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?

Greenwich Book Fest: SUFFRAGE PLAYS

On Saturday 16 June 2018 a series of suffrage plays will be performed at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ES as part of the commemorations of the suffrage centenary. Greenwich100 will be there too, holding two EqualiTeas tea parties, which will be an opportunity to show off the exhibition “Beyond the Suffragettes” and the glorious Greenwich100 banner [designed by Dr Ann Dingsdale and paraded at last Sunday’s London procession].

Greenwich100 banner

The University of Greenwich’s Drama Programme, in collaboration with Greenwich Theatre, Culture Clash, and GLYPT’s Progression Programme, will present arehearsed readings of four plays and writings by women’s suffrage supporters and activists, kicking off with Cicely Hamilton’s ‘How The Vote Was Won’.

This event brings together drama students and young performers from the community with professional directors and actors to produce an exciting range of work. Suffragettes used plays and performance to advance their cause, and their work. The plays are funny, moving and hard-hitting and deserve to be seen again.

In addition there will be some contemporary writing by both professional and student playwrights on issues that affect women today.

Book your tickets through the Greenwich BookFest website: www.greenwichbookfest.com/

Or through Eventbrite direct here: tickets

PLEASE TAKE EXTRA CARE TO ENSURE YOU BOOK TICKETS FOR THE PERFORMANCE YOU WANT TO ATTEND

All tickets are FREE and include an opportunity to join a tea party in collaboration with EqualiTeas – https://equaliteas.org.uk/

Ticket 1:

10.00 How the Vote was Won, Cicely Hamilton (1909) – directed by Natasha Oxley, & Monologues(s)
11.00 Tea party in collaboration with EqualiTeas

Ticket 2:

11.00 Tea party in collaboration with EqualiTeas
12.00 In the Workhouse, Margaret Wynne Nevinson (1911) & Monologue(s) – directed by James Haddrell

Ticket 3:
14.30 Tradition (1913) – directed by James Haddrell, & Monologues(s)
15.30 Tea party in collaboration with EqualiTeas

Ticket 4:
15.30 Tea party in collaboration with EqualiTeas
16.30 Little Wrens, Rebecca Moloney – directed by Chris Williams Cross, Nicole Darvill-Barton – directed by James McLaughlin Blaring Silence, Ardit Darci – directed by Laura Wooff

Disclaimer:The University of Greenwich reserves the right to cancel a ticket at any time should the author withdraw from appearing. Such an occurrence would be out of the University’s control and tickets will be fully refunded. Where possible, attendees would be notified in advance by e-mail should a presentation be cancelled.

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

 

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