Blackheath’s vital suffrage role

Written By Amy Calvert

There’s not many places in the UK that have been the location of so many significant historical events as Blackheath has. Wat Tyler’s peasants’ revolt in 1381 came to Blackheath before it’s defeat in the capital, Henry VII’s men squashed the 1497 Cornish rebellion there and fun-loving Charles II greeted his new citizens upon the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Historically Blackheath seems to have a reputation of protest and triumph; the suffrage movement undoubtedly upheld its traditional reputation.

Blackheath the meeting place

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Modern day Blackheath. (Photo courtesy of Google images) click here

Perhaps suffrage leaders were drawn to meet in Blackheath due to its history of defiance and change because the location proved a popular place for suffrage meetings over the decades. Lucky for us, many newspapers across the period advertised and documented the content of these progressive meetings.

As early as 1877, publications such as the Man of Ross, and General Advertiser made its viewers aware of a Blackheath suffrage meeting, with the famous Helen Taylor in attendance. M.P Leonard Courtney (give him a google – what a forward thinking individual) supposedly said ‘interest in politics would have a beneficial effect on women(1)’ The meeting ended in Courtney signing a petition to Parliament, but as we all know, women would not be enfranchised until 1918, sadly. Another early bird to publicise Blackheath suffrage meetings was The Kentish Mercury; in 1879, the paper advertised that at Alexandra Hall, Blackheath there will be a meeting organised by the National Society of Women’s Suffrage on the topic ‘Political Disabilities of Women Householders(2)’

The suffragette magazine ‘Common Cause’ spoke positively of the Blackheath suffrage meetings, unsurprisingly as the publication was designed to support the suffragette movement. Still, these articles highlight that Blackheath was an fundamental location for the suffragette writers of the Common Cause. Below is an extract from a 1913 social evening:

A successful social evening was held in Blackheath Press Chambers on March 13th by the local Branch, when Mr. S. Lambert presided. The principal speakers were Mrs. Okey, who devoted her attention to the economic condition of women and Mr. Crawford, who gave a number of cogent reasons why the cause of Women’s Suffrage should be supported. The resolution was carried(3)”

Three Famous Female Blackheathians

Emily Wilding Davison

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Emily Wilding Davison was also known as ‘Pem’ as signed on this photo (Courtesy of the LSE library) click here

Emily Wilding Davison was born in Blackheath in 1872 and is famous for her tragic death at the Epsom racecourse in 1913, where she jumped in front of the King’s horse, which many believe to be an act of protest in support of female enfranchisement. The suffragettes martyred her death. ‘It is only men and women of superhuman generosity and courage who can die for those unseen, unheard, unknown. This is what Emily Wilding Davison has done(4)’ Non-suffragette papers paid their respects too, for example the Eastbourne Gazette poured its support for Davison and her cause ‘Emily Wilding Davison knew that thousand sof women in this country are the victims of sport, of the greed and passion of men(5)’ Davison’s funeral was written about in every paper and people lined the streets to mourn for her.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

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Millicent Garrett Fawcett campaigning (courtesy of LSE library) click here

Born in Suffolk, Millicent Fawcett’s connection to the local area began with her education in Blackheath. On finishing her education, she went to see John Stuart Mill give a speech on the need for women’s suffrage and equal rights. She became quickly inspired by Stuart Mill and got involved in his suffrage campaign by collecting signatures at the age of 19. Stuart Mill would later praise Fawcett and her husband for championing women’s suffrage “The cause of women’s suffrage has no more active, judicious and useful friends than Mr and Mrs Henry Fawcett”. Fighting for women’s suffrage peacefully was a huge part of Millicent Fawcett’s life; she was president of the largest suffrage society of its time, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) from 1907-1919. Fawcett was also a major player in negotiating the all important Representation of the People Act in 1918, which gave some women the vote for the first time. Millicent Garrett Fawcett is the first woman commemorated as a statue in Parliament square.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

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Portrait of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, 1866 (Courtesy of the LSE library) click here

The first female doctor in England is the title hard earned by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the sister of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, these sisters were both determined to strive for gender equality at all costs and Anderson was also educated in Blackheath.  Anderson was consistently rejected from medical schools purely because of her gender, despite her academic excellence. When the doors of the world of medicine were shut in her face constantly, she turned to nursing at the Middlesex Hospital and frustratingly she was barred due to complaints from her male colleagues, again because of her gender. Garrett Anderson’s even taught herself French, trained as a doctor in France (where it was legal for women) and was still denied a place on the British medical register when she returned. Finally in 1876, due to relentless campaigning by Garrett Anderson and her supporters, it became legal to be a female doctor at long last. The London School of Medicine for women appropriately appointed Anderson as its Dean in 1883 and she also became the first female Mayor in Adleburgh, Suffolk in 1908.

