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What an amazing array of purple, green and white at our April meeting: Votes for Women sashes, tops, jackets, brooches, Trish’s fantastic earrings, rosettes and a particularly fabulous purple hat! All now ready to march to the polling stations next month!

Thank you to June Hannam for a fascinating, inspiring and incredibly interesting talk. Starting with a look at the birth of the suffrage and resulting suffragette movements in the country at large, she then turned to the story in Bath. Focussing on two local families, the Tollemaches and the Blathwayts of Batheaston, she traced the development of the suffragette movement by using the diaries of mother and daughter Emily and Mary Blathwayt.

The suffragette movement was a collection of women’s groups including the WSPU and the Women’s Freedom League who were united in drive for women to have the vote by employing direct action – ‘Deeds not Words’. They were the militant side of the general suffrage movement. However, the definition of militancy changed as the campaign gained momentum. One of Mary Blathwayt’s first acts was to wear her ‘Votes for Women’ badge home on the train from London and then to chalk slogans on the pavements and walls in Bath. Suffragettes would spit at policemen in order to be arrested and two suffragettes hid in the Colston Hall to heckle the MP by shouting ‘votes for women’ from behind the organ.

The whole Blathwayt family became involved in the campaign. Mary moved her allegiance from the non-militant suffrage group in Bath to eventually move to Bristol to share a flat with the prominent campaigner and then south-west regional organiser Annie Kenney. Her parents opened their home, Eagle House, as a place for the suffragettes to go to recuperate. They were visited there by most of the leading suffragettes recovering from times in prison or just from the exhausting schedule of speaking and touring the country. Linley, Mary’s father, took photographs of everyone who visited the house and every visitor planted a tree in the grounds. Each tree had a plaque with the name of the suffragette and the area became known as Annie’s arboretum (after Annie Kenney a constant visitor) or the suffragette field. While there is photographic evidence of the hundreds of trees, there is only one actual tree left in what is now a small housing estate.

Mary and the younger Tollemaches took part in the boycott of the 1911 census. The suffragettes reasoned that if they didn’t count enough to be allowed to vote then they shouldn’t be counted. The census evaders spent the night at 12 Lansdown Crescent and Mary documents in her diary that music was played and that she spent a tolerable night. A most civilised way to break the law!

The Tollemaches, a widow and daughters, were more militant in their campaigning. They continued their action until women were given the vote after the First World War. Mary and her mother became less involved as action became more violent, although Eagle House was still used as a refuge. The day that women over 30 were given the vote, Mary notes in her diary almost as an aside. Mary lived at Eagle House until her death in 1961.

For those of you who have read this far, some fantastic factoids!

  • The name suffragette was first coined by the Daily Mail in 1906 and was intended to be a pejorative term to belittle the women in the suffrage movement.
  • Mrs Pankhurst was first arrested in the 1890s at a free speech demonstration. Her politics originated from the newly formed Labour party but she stood as a Conservative parliamentary candidate in the 1920s.
  • The suffragettes were, to quote June Hannam, ‘the Manchester United of their day’! Not due to their football prowess or gum-chewing manager, but because you could buy almost anything in their colours. Suffragette shops opened throughout the country, the Bath shop was located close to where Waitrose is today, and aimed to raise both funds and public awareness. Wares ranged from tea services to jewellery and also took in ‘Panko’ a suffragette board game based on the Pankhurst family. Selfridges in London also supported the movement by having a suffragette window display with clothing suitable to wear to demonstrations.
  • Suffragette trees were planted in Victoria Park, Alice Park and Bath Spa University a couple of years ago in memory of the movement and the suffragette field in Batheaston.