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Our December yarn, the final yarn in our suffragette sock club, is named for Lydia Becker, an early campaigner for votes for women.
Born in 1827, to Hannibal Becker, the owner of a chemical works in Manchester, and Mary Duncuft, Lydia was the eldest of fifteen children. Like the rest of her sisters, and most girls at that time, she was educated at home. After the death of her mother in 1855, Lydia had the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings.
In 1866 Lydia heard Barbara Bodichon give a lecture on women’s suffrage at a meeting in Manchester. She was immediately converted to the idea that women should have the vote and wrote an article on Female Suffrage for The Contemporary Review magazine. Emily Davies and Elizabeth Wolstenholme were two of the women who read the article and later that year they joined Lydia Becker to form the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee. Wolstenholme then arranged to have 10,000 copies of the article printed as a pamphlet.
In 1967, Becker founded the Ladies’ Literary Society in Manchester, which despite its name was intended as a society to study scientic matters. She began a correspondence with Charles Darwin and soon afterwards convinced him to send a paper to the society. In the course of their correspondence, Becker sent a number of plant samples to Darwin from the fields surrounding Manchester. She also forwarded Darwin a copy of her “little book”, Botany for Novices (1864). Becker is one of a number of 19th-century women who contributed, often routinely, to Darwin’s scientific work. Her correspondence and work alike suggest that Becker had a particular interest in bisexual and hermaphroditic plants which, perhaps, offered her powerful ‘natural’ evidence of radical, alternative sexual and social order.
She was also recognised for her own scientific contributions, being awarded a national prize in the 1860s for a collection of dried plants prepared using a method she had devised so that they retained their original colours. She gave a botanical paper to the 1869 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science about the effect of fungal infection on sexual development in a plant species Botany remained important to her, but her work for women’s suffrage was the central role in her life. Her involvement in promoting and encouraging scientific education for girls and women brought these two aspects together.
In autumn 1866 Becker attended the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Social Science, where she was excited by a paper from Barbara Bodichon entitled “Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women”. She dedicated herself to organising around the issue, and in January 1867 convened the first meeting of the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee, the first organisation of its kind in England.
Several months later, a widowed shop owner, Lilly Maxwell, mistakenly appeared on the register of voters in Manchester, which was a good opportunity for publicity. Becker visited Maxwell and escorted her to the polling station. The returning officer found Maxwell’s name on the list and allowed her to vote. Becker immediately began encouraging other women heads of households in the region to petition for their names to appear on the rolls. Their claims were presented in court by Sir John Coleridge and Richard Pankhurst in Chorlton v. Lings, but the case was dismissed.
On 14 April 1868, the first public meeting of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage was held in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The three main speakers were Agnes Pochin, Anne Robinson and Becker. Becker moved the resolution that women should be granted voting rights on the same terms as men.
Becker subsequently commenced a lecture tour of northern cities on behalf of the society. In June 1869, Becker and fellow campaigners were successful in securing the vote for women in municipal elections. Having campaigned for the inclusion of women on school boards, in 1870 she was one of four women elected to the Manchester School Board on which she served until her death. In the same year Becker and her friend Jessie Boucherett founded the Women’s Suffrage Journal and soon afterward began organising speaking tours of women – a rarity in Britain at the time. At an 1874 speaking event in Manchester organised by Becker, fifteen-year-old Emmeline Pankhurst experienced her first public gathering in the name of women’s suffrage.
The Journal was the most popular publication relating to women’s suffrage in 19th-century Britain. Roger Fulford, in his study of the movement Votes for Women: The Story of a Struggle, writes: “The history of the decades from 1860 to 1890 – so far as women’s suffrage is concerned – is the history of Miss Becker.” The Journal published speeches from around the country, both within and outside of Parliament. Becker published her correspondence with her supporters and her opponents, notably in 1870, when she chastised the MP for Caernarvonshire after he voted against a proposal offering women the vote.