Blackheath’s suffrage history is fascinating; from the 1870s-1910s suffrage campaigners met to discuss progress and further ideas. The area educated the first female doctor, the force behind he suffragist movement and was birthplace to a suffrage martyr. Not bad for Greenwich, eh?

 

Bibliography:

  1. Thursday 22nd of March, Man of Ross, and General Advertiser, British Newspaper Archive  
  2.  Saturday 1st March 1879, Kentish Mercury, British Newspaper Archive
  3. Friday 28th March 1913,Common Cause, British Newspaper Archive
  4. Friday 13th June 1913, The Suffragette, British Newspaper Archive
  5. Wednesday 18th June 1913, Eastbourne Gazette, British Newspaper Archive

A Role Model of a Blackheath Headteacher

Written By Lynne Dixon

Imagine having a headteacher that leaves leaflets of a political nature around the school!  This seems to be what Miss Gadesden of Blackheath High did as she spread her views on women’s suffrage.

Miss F. Gadesden – Florence Marie Armroid Gadsden (the original spelling of her name), born in Paris in 1853 – became headteacher of Blackheath Girls High School in 1866 at the age of thirty two.  Educated at an Anglican boarding school she had gone on to pass the exams allowing her to attend Girton College in 1880.   She was an active member of the college: conductor of the Choral Society, organist, champion tennis player, and co-founder of the Girton Review.  She read history, and gained a 2.1 in 1883. 

Her first appointment was to Oxford High School and during her brief time there she showed her energy and commitment to education in helping to form the Assistant Mistresses’ Association in 1884. She was rapidly made its honorary secretary. Within a few months she had risen from the rank of assistant to that of headmistress when she was recruited as ‘a suitable, discreet and sufficiently learned person‘ to launch a new high school for girls being opened in Leamington Spa. In her two years there (1884–6) she established Leamington High School on a sound footing; one former pupil described her as ‘most engaging, attractive, electrifying‘, and she was remembered by another as ‘holding the alto part in a strong firm voice against our girlish trebles‘ (Parry, 12).

Headmistress Gadesden

Just three years later she was chosen to be the second headteacher at Blackheath High which had been established six years previously in purpose built premises in Wemyss Road in the heart of Blackheath village and was at the time the largest school of the Girls Public Day School Company. 

The girls there studied a curriculum of English, Mathematics, French, Latin, Art, Needlework and ‘Nature Study’.  During her period at the school Miss Gadesden placed a lot of emphasis on sports which she believed were essential to both mental and physical health and which trained the girls to manage themselves and others.

In keeping with the strong feminist ethos of the school, Miss Gadesden and her staff were in strong sympathy with the suffrage movement. Staff members, ex-pupils and Miss Gadesden supported the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.

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Headteacher Gadesden

Her involvement with the suffrage movement included aspects related both to education as well as to the wider movement.   She had continued as a keen member of the Association of Head Mistresses (AHM) and as its president from 1905 to 1907 she backed a resolution demanding women’s suffrage in terms which avoided support for militancy for she was opposed to the use of violence.  In 1909 she was lobbying for women school inspectors.

Gadesden’s suffrage efforts in Blackheath and beyond

She was also involved in the suffrage movement locally.  Between 1892 and 1894 there was a reading room at 5 Blackheath Village – 5 Lee Road or 3 Beaconsfield Buildings – of which she was a part of.  Miss E. M. Theobald, later was its hon. secretary.  Later it became a propaganda shop for the Blackheath branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage of which Miss Theobald was also secretary.  Miss Gadesden also held meetings at her house – 3 Orchard Rd – including one in November 1910 at which Mrs Fawcett spoke.  Other events were for fund raising for the suffrage movement.  At 7 Blackheath Village – then ‘Jobbins’ tea room – branch meetings were held.  It was used amongst other things for ‘At Homes’.  On 17th March 1910 Mrs Robie Uniacke spoke there ‘and delighted us all with the charming, and at the same time, clear, way in which she put the point for Women’s Suffrage before us.  Some new members joined our branch’.  The shop sold copies of ‘The English woman’, ‘The Common Cause’ (which supported the NUWSS) and copies of Lady McLaren’s Charter of Rights and Liberties which was presented to Parliament by her husband in the following year.  Interestingly, the other end of the village, 72 Blackheath Vale was actually used by the suffragettes (WSPU) for three months in 1909. It was used for propaganda, fundraising and committee rooms! 

