Tales & Ales: Episode 2 - Suffragettes
Dr. Kevin Dixon dives back into Torquay's history again, sharing the forgotten tales of local suffragettes, over an ale in the Devon Arms.
In Episode 1 - to coincide with Halloween - we unearthed the haunting tales of devils, ghosts and Torquay’s most haunted house. Now, for Human Rights Day (10th December), we’re sharing the latest instalment of Tales & Ales with Dr. Kevin Dixon: Episode 2 - Suffragettes.
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies attempted at first to convert the public by reasoned argument. They lobbied politicians, collected petitions and held public meetings – in January 1914 a rally with speakers from all three political parties, titled ‘Why not give women the vote?’, was held at St. Marychurch Town Hall and by that time, they had 100,000 members.
However, despite reasoned debate, Parliamentary bills for female suffrage were each defeated. One Suffragist, Emmeline Pankhurst, was so frustrated that she founded the breakaway Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903. Their motto was ‘Deeds not Words’, and their tactics became increasingly confrontational. The Daily Mail coined the term ‘Suffragette’ to distinguish these militants from the moderate Suffragists.
The WSPU were very active in Torquay and in March 1911 organised a Torquay Theatre meeting titled ‘Votes for Women’. The main speaker was Annie Kenney, a militant working class Suffragette who had undergone force-feeding in prison. Annie commended, “the splendid fishermen of Brixham who were keen supporters of the women’s cause”.
In June 1914 local Suffragettes took action with leaflets inscribed, ’Votes for women or ceaseless militancy’ dropped into Torquay’s pillar boxes along with ink cartridges designed to damage letters. Local Police began to keep close watch on activists.
The actions of local Suffragettes illustrate their total dedication to the cause. In March 1909, Elsie Howey was appointed to lead Torquay and Paignton’s Suffragettes, and she opened a WSPU shop in Torquay. She quickly achieved national recognition when she headed a demonstration dressed as Joan of Arc. In July, Elsie Howey was jailed for disrupting a Penzance meeting and promptly went on hunger strike. On her release she was presented with a travelling clock by Torquay’s Suffragettes. In September, Elsie was involved in an assault on Herbert Asquith, and arrested again in January 1910 and sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour. Taking part in a window-smashing campaign in 1912 led to another jail sentence.
Elsie was imprisoned at least six times, often went on hunger strike and was force fed. This broke most of her teeth – “her beautiful voice was quite ruined”. When Suffragette militancy ended in 1914, Elsie left public life but never fully recovered from the sacrifices she made.
There was a long dedication to that cause, and it wasn't until 1928 when women actually received the vote; never forget those woman!
- Dr. Kevin Dixon
Perfectly said, Dr. Kevin Dixon. If you have a story about the suffragettes, leave us a comment on the YouTube video above. You can read more of Dr. Kevin Dixon's articles on the wonderful We Are South Devon