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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sufferin' Suffragettes! Typewriters in the Fight for Women's Rights

These women, using Oliver, Royal and Royal Bar-Lock typewriters, are volunteers assisting the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the union's fight for women's suffrage in Britain in September 1911.
The posters and photographs adorning the office give some clue as to the esteem in which the suffragette leaders were held. On the far left is a poster of WSPU co-founder Christabel Pankhurst and above the mantelpiece is a framed photograph of Christabel's mother, suffragette pioneer Emmeline Pankhurst, below which is a marble bust, also of Emmeline. But apparently Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst was the typist in the family.
Given Australia and New Zealand were at this time "the colonies" being dragged along by the apron strings of "Mother England", it is interesting to note that New Zealand had 18 years earlier given all adult women the right to vote (becoming, in 1893, the first country in the world to do so) and South Australia had followed suit in 1895. Indeed, Henrietta Augusta Dugdale (above) formed the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society 130 years ago. So much for Britain being the "home of modern democracy"!
More like the home of a "Modern Inquisition". The fight for full suffrage in Britain went on until 1928.
In 1913 the WSPU moved its headquarters from Clement's Inn on The Strand in London (where the photograph at the top of this post was taken) to Lincoln's Inn House, Kingsway. In April of that year the Lincoln's Inn offices were raided by police, and the WSPU workers arrested, charged and in most cases given lengthy jail sentences for conspiracy.
Those jailed included the lady sitting at the back right in the image at the top of this post, the WSPU general office manager Harriett Roberta Kerr (1859-1940). She had been a professional typist running her own secretarial business office in the City of London (that is, central London), when in September 1906 she closed the business to join the WSPU.
The images below were taken at the WSPU's Clement's Inn headquarters in September 1911 and show the WSPU workers producing the union's posters and other publications.
Another typewriter company manager who became an WSPU organiser was Flora McKinnon Drummond (1878-1949), nicknamed "The General" for her habit of leading women's rights marches wearing a military style uniform with an officers cap and epaulettes and riding on a large horse. Drummond was imprisoned nine times for her activism in the women's suffrage movement.
Drummond, centre, in the docks in October 1908 with Christabel Pankhurst, left, and Emmeline Pankhurst, right.
On leaving high school on the Isle of Arran at 14, Drummond moved to Glasgow to take a business training course at a civil service school. Prevented from becoming a postmistress because she was an inch too short at 5ft 1in, she went on to gain a Society of Arts qualification in shorthand and typing. Drummond was working in the typewriter business in Manchester when she joined the WSPU in 1906. She became known for her daring and headline-grabbing stunts, including in 1906 slipping inside the open door of 10 Downing Street and hiring a boat so she could approach the Palace of Westminster from the River Thames.
More Oliver typewriters are put to work in the women's cause. This is the Clement's Inn secretary's office of Lady Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954), a member of the Suffrage Society who as business manager and treasurer of the WSPU raised £134,000 over six years. 
Pethick-Lawrence (above) started the publication Votes for Women  in 1907. She was arrested and imprisoned in 1912 for conspiracy following demonstrations that involved breaking windows. 
Another leading British suffragette was Australian-born Marion Phillips (1881-1932), seen above in 1908. Born in St Kilda, Melbourne, in July 1904 Phillips went to England and became immersed in the working-class and women's movements through her membership of the Fabian Society, the Independent Labour Party, the Women's Labour League, the Women's Trade Union League, for which she was briefly an organiser, and several suffrage societies. By 1914 she was effectively running the Women's Labour League and edited The Labour Woman. In 1926 Phillips was nominated by the Durham Women's Advisory Council and the Monkwearmouth miners as a prospective Labour Party candidate for Sunderland. Returned in 1929, she unsuccessfully recontested the seat in 1931. By this time she was already ill with the stomach cancer which caused her death in London in 1932. Phillips was the first Australian woman to win a seat in a national parliament, and the only one to have been elected to the House of Commons.
Above, US National Women's Party, Washington DC, 1919. Below, the NWP press room in 1915, with Alice Paul on the right:
The NWP was founded by Paul and Lucy Burns in 1913. After their baptism into militant suffrage work in Britain, Paul and Burns reunited to the US in 1910 and were appointed to the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote in 1920, the NWP turned its attention to passage of an Equal Rights Amendment  to the Constitution. 
 Alice Paul
Lucy Burns
Below, the NWP publishing office in 1916:
Abby Scott Baker, NWP 1916:


Richard P said...

Interesting post.

What is going on in the "Inquisition" poster?

I did not know that NZ was such a pioneer in women's rights.

Bill M said...

First I knew New Zealand led the way.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Richard and Bill for your comments. Richard, I should have made it clearer, many of the imprisoned suffragettes went on hunger strikes and were force-fed. It appears to have been a particularly brutal method.