With less than a year to go to the centenary of women first gaining the vote, we recommend you take a look at Surrey History Centre’s excellent new online local suffrage history resource. Here, Archivist Di Stiff explores some of the material you will be able to access.
Surrey Heritage has prepared a new online resource on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website featuring various aspects of the suffrage movement in Surrey . Located under the ‘People/Politics and Activism’ theme, the resource shows the varied range of archive and library collections held at Surrey History Centre. The Suffrage themed sub pages give an overview of notable Surrey suffragettes and suffragists, links to relevant theme pages already featured on the site. All of the web pages feature sources and other useful links, with links to our online archives Collections Catalogue.
The roots of the women’s suffrage movement in England lie in the aftermath of the Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights among men but not women. A chronology of the growth of the movement across the county and the key people involved is featured in the main resource section, ‘The women’s suffrage movement in Surrey’. The movement appears to have been active from the 1870s, with the first suffrage meeting allegedly being held in Guildford in January 1871, featuring speakers from the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage. Key activists resided in Surrey. Many had links to political parties, or came from landed families, such as Dorothy Hunter, Lady Betty Balfour and the Farrers of Abinger; others were educated, working women like Constance Maud of Sanderstead, who used her experiences to pen No Surrender (1911), and one-time Royal Holloway student, Emily Wilding Davison.
Many suffragettes had homes in the Surrey hills. Peaslake, in particular, became something of a hub and in 1912 Edwin Waterhouse described the village as ‘rather a nest of suffragettes…there are fourteen ladies there of very advanced views’. One of these was Marion Wallace-Dunlop, the first member of the Women’s Social and Political Union to go on hunger strike after imprisonment in July 1908. Just a few miles away in Holmwood, near Dorking, suffrage stalwarts, Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, provided a safe haven for women who had endured the horrors of force-feeding and imprisonment.
The county also witnessed the rift between peaceful suffrage protesters and militant suffragettes, as featured in the section ‘Activism and militant suffragettes in Surrey’ . Helena Auerbach, president of Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, persistently wrote to local and national newspapers decrying the violent tactics used by other groups for tarnishing the reputation of pro-Suffrage societies, she claimed that ‘aggressive political coercion is as little suited to our sex as the exercise of physical force’ (SHC ref.3266/1). Surrey was the scene of militant suffragette violence, including not only the fateful 1913 Epsom Derby but the bombing of Lloyd George’s house at Walton-on-the-Hill, and the bombing of Oxted railway station, among other incidents.
Dame Ethel Smyth, the Woking composer and suffragette, is featured is some detail on the resource. She took up the suffrage cause after meeting the Pankhursts and in 1911 was one of the many women who used that year’s census to protest ‘No vote, no census!’ In March 1912, she served part of her prison sentence for smashing the window of a politician in Holloway prison and is said to have used her toothbrush to conduct female prisoners to sing The March of the Women, the suffragette anthem which she had composed the year before.
Early suffrage debates and bills, the impact of the First World War, and the final hurdle to securing the vote are featured in a section ‘Women get the vote!’ A final section on sources for researching the women’s suffrage movement in Surrey comprises a fairly comprehensive list of suffrage related archive and library sources held at Surrey History Centre, including a downloadable bibliography, online sources list and useful web links – we hope researchers will find these useful and encourage them to discover more.
In the lead up to the 2018 ‘Vote 100’ centenary we expect an increased demand for information from our users and expressions of interest from those researching new areas of the subject. We also very much hope to have a commemorative project up and running which, through community outreach and partnership working, will expand our online suffrage resource and reveal more about Surrey’s road to the vote.
Di Stiff is the Collections Development Archivist at
Surrey History Centre
130 Goldsworth Road