In 1880, Becker and co-workers campaigned in the Isle of Man for the right of women to vote in the House of Keys elections. Unexpectedly, they were successful and they secured for women voting rights in the Isle of Man for the first time in the elections of March 1881. Becker became the chair of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. This organisation had been formed in 1871 to lobby parliament. Other committee members included Helen Blackburn, Millicent Fawcett, Jessie Boucherett, Eva McLaren, Margaret Bright Lucas, Priscilla Bright McLaren and Frances Power Cobbe.
Becker differed from many early feminists in her disputation of essentialised femininity. Arguing there was no natural difference between the intellect of men and women, Becker was a vocal advocate of a non-gendered education system in Britain..
In 1874 William Forsyth MP announced he was willing to promote a bill that would grant single, but not married women, the vote. Becker, who was unmarried, created a controversy in the suffrage movement when she supported this proposal. Although Becker only suggested this as a short-term strategy, some married suffragists, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, were outraged by her views.
In 1890 Becker visited the spa town of Aix-les-Bains, on medical advice, but she caught diphtheria there, and died, aged 63.
Our November yarn is named for Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of women’s suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst and radical socialist Richard Pankhurst, and the sister of Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst. Her father was a barrister and her mother owned a small shop. But despite financial struggles, her family had always been encouraged by their firm belief in their devotion to causes rather than comforts.
Christabel enjoyed a special relationship with both her mother and father, who had named her after “Christabel”, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“The lovely lady Christabel / Whom her father loves so well”). Her mother’s death in 1928 had a devastating impact on Christabel.
Pankhurst learned to read at her home on her own before she went to school. She and her two sisters attended Manchester High School for Girls. She obtained a law degree from the University of Manchester, and received honours on her LLB. exam but because she was a woman she was not allowed to practice law.
In 1905 Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Liberal Party meeting by shouting demands for voting rights for women. She was arrested and, along with fellow suffragist Annie Kenney, went to prison rather than pay a fine as punishment for their outburst. Their case gained much media interest and the ranks of the WSPU expanded ollowing their trial. Emmeline Pankhurst began to take more militant action for the women’s suffrage cause after her daughter’s arrest and was herself imprisoned on many occasions for her principles.
After obtaining her law degree in 1906, Christabel moved to the London headquarters of the WSPU, where she was appointed its organising secretary. Nicknamed “Queen of the Mob”, she was jailed again in 1907 in Parliament Square and in 1909 after the “Rush Trial” at Bow Street. Between 1913 and 1914 she lived in Paris, France, to escape imprisonment under the terms of the Prisoner’s (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, better known as the “Cat and Mouse Act”. The start of World War I compelled her to return to England in 1914, where she was again arrested. Pankhurst engaged in a hunger strike, ultimately serving only 30 days of a three-year sentence.
Christabel and her sister Sylvia did not get along. Sylvia was against turning the WSPU towards solely upper- and middle-class women and using militant tactics, while Christabel thought this was essential. Christabel felt that suffrage was a cause that should not be tied to any causes trying to help working-class women with other issues. She felt that this would only drag the suffrage movement down and that the other issues could be solved once women had the right to vote.
After returning to the UK in 1914, she toured the country making recruiting speeches, her supporters handing the white feather to every young man they encountered wearing civilian dress, effectively calling them cowards and hoping to shame them to enlist.
Pankhurst called for the military conscription of men and the industrial conscription of women into national service. She called also for the internment of all people of enemy nationality, men and women, young and old, found on in the UK.
She also championed a more complete and thorough enforcement of the blockade of enemy and neutral nations, arguing that this must be “a war of attrition”. She demanded the resignation of Sir Edward Grey, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir William Robertson and Sir Eyre Crowe, whom she considered too mild.
After some British women were granted the right to vote at the end of World War I, Pankhurst stood in the 1918 general election as a Women’s Party candidate, in alliance with the Lloyd George/Conservative Coalition in the Smethwick constituency. She was narrowly defeated by the Labour Party candidate John Davison.
In 1921 she moved to the United States where she eventually became an evangelist with the Plymouth Brethren and a prominent member of Second Adventist movement.
