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Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Buss and her friend and associate Dorothea Beale, redoubtable members of the so-called Langham Place feminists, were the target of classic Victorian everyday sexism: ‘Miss Buss and Miss Beale/Cupid’s darts do not feel./How different from us,/Miss Beale and Miss Buss’, went one rhyme. Undeterred, they pressed on, and as schools opened, so did women’s colleges like Girton, founded in Hitchin in 1869 but relocated to Cambridge in 1873. By 1879 Oxford also had three women’s colleges: Lady Margaret Hall, Somerville and St Anne’s.

Helena Swanwick was in raptures remembering her time at Girton: ‘I had a study as well as a bedroom to myself … my own fire, my own desk, my own easy-chair and reading lamp … even my own kettle – I was speechless with delight … To have a study of my own and to be told that if I chose to put “Engaged” on the door, no one would so much as knock was itself so great a privilege as to render me from sleep.’67 (#litres_trial_promo)

But Girton was expensive, costing £35 per term for board and tuition, and, even once they’d been accepted, women were at a disadvantage. Philippa Fawcett, daughter of the suffragist campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett (of whom more later), attended Newnham College in 1890 and came top in the Cambridge Maths Tripos exams. But she couldn’t be named ‘senior wrangler’, the term for the university’s top maths undergraduate, because women were not listed and would in any case not become full university members until 1948. Only then did they receive proper degrees rather than patronising ‘certificates of achievement’.

Still, Fawcett had an easier time of it than her aunt Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, whose vocation to train as a doctor proved farcically hard to fulfil. Medical schools were rather conservative, and distinctly queasy about women attending classes in anatomy and physiology, as if the sight of a dead man’s penis might be too much for the poor delicate creatures.

Elizabeth’s father Newson Garrett, a successful but uneducated businessman, intended great things for his daughters – all that he had not had himself. After failing to get on with their governess, Elizabeth and her sister Louisa were packed off to the Academy for the Daughters of Gentlemen in Blackheath, where they were known as the ‘bathing Garretts’ because their father had instructed that they be given a hot bath once a week – an eccentric request in 1849. Elizabeth in particular hated its finishing-school atmosphere and the fact that she was not taught maths or science there.

At twenty-one, after a grand tour of the continent, Elizabeth found herself back at the family home in Aldeburgh, tutoring her numerous siblings; comfortable, but frustrated and intellectually restless. She became interested in the burgeoning women’s movement and read about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American (though British-born) female physician, in the Englishwoman’s Journal. Anderson heard that Blackwell was visiting Britain and contacted Emily Davies, the educational reformer who co-founded Girton College, to arrange a meeting, after which she was more certain than ever that she wanted to train to be a doctor. With Davies’ and Blackwell’s encouragement, Anderson set about filling in the gaps in her education and talking her father round. Newson Garrett initially thought the idea ‘disgusting’ but changed his mind, writing to her:

I have resolved in my own mind after deep and painful consideration not to oppose your wishes and as far as expense is concerned I will do all I can in justice to my other children to assist you in your study.

So Anderson enrolled as a nursing student at Middlesex Hospital, where she won round doubters with her competence, learned what she could from those doctors who were prepared to teach her and sneakily attended classes intended for male students only. To earn a medical degree, however, Anderson had to find a university that would allow her to matriculate. She applied to numerous English and Scottish medical schools, only to be refused entry on bizarre gender grounds. Her rejection letter from Aberdeen is priceless:

I must decline to give you instruction in Anatomy … I have a strong conviction that the entrance of ladies into dissecting rooms and anatomical theatres is undesirable in every respect, and highly unbecoming. It is not necessary that fair ladies should be brought into contact with such foul scenes – nor would it be for their good, any more than for that of their patients.68 (#litres_trial_promo)

Frustrated, she spotted a loophole at the Society of Apothecaries, which didn’t specifically forbid women sitting their exams. As it happened, the Society changed its rules to exclude women shortly afterwards, but the licence Anderson acquired allowed her to apply to a medical school in Paris where women were accepted. She obtained her degree in 1870, teaching herself French in order to do so, and returned to England to take up the post of chief medical officer at a children’s hospital.