In 1909 Florence Gadesden lead a petition – referred to as a Memorial – to the Prime Minister on behalf of secondary headmistresses of public schools in support of the Parliamentary franchise for ‘suitably qualified women’.  Four years later she put her name to a further Memorial alongside Emily Davies, Philippa Fawcett, Dr Garrett Anderson and Mrs Sydney Webb.

Gadesden’s Impact within the Borough

During the First World War she did voluntary work for the Red Cross and in a canteen for munition workers; as treasurer of the Girls’ Patriotic Union she helped to co-ordinate the voluntary work of schoolgirls, to which Blackheath pupils made a substantial contribution.

Miss Gadesden continued at Blackheath High School until 1919 when she retired to Gresham in Norfolk where she fully involved herself in local activities as well as keeping an involvement with the old girls association.  She died in May 1934.

Miss Gadesden was without doubt highly regarded by those associated with the school and in 1911 a special presentation had been made to her by parents, old girls, staff and private friends:

Dear Miss Gadsden (sic), it is felt that your services as Head Mistress of Blackheath High School have been of so marked and permanent a character that some grateful recognition of them is most fitting…..some proof of our appreciation of what you have done, not only for Blackheath High School, but for secondary education throughout the country.

Her values and ideals are clearly revealed in the some of her own words on the last occasion of her speaking to the school: “You especially who are leaving will keep, I am sure, the memory of what the school has tried to do for you; and in whatever you may be called to do, you will remember that work must be efficient, that Service must be rendered and that personal goodness must be sought and treasured.  You will have your ideals and you will be faithful to them.” 

Florence Gadesden was surely a woman who was faithful to her ideals.  Here was a person strong in her convictions, energetic in her support for her chosen cause and committed to the education of the young women in her charge.

Bibliography (in order of appearances):

Blackheath Guide and District Advertiser, 23rd Dec 1911

Common Cause 31st Mar 1910

Common Cause 9th June 1910

Common Cause 24th Jan 1913

Kentish Mercury 21st oct 1892

Kentish Mercury 29th April 1910

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on line

The Book of the Blackheath High School, M.C. Malim and H.C. Escreet (eds), 1927

The Jubilee Book of the Girls Public Day School Trust 1873 – 1923

Votes for women 12th March 1919

Image from ‘The Book of Blackheath High School’, Malim and Escreet, 1927

Elizabeth Crooks, Herstory

Written By Lynne Dixon, June 2018

Will Crooks, the popular Labour MP for Woolwich in the early 1900s, notably has a high profile in history, but finding out about the wife of a well known man like Crooks presents difficulties. Why?

Wives manage to be hidden behind their husbands, not only in public life but also in the resources that reveal those hidden lives.  It seems especially true when trying to get around the algorithms giving access to electronically available material.  Some basic information about Elizabeth Crooks’ life can be found, and there are occasional glimpses of her linked to the public life of her husband, but beyond that, finding further information is not so easy.  Nothing daunted, I have eventually pieced together more about Elizabeth, which splashes some colour to her relatively shadowy figure.

Discovering Elizabeth Coulter

I first came across the name of Mrs Will Crooks on a committee membership list of the First World War period, but had no particular interest in ‘Mrs Will Crooks’ not being acquainted with the significance of the Crooks’ local legacy.  Much later the connection dawned on me and it was a small but significant ‘eureka’ moment.

Let me introduce you to the focus figure of this blog post; Elizabeth Coulter had been a lodger in the home of Will Crooks’ mother.  Already a widow, she is shown in the 1891 census as a ‘night lunatic attendant’.  Will’s first wife had died in 1892 leaving him with 6 children, and Elizabeth’s husband had died in 1890.  She and Will married in 1893.

