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

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