will be publishing a series of short articles on women and the vote and politics in Cornwall.

Land's End to London, 1913 (credit: Jill Morison)

The Pilgrimage through Cornwall

You can book tickets from the Hall for Cornwall box office or risk buying at the door.

Date Ticket Prices Full/ Episode Time Venue Address Normal Box Office
Wed 19/06/2013 FREE Launch/ Episode 12pm Land’s End Custom HouseLand's End

Sennen

TR19 7AA

Unticketed EventPlease make your way to the Custom House for 12pm to witness the launch of this amazing journey and to see several episodes from the play Oxygen performed.

Parking: For free parking at Lands End please visit

http://www.landsend-landmark.co.uk

and claim your 'Locals Pass'

An informal walk is scheduled to take place after the launch from Lands End to St Just.  This event is not being organised by DSWA and we would advise that you take part at your own risk.

*Please remember this is an outdoor event, please dress accordingly

Wed 19/06/2013 £10/£7 Play 6.30pm Plain-an-Gwarry St Just Cornwall

TR19 7HU

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

*Please remember this is an outdoor event, please dress accordingly and bring a rug to sit on

Thu 20/06/2013 £12/£8 Play 8pm The  Acorn Parade StreetPenzance

TR18 4BU

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

Fri 21/06/2013 £10/£8 Play 7.30pm The Tolmen Centre Fore StreetConstantine

TR11 5AA

http://constantinecornwall.com01326 341353

tolmen@constantinecornwall.com

Sat 22/06/2013 FREE Episode 11.30am Lemon Quay Lemon QuayTruro

TR1 2LW

Unticketed EventPlease make your way to Lemon Quay for 11.30am to see several episodes of the play Oxygen performed
Sat 22/06/2013 £10/£8/£6 Play 7pm Sterts Theatre LiskeardPL14 5AZ http://www.sterts.co.uk01579 362382 or 01579 362962
Sun 23/06/2013 £12/£8/£6 (children) Play 2.30pm Heartlands Robinson's ShaftDundance Lane

Redruth

TR15 3QY

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

&

http://www.heartlandscornwall.com

01209 722320

Tue25/06/2013 FREE Episodes 4pm Mount Folly BodminPL31 2DQ Unticketed EventPlease make your way to Mount Folly for 4pm to see episodes from the play Oxygen performed.
Tue 25/06/2013 £12/£8 Play 7.30pm Shire Hall Mount FollyBodmin

PL31 2DQ

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

Thu 27/06/2013 FREE Episode / Boundary Crossing Noon St Germans / Plymouth Saltash / Plymouth Unticketed EventDetails to follow