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Mr and Mrs Will Crooks. Click here

Perhaps in those first years she was mainly occupied in caring for the children and looking after their home, experiences which gave her tremendous empathy for other wives in similar situations.  In 1901 she headed a deputation of the wives of the unemployed in the East End to Mr Balfour and then came a second march to the King in October 1905.  In talking about her involvement in this second march, her comments reveal how her own commitment to helping the poor started, and also her own reluctance to be involved in public life on her own account:

That is why I have tried to help the march of the women…..The stories that I am told at my door every night would break your heart.

“I have never intended to do anything in public life myself.  I have always felt my duty was at home; and I thought it would be enough for me to attend to the home and look after all Will’s little wants.

“But now they look to me to do more; and I feel I must do whatever I can, little as it may be.  Public life, though, is not for me. That is Will’s work.  If I studied my own inclinations I should be always in the midst of my home.  But the misery of the poor people stirs the heart; you feel you must do something; and I am thankful that, little as I have done, I have been encouraged by hundreds of kind letters urging me to continue in the good work.

“So there is it. I am going on. I shall march at the head of the women’s procession ….. ” (London Daily News 11th October 1905)

Elizabeth’s identification with the loneliness of the wives of the poor 

Women feel the hardships of unemployment more than men.  After all the man has his pals to see and talk with, and sometimes gets a bit of bread and cheese or a glass of beer. But there is no such comfort for the poor woman.  She has to stay at home day after day, with, perhaps, three or four hungry children, at her wits’-end to keep starvation from the door, while her husband searches vainly for work.” (Daily Telegraph and Courier, 4th November 1905)

By this time Elizabeth was well known locally for her involvement in the Poplar community including her time as the first Labour Mayoress in 1901, a tremendous achievement.

Mrs Crooks has done an immense amount of good by personal service – nursing the children, ministering to the sick, and cheering up the sad and sorrowful….. perhaps Mr Crooks was thinking of his wife when he declared that “the President of the Local Government Board ought to be a woman; then reforms would come more quickly.” (Framlingham Daily News, 16th October 1909.)

Putting together the puzzle

This was the time at which she and her husband undertook a much publicised tour of the Empire taking in Canada and Australia and which was widely covered in newspapers of those countries.

I have no doubt that Elizabeth was active in many ways during the First World War and amongst these wartime responsibilities she seems to have developed an interest in how to ease the daily chores of women.  There are innumerable adverts for the Commercial Gas Company in which Mrs Crooks’ is promoting the use of gas in cooking.  The earliest ones are in 1914:

The advert is headed ‘Letter received from Mrs Crooks wife of Mr W.M.CROOKS, M.P.’

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Elizabeth Crooks’ Commercial Gas Company advertisement

Dear Sir,

I should be glad if you will oblige me by putting my Gas Stove back.  I find the Electric Cooking Stove is not so good as the Gas Stove for Cooking. Please let me know so that I can have the present Electric Stove Removed.  Yours Faithfully, ELIZABETH CROOKS

Post War Elizabeth

Then in January 1918 a brief piece in The Vote refers to her joining the Consumers’ Council of the Ministry Food representing the ‘unorganised consumer’.  The Council was set up in 1918 to enlist the cooperation of the organised working classes and the Cooperative movement, functioning partly independently of the Ministry of Food.

Not long after in 1919, she was listed as a member of the Sub Committee of the Women’s Section of The Garden City and Town Planning Association.  The committee was investigating labour saving devices for women’s use in the home.  Although these are tiny glimpses into the window of Mrs Crooks’ life, perhaps we can surmise that now Elizabeth had entered public life on her own account. Her thoughts on the lives of women have also moved on and we can see the start of later feminist ideas about sharing responsibilities

“At present the average married woman’s working day is a flagrant contradiction of all trade-union ideals …….. If her husband’s hours are reduced to eight, well that gives her a chance, doesn’t it? The home and the children are, after all, as much his as hers.  I suggest they take it turn and turn about – one night he goes out and she looks after the house and the children; the next night she goes out and he takes charge of things at home.  She can sometimes go to the cinema, sometimes call on friends. (Daily Chronicle, 17th February 1919)

In 1921 Will Crooks died and I lose sight of her for a while before her second marriage to a family friend, William Adamson in 1927.

Elizabeth Crooks died in 1932 and is buried with Will in the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery.  However, although there is a fine memorial stone to Will, there is not even a simple headstone for Elizabeth.  And much to my disappointment I have yet to find some traces of her public profile in our borough.  Even so, I feel she is worthy of our attention if only for the support she gave to her husband and perhaps one day evidence will emerge of activity in Woolwich.  