For as Christabel saw it, in her book The Lord Cometh! Christ was now the ‘only hope of the world, for , by no human instrumentality can the world be cleansed and healed of its terrible ills.’ She returned to Britain for a period in the 1930s and was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire as a tribute to her contribution to the women’s movement. At the onset of World War II she again however left for California where she lived out the remainder of her life.
Our October sock club yarn is named for Elsie Inglis.
Our September yarn is named for Minnie Baldock, who, along with Annie Kenny, co-founded the first branch in London of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
Lucy Minnie Rogers was born in Bromley-by-Bow in 1864. As a girl she worked in a shirt factory.
Baldock married in 1888. The East End of London was known for its poor conditions and the Baldocks joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) after the socialist Keir Hardie became their member of parliament in 1892. She took charge of the local unemployment fund that was used to mitigate extreme hardship. Women were not then allowed to be a member of parliament, but the ILP chose her as their candidate to sit on the West Ham Board of Guardians in 1905.
Baldock and Annie Kenney formed the first London branch (in Canning Town) of the then Manchester based Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906. Baldock became a paid employee of the WSPU. Speakers invited to address the group included Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Baroness Pethick-Lawrence, Annie Kenney and Flora Drummond.. Baldock was arrested on 23 October 1906 (along with Nellie Martel and Anne Cobden Sanderson) for disorderly conduct during the opening of Parliament..
Baldock was again arrested after walking single file through the streets towards the houses of commons with Mrs. Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, and seven other women suffragists, in February 1908. “to present a petition from the Conference at Caxton Hall, and to the refusal of the authorities to treat suffragist offenders as first-class misdemeanants.” The women were charged with resisting and obstructing the police.
Miss Kenney and Mrs. Baldock, against whom there were previous convictions, were each fined £5, with the alternative of one month’s imprisonment in the second division. Mrs. Pankhurst and the other defendants were each ordered to find sureties of £20 to be of good behaviour for twelve months, or to go to prison for six weeks in the second division. All ten of the women chose to go to prison.”
Baldock had to leave her two boys, Jack and Harry, with their father whilst she served a month in jail, and her fellow suffragettes assisted him with looking after them.
As a suffragette who had been to jail, Baldock was given the honour of planting a commemorative tree at Eagle House (suffragette’s rest) in Somerset in February 1909.
The following year she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery performed by Louisa Aldrich-Blake. Baldock recovered but broke contact with the increasingly militant WSPU. She turned down their offer of help and went to recuperate in Brighton. She did keep in contact with Edith How-Martyn and she was still a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage. At the start of 1913 Baldock and her family moved to Southampton. She died in Poole in 1954.
Baldock’s name and picture (and those of 58 other women’s suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.
Our August yarn is named for Flora Drummond, 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 born on 4 August 1878 in Manchester. Whilst she was still a small child the family moved to Pirnmill on the Isle of Arran, where her mother had her roots. On leaving school at the age of fourteen Drummond moved to Glasgow to take a business training course at a civil service school where she passed the qualifications to become a post-mistress but since she was 5 feet 1 inch tall was refused a post as she did not meet the newly introduced minimum height requirement of 5 feet 2 inches. Although she went on to gain a Society of Arts qualification in shorthand and typing Drummond resented this discriminatory rule which meant that many women were prevented from being postmistresses. After her marriage to Joseph Drummond she moved back to Manchester.
Flora Drummond joined the WSPU in 1906, having attended the Liberal Party election meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester at which Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were imprisoned for pressing the candidate, Winston Churchill, to answer the question ‘If you are elected, will you do your best to make Women’s Suffrage a government measure?’. When the two women were released the WSPU held a celebratory rally in Manchester where Flora, who had witnessed their arrests, was persuaded to join the movement. Shortly afterwards Flora moved to London and by the end of 1906 had served her first term in Holloway after being arrested inside the House of Commons.
Drummond’s terms in prison, including several hunger strikes, took a physical toll on her and in 1914 she spent some time on Arran to recover her health and after her return to London on the outbreak of the First World War concentrated her efforts on public speaking and administration rather than direct action, thus avoiding further arrest. She remained prominent within the movement and in 1928 she was a pall-bearer at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst.
