We have all heard of the Suffragettes, but at our March meeting Mo Cooper gave us the local angle in her talk about Women’s Suffrage In Nottingham.
In the 1860s some upper class women began a campaign for the right to vote and called themselves Suffragists. Suffrage groups were established in Nottingham, Mansfield, Southwell and Hucknall, with committees comprising both ladies and gentlemen. Some male civic leaders and members of the clergy such as the Bishops of Southwell and Nottingham were supportive of the cause, as were some MPs including Winston Churchill, and Press reports of the movement’s early meetings were favourable.
When women’s rights supporter John Stuart Mill MP presented the 1,500-name Suffrage Petition to Parliament in 1866, the petition included the signatures of 50 Nottingham ladies.
By the turn of the century further petitions had been made to Parliament to no avail. Three Private Members Bills were rejected which led to the peaceful ‘United Procession of Women’ in London in 1907 which became known as “the mud march”. In 1911, just before the coronation of King George V, the bigger “coronation procession” took place when 40,000 women marched including 3,000 from 40 Nottingham groups. Many women protested silently by boycotting the 1911 census, or defacing ballot sheets with the slogan “If women don’t count, don’t count women”.
Disappointment and frustration led to the formation of a more militant group called the Suffragettes taking more forceful action such as smashing windows and vandalising post boxes. Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and Princess Sophie Deelup Singh came to meetings in Nottinghamshire to rally the cause. These more militant meetings were beginning to receive less sympathetic press coverage, and The Nottingham Evening Post reported on a disorderly meeting with heckling by an unruly crowd resulting in the meeting being abandoned, and a mass meeting in Nottingham’s market place in July 1909 where missiles and fruit were thrown.
Amongst the more militant Nottinghamshire suffragettes was Helen Watts, daughter of the Vicar of Holy Trinity in Lenton, who was arrested outside the House of Commons and imprisoned in Holloway where she went on hunger strike and was forcefully fed, as were Nellie Crocker and Fanny Gladys Roberts, both organizers in the Nottingham office of the Women’s Social & Political Union, who had been arrested for vandalism.
In 1918 the Government granted some women the right to vote but they had to be over 30 and own property. Perhaps it was felt that some women should be granted the right to vote after many had taken up work to replace the men fighting in the war.
Many of the activists went on to hold public office such as Ethel Wainwright (Mayor of Mansfield) and Helena Dowson (Councillor and magistrate in Nottingham) and in November 1918, mine owner’s daughter Violet Markham became one of the first women to stand for Parliament as an independent liberal for Mansfield.
Finally, in 1928 all women were given the right to vote – a right so hard fought for over a period of 60 years.
Our last meeting before the summer break will be held in St. Mary’s Church, at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 17th May, when the topic will be the former East Leake Station. Visitors welcome.
Written by The East Leake & District Local History Society