I feel there is so much more to find out about her, so why don’t you try and delve into Herstory yourself?

Suffrage Showcases: John Stuart Mill

Of course! Men, too played a huge role in fighting for gender equality and suffrage. We can’t assume that every man in Britain was misogynistic and ignorant of women’s struggles, because many were just as passionate about ‘the cause’ as Fawcett and the Pankhurst’s. John Stuart Mill was a huge equality player that paved the way for suffragettes and suffragists alike in the 1900s. His connection to the royal borough? He resided at 113 Blackheath Park for 20 years!

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Women’s Freedom League endorsing JSM. click here

The ‘Radical’ John Stuart Mill

Advocacy for women’s rights in 2018 is hardly seen as ‘radical’ in the UK, but progressive and necessary. However in the 1860s, when he became an MP, John Stuart Mill was criticised and condemned for his ‘radical’ views on women’s rights. The Dunfermline Saturday Press discussed JSM’s recent petition campaign in which 1550 women signed. However, the paper ended up rejecting Stuart Mill’s feminist ideals stating that women would be much better off in the home ‘we would confine them [women] to that place where in reality they are strongest, conserve that influence which they exert as the sweeteners and pacifiers of domestic life‘. JSM was dynamic, his views on equality was hardly matching with the times; women had no vote, few rights and yet he, in combination with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill and step-daughter Helen Taylor.

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Harriet Taylor Mill, wife of JSM. click here

John Stuart Mill; the celebrity?

Newspapers from around Great Britain throughout JSM’s life documented his speeches, criticised him and praised him; this media presence only suggests that Stuart Mill was a person of public interest. Why was this? Could it be because of his MP status? Or possibly his feminist views? Let’s overlook short segments displaying the contrast in the media’s perception of JSM throughout his life:

  • The Morning Advertiser in 1871 seemed to simply document JSM’s support for women as they presented details of his speech at a women’s suffrage event in Edinburgh. Would you say they are effectively endorsing JSM? These are his words: “How too, could a woman have a conscience about the public good if she was told and believed that it was no business whatever of hers? Give women the same rights as men, and the same obligations would follow[2]”
  • The Dunfermline Saturday Press praising Mill during his time as an MP “Mr Mill is in many respects a valuable accession to the House of Commons. Long known as a profound thinker on political and philosophical problems, his entrance on a career of practical statesmanship has been hailed with satisfaction by men of all parties[3]”
  • On the death of JSM, the Stonehaven Journal declared that it was Mill’s writings and philosophy that made him memorable “It is as an author and Political Economist that Mr Mill is best known. He occupied the post of editor of the London and Westminster Review for a considerable time”[4]

We could all write a book on John Stuart Mill and his influence on modern day feminism and the work of gender equality campaigners a century ago. I hope this short blog gives you a little sneak peak into JSM’s life, so that you may be inspired to do your own research!

[1] 1860s, Dunfermline Saturday Press, British Newspaper Archive

[2] Friday 13th January 1871, Page 3. Morning Advertiser, British Newspaper Archive

[3] Saturday 16th June 1866, Dunfermline Saturday Press, British Newspaper Archive

[4] Thursday 15th May 1873, Stonehaven Journal, British Newspaper Archive

Woolwich’s Suffrage Story

Written by Amy Calvert

Woolwich has more than earned its place on the suffrage map. The London district has a rich, interesting and entertaining history (in some instances!) when it comes to suffrage within the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Woolwich’s involvement in issues surrounding female enfranchisement was regularly documented in the London Newspapers.

Woolwich non-believer gets a chance to speak at Labour Party conference

One of the more comedic parts of Woolwich’s suffrage history was by someone who opposed the movement, in a very public way… It was 1907; the Labour Party’s conference in Belfast, A.K.A Mr H. S. Wishart’s (representing the Woolwich Trades and Labour Council) big moment to announce in front of the attendees of the conference, that Labour supported adult suffrage for all sexes. There was only one problem that threatened Wishart’s cause; he did not believe in female enfranchisement…

The Kentish Independent reported that:

“Mr Wishart’s speech was not very convincing . He admitted that his chief reason for proposing the resolution was the fact he had been instructed to do so. For himself, he thought that women would find votes were of very little use when they got them” [1]

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Anti Suffrage postcard, insinuating Wishart’s view that women are not politically aware… Image Courtesy of LSE Library click here

Let’s not generalise; Not everyone from Woolwich was anti-suffrage!

