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

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

The Royal Borough of Suffrage; Greenwich and it’s suffrage groups

Written by Amy Calvert

So, as we should all be aware, it’s 100 years since some women were granted the vote for the very first time in the UK, after decades and decades of campaigning, protesting and in some cases violently demanding the right to have a say in who ran their government. Who were the masterminds behind the suffrage operation? The suffrage groups; they would organise marches and protests, recruit new members, write to parliament and spread the word about the importance and necessity of female enfranchisement.

The royal borough had its fair share of suffrage organisations and it’s important to recognise and honour their commitment to the cause, as well as reflect on why some groups were passionately anti-suffrage as we enter this centenary year of the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

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If railings could tell a story… click here

The Church League for Women’s Suffrage

It’s interesting to note that Greenwich and Lewisham had it’s own branch of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage because it emphasizes just how wide ranging the borough’s support for suffrage was, even members of the clergy supported votes for women. The Kentish Mercury (a local paper at the time) reported on the support for suffrage from male members of the group, Reverand R. H. Rice believed that ‘suffrage would do women a vast amount of good‘. Another member, Mr Shipham expressed that ‘the granting of the vote was not a matter of generosity, but of bare justice[1]’.

The London Society for Women’s Suffrage

This society, established in 1867 was ultimately a discussion group for those who supported the cause for female enfranchisement, they held meetings frequently throughout each year and its members included pioneers such as: Helen Taylor, Elizabeth Garrett and Millicent Fawcett. Blackheath had its own branch of the group and The Kentish Mercury even reported on the content of their meetings. Just as we had words of support from a Reverend in the Church League, The London Society featured support from a doctorDr. Sidney Davies (Medical Officer of Health for Woolwich) who presided, declared that he had been for many years a warm supporter of women’s suffrage[2]’.

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Different religious groups standing in solidarity for women’s suffrage. Courtesy of LSE Library. click here

Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage

Whilst the momentum in Greenwich for female enfranchisement was high in the early 1900s among some suffrage groups, there were groups operating in the borough that yearned for the opposite. The Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage met in Greenwich for a debate in 1909 and asked the question ‘is it ethical for women to be given the vote?’. Interestingly, barrister Howard D’Edgville argued that women seemed to be asking for too much as he accused them of being ‘the spoilt darlings of the law‘. Barrister D’Edgville also claimed that female enfranchisement would effect the British Empire, arguing that votes for women wouldendanger the good government of the Empire[3]’.

The Royal Borough of Suffrage? 

Most definitely. Greenwich’s involvement in the female suffrage conversation is important and emphasizes the area’s active role in campaigns and discussions; the borough became a firm meeting point for debates on the suffrage question, whether it be support for the progressive cause or a plea for the country to stay in the patriarchal past. Which group would you join? I know which one I wouldn’t be so eager to!

[1] Kentish Mercury – Friday 21 October 1910, British Newspaper Archive 
[2] Kentish Mercury – Friday 08 July 1910, British Newspaper Archive
[3] Kentish Mercury – Friday 17 December 1909, British Newspaper Archive

The ‘Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage’ comes to Blackheath in July 1913

The inspiring story of the women’s suffrage pilgrimage across Blackheath in 1913

Greenwich100 researcher Lynne Dixon tells the inspiring story of the arrival of the women’s suffrage pilgrimage at Blackheath in 1913.

It is July 1913.  A dry cool morning on Blackheath.  Imagine a group of women on the heath near the tea hut dressed for walking, wearing sashes and carrying banners; an array of scarlet, white and green.

This is part of the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, the Kentish contingent to be exact, formed of two branches which had started at Margate and Sandwich, joining at Tonbridge.  It is the morning of Friday 26th July, the day before the national rally in Hyde Park which will bring together women suffragists from across the country.  These women – all members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies  (NUWSS)  – had been organised in six main marches, the ones from the north having started out in mid June.

In spite of the fact that they were marching as suffragists – the law-abiding and non-militant part of the women’s suffrage movement  – some had faced verbal and even physical abuse on the way (Robinson, 2018). Fortunately, the Kent marchers had been relatively unaffected as they marched from Sevenoaks.

Twenty two Kent pilgrims had arrived at Burnt Ash Road, Lee, on the previous day and had formed into a procession with the Blackheath branch of the NUWSS.  With their banners unfurled –  ‘“Home makers demand vote”, “Law abiding women”, “Joan of Arc”, and the like’ (The Mercury) – the forty or so women were accompanied by the Stepney Borough Band. They marched towards Whitfield Mount on Blackheath – a popular place for local suffragist meetings – where two platforms had been set up, and held an open-air meeting.  After the meeting the pilgrims would have stayed overnight in cheap lodging houses or with local society members.

The pilgrims and their supporters set off the following day down Blackheath Hill, through Deptford Broadway and on to New Cross Gate, which they reached by noon.  At the foot of Pepys Road they gathered for another meeting and this time we know the name of the two speakers.  One was Muriel Matters who had been involved in the movement since her arrival in England from Australia in 1905. By 1913 Matters had already engaged in high profile activities for the cause, including chaining herself to the grille in the women’s gallery above the House of Commons; distributing leaflets from an airship across London, and travelling through Kent and Sussex in a caravan on a Women’s Freedom League speaking tour (Crawford, 2001).

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Muriel Matters in Guilford, Surrey in 1908 during a Women’s Freedom League caravan tour
(The Women’s Library Collection, LSE Library).  The use of caravans was also a feature of the
1913 Pilgrimage although apparently not in Kent.

As the pilgrims continued on their way for the next even larger gathering at the King’s Hall, Elephant and Castle, they were joined by band of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Workers.  They must have garnered much attention.

The final destination was a wonderful gathering of about fifty thousand people – at Hyde Park on the afternoon of the Saturday.  There were nineteen platforms arrayed in the park with rousing speeches, including one by the NUWSS President Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

The Kent pilgrims and their supporters contributed to making the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage a great success for the NUWSS and it strengthened the hands of the suffragists in their ongoing negotiations with Asquith’s government.

References

Crawford, E (2001) The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Routledge, London)
Robinson, J (2018) Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote (Doubleday, London)

Information about the local march obtained from local newspapers at Greenwich Heritage Centre:

Kentish Mercury July 25th 1913
The Pioneer (Woolwich) 25th July 1913
Kentish Independent 1st August 1913