CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Surrey’s Suffragettes: Surrey women and men who fought the cause

PUBLISHED: 17:04 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:05 06 February 2018

Photo: Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Photo: Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Archant

This year marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote. We look at the women (and men) in Surrey who passionately fought the cause

Emily Davison

It was Derby Day, June 4, 1913, at Epsom Downs racecourse and the horses roared around Tattenham Corner at 35 mph before a slight figure emerged from the crowd and ran across the course, to be hit by one of those powerful beasts motoring at full-tilt. It was the King’s horse, Anmer. Four days later Emily Wilding Davison had died from her injuries.

No-one was able to establish what Davison’s precise motivation had been. Did she target the King’s horse? Had she intended to commit suicide in the most dramatic fashion? The official verdict was misadventure, her death due to “wilfully rushing on to the racecourse” and being “accidentally knocked down by a horse”. What was undeniable, however, was that a tragedy on Epsom Downs gave a movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries its most famous martyr. That movement was the Suffragettes’ fight to obtain the vote for women, a basic human right denied until the 1918 passing of the Representation of the People Act. The term Suffragette became particularly associated with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), of which Emily Davison was a WSPU member.

Emily Davison. Photo: The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois), 9 June 1913Emily Davison. Photo: The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois), 9 June 1913

Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth, who spent a lot of her life in the Frimley Green area, was a prominent member of the Woking WSPU. Ethel was a pioneer, one of the fist female composers, who wrote the music that became the WSPU battle-hymn (yes, the fight for women’s suffrage was viewed as a war by people on both sides). Smyth, who would become the first female composer awarded a damehood, was a courageous lady who sacrificed her own musical career for two years as she supported what was known as the cause, spending two months in Holloway prison for smashing the windows of opposing politicians.

Ethel Smyth. Photo: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs/WikipediaEthel Smyth. Photo: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs/Wikipedia

Millicent Fawcett

Not all campaigners avowed militancy. The Suffragists, or the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), had been around a lot longer and advocated a democratic approach through peaceful and legal methods. The NUWSS, led by Millicent Fawcett, dated to 1897, but had been created from even older groups. The cause of women’s suffrage was not some five-minute flash-in-the-pan.

In fact, the women’s suffrage movement had been active in Surrey from the 1870s. The fist meeting of campaigners within the county was allegedly held in Guildford in 1871, with speakers from the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage (which became part of the NUWSS). Croydon held meetings from 1873 and would be home to all flavours of agitators, including, later, the more militant WSPU.

Milliecent Fawcett. Photo: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs/WikipediaMilliecent Fawcett. Photo: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs/Wikipedia

Ellen Clarke and Dorinda Neligan

The NUWSS movement gathered momentum in the early years of the 20th century. Reigate was certainly active by 1906, and in conjunction with Redhill, had linked up with the NUWSS by 1909. The previous year saw some 40,000 women march on the Royal Albert hall with the ladies of Reigate and Redhill represented.

An NUWSS branch had also been established in Farnham. One of its vice-presidents would be Ellen Clarke, the headmistress of Farnham Girls’ Grammar School. The movement never had any difficulty attracting influentialsupporters. Dorinda Neligan, head of Croydon high School for Girls, was another high-profile Surrey resident supporting the movement in its early years.

Theodora Powell and Noeline Baker

Godalming’s NUWSS branch started in 1909. The following year, its secretary Theodora Powell, co-founded Guildford’s branch with New Zealander Noeline Baker, a redoubtable lady who organised stewards for a demo in Guildford in October 1910 and would be awarded the MBE for her war work. The more militant WSPU was making its presence felt in Surrey too. Redhill had a branch by 1910 and Woking in 1911.

Constance Maud

If Ethel Smyth contributed the WSPU battlehymn, Constance Maud provided what was probably its fist Suffragette novel, No Surrender, which was reviewed by Davison in census year. “It is a book which breathes the very spirit of our women’s movement,” she said. Maud was the eldest daughter of the rector of All Saints’, Sanderstead (a village in Croydon) and joined the WSPU in 1908. The church often supported the campaign, for example, the Rev Algernon Creed, vicar of Ewshot, worked with the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, attempting to bring the disparate groups together.

Emmeline Pethick and her husband Frederick Lawrence

The WSPU maintained a loyal band of influential followers, in-spite of upping the ante. Frederick Lawrence, a Labour MP, had married Emmeline Pethick in 1901, a women’s suffrage campaigner, who joined the WSPU.

Adopting the joint name Pethick-Lawrence as a sign of their equality, they maintained separate bank accounts and provided a safe haven for Suffragettes from 1906, their home in South Holmwood hosting weekly suffrage meetings for the next six years. Courageous ladies who suffered imprisonment and went on hunger-strike headed to the Pethick Lawrences for recuperation. One of the most famous visitors was Lady Constance Lytton, another WSPU authoress, who had been in Holloway in 1909 (one of four spells in prison). Whilst there she self-harmed, scarring her own body with the letter V (Votes for Women). The cost of openly supporting the WSPU was often high though: the Pethick Lawrence home was seized by bailiffs in 1912 to pay court costs following Suffragette window smashing. Frederick served a nine month prison sentence.

Emmeline Pethick Lawrence c.1910Emmeline Pethick Lawrence c.1910

Other high-profile supporters of women’s suffrage included Thomas Cecil, 2nd Baron Farrer, and his second wife Evangeline Knox, who resided in Abinger hall. Gertrude Jekyll, Surrey’s famous garden-designer and artist, supported the NUWSS and worked on banners for Guildford and Godalming branches.

Peaslake, in the Surrey hills, was another hive of Suffragette activity. Brackenside, the home of Hilda Brackenbury and daughters, Georgina and Marie, was another sanctuary for women recovering from the rigours of imprisonment and hunger-strikes. Marion Wallace Dunlop, the fist WSPU hunger-striker in 1908, also resided in Peaslake.

Ultimately, the First World War was a game-changer. The campaigners declared a truce and supported the war effort. Having been granted the right to vote in February 1918, ladies went to the polls in a UK general election for the fist time in December. It would be a further decade before ladies received the vote on equal terms with men.

Whether we criticise or condone some of the more militant methods women used to take on the Government, the establishment and the system, we cannot dispute the rightfulness of their cause. In honour of those brave Surrey ladies, and their supporters, today’s women’s electorate should vote in droves. It is the debt that is owed.

More from Surrey Life

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search