The same year, 1907, at a Derby Independent Labour Party conference, Mr. Brownlie, a Woolwich delegate spoke very much in favour of women’s suffrage, declaring that “This conference declares very much in favour of adult suffrage and political equality of the sexes” [2]. Woolwich’s Brownlie also shunned the sexist, harmful and offensive view of some other male delegates that ‘women should leave their homes only three times in their lives: when they were christened, when they married and when they were laid to rest‘ [3]

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Teresa Billington-Greig. Suffrage Campaigner. Image courtesy of LSE Library click here

Unlikely pairing? Suffrage campaigner talks equality to Woolwich Arsenal workers

Teresa Billington, a huge suffrage pioneer campaigned outside Woolwich Arsenal on the 13th July in 1906… but how did this campaign happen? The Woolwich Gazette reported that a Woolwich Arsenal employee’s wife was serving 6 weeks in prisonin an offence in connection with the agitation for the vote for women‘[4]. Not only does this champion Woolwich’s direct involvement in the suffrage movement, but also demonstrates working class women (and men’s) huge and understated contribution to the struggle for women’s enfranchisement.

Billington, in her address to the workers, spoke of the unfair sentences given to the female working class campaigners. Below is a brilliant segment of her speech as reported by the Woolwich Gazette, emphasising the suffering of working class women and why they were drawn to the controversial suffragette movement…

“We must have the vote at once. Our industrial position is so bad that we cannot wait. Our social conditions are so bad that we must do something to ameliorate them. All the questions that affect men so much, affect us too, but until we have the political power, we cannot tackle these questions” -Teresa Billington [5]

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Pro suffrage postcard aimed toward working class women. Courtesy of LSE Library click here

Woolwich during the time of the suffrage movement was considered a heavily working class district of London. Yet, their involvement in suffrage was so profound, which definitely does highlight the influence the suffrage movement had on the lives of even the poorest. Fighting for suffrage did not just concern the middle class Pankhursts, but also the working class Knights’ of Woolwich Arsenal. 

[1] Page 4, Friday 1 February 1907, Kentish Independent, British Library Newspaper Archive

[2] Page 7, Friday April 5 1907, Kentish Independent, British Library Newspaper Archive

[3] Page 7, Friday April 5 1907, Kentish Independent, British Library Newspaper Archive

[4] Page 5, Friday 13th July 1906, Woolwich Gazette, British Library Newspaper Archive

[5] Page 5, Friday 13th July 1906, Woolwich Gazette, British Library Newspaper Archive

Lydia Becker versus Male Lawmakers in Greenwich

Written by Amy Calvert

Sexism. It runs deep within our society today, but ran even deeper when women were barred from voting in the UK and denied the same rights as men, purely because of their sex. I’ve been researching Greenwich’s role within the constant (and ongoing) struggle for gender equality. How did the staunch, sexist, male lawmakers of the past view Lydia Becker’s plight for women’s rights?

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Lydia Becker. Courtesy of LSE Library. Click Here

Becker’s words for Greenwich, 1877

Long before suffrage was granted, women and men have campaigned, educated others and protested in an attempt to sway those in power and convince the population that women should be enfranchised and treated as equals to men. (What a radical idea!) Lydia Becker, a huge suffrage campaigner of the 19th century, (who interestingly sent Charles Darwin her research on botany regularly, contributing to his findings) spoke on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage Association in Greenwich to justify why women should rightfully be given a chance to vote for their government…

Becker argued that women being barred from voting in the general election was ‘a ridiculous and absurd anomaly[1]’ (I agree) because they were already performing vital roles within local councils and elective boards. Women were allowed to vote for and be elected to be on School Boards and were also able to be churchwardens and parish officers too, yet they were still discriminated against. The Kentish Mercury (a local paper in the borough) reported that one of the arguments put forward in the meeting, was that women were ‘politically unfit and dangerous‘[2]. But Becker slammed the claims to the floor as she insisted that ‘if women had votes they would be educated politically, and give their votes righteously‘[3] Some male attendees of the discussion led by Becker protested that women played no role in defending the country, with only one male speaker acknowledging the efforts of Florence Nightingale. 