This portrait of Flora Drummond by Flora Lion can usually be seen at the Scottish national Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
Our July 2018 sock club yarn is named for Sophia Duleep Singh.
Our June yarn is named for Emmeline Pankhurst, who in 1999 was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. They said “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”.
Emmeline Pankhurst was widely criticised for her militant tactics, with historians disagreeing about their effectiveness, but her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in the UK.
Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to be dedicated to “deeds, not words”. The group identified as independent from – and often in opposition to – political parties. It became known for physical confrontations: its members smashed windows and assaulted police officers.
Eventually the group adopted arson as a tactic, and more moderate organisations spoke out against the Pankhurst family. In 1913 several prominent individuals left the WSPU, among them Pankhurst’s daughters Adela and Sylvia. Emmeline was so furious that she “gave [Adela] a ticket, £20, and a letter of introduction to a suffragette in Australia, and firmly insisted that she emigrate”. The family rift was never healed.
With the advent of the First World War, Emmeline and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant activism in support of the British government’s stand against the “German Peril”. They urged women to aid industrial production and encouraged young men to fight. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. This discrepancy was intended to ensure that men did not become minority voters as a consequence of the huge number of deaths suffered during the First World War.
Emmeline Pankhurst was selected as the Conservative candidate for Whitechapel and St Georges in 1927. She died on 14 June 1928, only weeks before the Conservative government’s Representation of the People Act (1928) extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age on 2 July 1928. She was commemorated two years later with a statue in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament.
Our May yarn is named for Millicent Fawcett, who is considered to have been instrumental in obtaining votes for women in the Representation of the People Act 1918.
Fawcett become interested in the cause at 19, after hearing a speech by the radical MP, John Stuart Mill, who was an early advocate of universal women’s suffrage. She was impressed by Mill’s practical support for women’s rights on the basis of utilitarianism.
Fawcett began her political career aged 22 at the first women’s suffrage meeting. As leader of the NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) she was a moderate campaigner, distancing herself from the militant activities of suffragettes like the Pankhursts and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She believed their actions were harming women’s chances of gaining the vote as they were alienating the MPs who were debating this topic and souring public attitudes towards the campaign. Despite the publicity given to the WSPU, the NUWSS, one of whose slogans was “Law-Abiding suffragists”) retained most support for the women’s movement. By 1905, Fawcett’s NUWSS had 305 constituent societies and almost fifty thousand members. In 1913 they had 50,000 members compared with the WSPU’s 2,000.
In Fawcett’s book,, Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement, she explains her disaffiliation with the more militant movement:
“I could not support a revolutionary movement, especially as it was ruled autocratically, at first, by a small group of four persons, and latterly by one person only … In 1908, this despotism decreed that the policy of suffering violence, but using none, was to be abandoned. After that, I had no doubt whatever that what was right for me and the NUWSS was to keep strictly to our principle of supporting our movement only by argument, based on common sense and experience and not by personal violence or lawbreaking of any kind.”
A statue of Millicent Fawcett by Gillian Wearing Parliament Square, was unveiled on 24th April 2018. Fawcett’s statue holds a banner quoting from a speech she gave following Emily Davison’s death during the 1913 Epsom Derby:
“Courage calls to courage everywhere”
Just to let you know some of our April Suffragette Sock Yarn is now available to buy as a single skein. This month’s yarn (pictured) is named for Leonora Cohen, who was moved to militant action after Prime Minister Herbert Asquith broke his commitment to votes for women by announcing a manhood suffrage bill. She famously smuggled an iron bar into the Jewel House of the Tower of London and smashed open a glass showcase. Wrapped around the iron bar was a note that said:
“Jewel House, Tower of London. My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners – Deeds Not Words. Lenora Cohen”
and on the other side:
“Votes for Women. 100 years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed.”
We’ve added some new items to our yarn sale also.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading. We wish you happy knitting in the month ahead!