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1872, Hanover Square rooms. Lydia Becker alongside Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Mrs Mark Patison, Mrs Ernestine Rose and Rhoda Garrett. Courtesy of the LSE Library.Click Here

It seems that Lydia Becker’s meeting in 1877 emphasised the ignorance of most male lawmakers when it came to women. Women were trusted to hold positions when it came to aiding the poor and educating the youth, but not trusted with deciding the fate of the country. For me it seems as if the lawmakers were generalising half of the population by allowing them to have power in ‘care giving‘ positions, but little more. Sadly Lydia Becker would pass away in 1890, 28 years before any woman was allowed a general election ballot paper…

[1] Page 5, Saturday 19th May 1877, The Kentish Mercury, British Newspaper Archive

[2] Page 5, Saturday 19th May 1877, The Kentish Mercury, British Newspaper Archive

[3] Page 5, Saturday 19th May 1877, The Kentish Mercury, British Newspaper Archive

 

Three Midwives and an Archdeacon; The story of Lelia Parnell

Written by Lynne Dixon

It is puzzling to reflect on what might have lead a twenty seven year old, middle class widow in London in 1891 to move on to a career in nursing and a mission to promote the cause of training midwives.

On 5th April 1891 at 11, Chepstow Villas, Kensington, the census records a young widow, Lelia Parnell, sharing a house with two lodgers, both professional nurses.  She had been a widow for just two days following the death of her husband of some six years.  Lelia Cary (daughter of a Confederate veteran) had grown up in the north west, married her ‘brilliant young scientific chemist’ (described thus in Marland’s account) in Gloucestershire and presumably lived with him in Chester near where he had his business interests in alkali manufactory.   Was it the chance living arrangement with the nurses that helped to form the path of her future life?

Lelia trained on the month long course at the British Lying-in Hospital, St George, and then proved so successful at her general training at the new Hospital for Women that she was appointed Matron at a small hospital in Paulton, Somerset in or about 1893.

Here she was shortly joined by her friend, Alice Gregory, a daughter of the Dean of St Paul’s, who came as a probationer but eventually trained formally as a midwife at a maternity hospital in Clapham, an experience which influenced her views on training and practice in midwifery.  The two women shared their professional interests and a strong Christian faith.

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18th June 1910, London. Perhaps Lelia, Alice and Maud would have stood with other women with careers in the medical sector to fight for their suffrage? Photo courtesy of LSE Library.

In 1900 Matron Parnell was approached by a local woman, Maud Cashmore, who had found herself too shy to train as a nurse in London but was able to train successfully as a midwife under Lelia’s tutelage.  The three women – Lelia, Alice and Maud – formed a lifelong friendship and working relationship

Alice Gregory made her living as a district midwife but along with Lelia and Maud began to develop her ideas for the training of midwives because their experiences of childbirth led them to believe that more and better trained midwives were required.  In 1903 Alice began a demanding nationwide search through letter writing and meetings for a suitable site.  It was the Bishop of Southwark who introduced her to the Archdeacon of Lewisham  – Charles Ernest Escreet, then in Woolwich, an area of poverty and limited hospital facilities.  Telling her ‘he knew the very spot’, he showed her the Wood Street (now Woodhill) properties on their first meeting and helped persuade the relevant authorities to agree to the scheme.

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Woolwich on Charles Booth’s famous poverty map of London. This map was produced around the same time that Lelia and her colleagues were working in the borough. Photo courtesy of LSE Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hospital with its beds for eight patients was opened on Thursday May 11th 1905 by Princess Christian.  As well as training midwives and admitting women to the hospital for delivery, the hospital was also a base for district midwives.

The training hospital grew from strength to strength and following an amalgamation with the British Lying-in Hospital, moved to new premises in Samuel Street. H.M. Queen Mary opened the building with its 40 beds and staff accommodation in 1922.

The three friends – Lelia Parnell, the first Matron (1864 – 1931); Alice Sophia Gregory, the honorary secretary (1867 – 1946), and Maud Mabel Cashmore, the second Matron (1875 – 1949), – were commemorated in the hospital chapel: ‘A threefold cord is not quickly broken’.  Lelia herself is buried in Charlton Cemetery with the inscription ‘Surge Illuminare’ – Arise! Shine!  They had certainly shone in their chosen profession supporting hundreds of women as they gave birth and making a significant contribution to the development of the training of midwives at a time of transition in the profession.

 

Based on:

Family records on Find My Past and Ancestry.co.uk

‘Alice and the Stork’ by Egbert Marland (written with the help of Maud Cashmore)