The following year, Elizabeth married James G. Skelton Anderson, the managing director of the Orient Steamship Company, in an unconventional ceremony in which she refused to say that she would ‘obey’ him. With his financial help she founded the New Hospital for Women in London, which had an all-female staff, and she worked there between 1886 and 1892, remaining the dean until 1902.

Several other Victorian female doctors went on to found hospitals after jumping through numerous hoops to qualify. Sophia Jex-Blake was one. A rival of Garrett Anderson’s, she founded both a hospital and a school of medicine for women in Edinburgh. But she did so in the face of quite extraordinary discrimination.

Born in Hastings, Sophia had been working without pay at Queen’s College, London as a maths tutor because her father, a proctor at a lawyers’ society, wouldn’t allow her to accept a salary. Deciding to train as a doctor, she went first to America, where she studied briefly with Elizabeth Blackwell in New York, before returning to England when her father died in 1869. But finding a British medical school to take her was harder than she expected. The University of London, ‘of whose liberality one heard so much’, rejected her, explaining that ‘the charter had been purposely so worded as to exclude the possibility of examining women for medical degrees.’ With the help of influential friends, she lobbied to be accepted by Edinburgh, which agreed to teach her only after she had personally advertised for more women entrants to make up numbers.

Sophia and four other women started their Edinburgh course in October 1869. Several curmudgeonly tutors refused to teach them, but they quickly proved themselves as capable as their male counterparts. One of them even won a prestigious Hope Scholarship, awarded to the top four students in the year, although Sophia later complained that it had been ‘wrested from the successful candidate and given over her head to the fifth student on the list, who happened to be a man’.

The bullying Sophia and her colleagues endured in Edinburgh has passed into feminist legend. In her autobiography Sophia described how, after a meeting with the Royal Infirmary’s management team, ‘a certain proportion of the students with whom we worked became markedly offensive and insolent, and took every opportunity of practising the petty annoyances that occur to thoroughly ill-bred lads – such as shutting doors in our faces, ostentatiously crowding into seats we usually occupied, bursting into horse-laughs and howls when we approached – as if a conspiracy had been formed to make our position as uncomfortable as it might be’.69 (#litres_trial_promo)

Sophia’s fellow Edinburgh medic Edith Pechey described the treatment she endured in a letter to the Scotsman:

If we happen to meet students on our way home in the evening … [they] find pleasure in following a woman through the streets, and take advantage of her being alone to shout after her all the foulest epithets in their voluminous vocabulary of abuse … I should be very sorry to see any poor girl under the care (!) of such men as those, for instance, who the other night followed me through the street, using medical terms to make the disgusting import of their language more intelligible to me.70 (#litres_trial_promo)

The more successful the women became in their studies, the more the violence against them escalated. Mud was thrown at them and fireworks attached to the doors of their lodgings. On 18 November 1870 the women arrived to sit an anatomy exam at Surgeon’s Hall, only to find a drunken mob blocking their entry and a live sheep wandering around the room. The none-too-subtle message was that a woman was as unwelcome there as a farmyard animal. ‘The unruffled lecturer advised his class to take no notice of the animal, saying that it had more sense than those who sent it in.’

To add insult to injury, on 8 January 1872 Edinburgh’s University Court decided the university would not, after all, be awarding the women a degree. But it was okay – they were still free to study there, ‘if we would altogether give up the question of graduation, and be content with certificates of proficiency’ (Sophia’s italics). The students tried to sue Edinburgh University for breach of implied contract. When this failed, they pursued the matter through Parliament and after three years of squabbling, during which Sophia founded the London School of Medicine for Women, achieved victory in the form of the Russell Gurney Enabling Act (1876), which obliged medical bodies to allow women to sit exams – except in surgery – and gave women the same rights as men to enter the profession.

Sophia Jex-Blake eventually sat her medical exams in 1877 at the Irish College of Physicians in Dublin. She set up her own practice in Edinburgh the following year and by the end of 1878 had treated 574 patients. From then on, women’s progress through the profession was unstoppable. In January 1882, 26 women in England were registered as having medical qualifications, rising to 477 by 1911. How absurd that it had been such a struggle.

In a sense, these clever, educated women couldn’t win. So-called New Women – with their bicycles, cheque books and eccentric desire to vote and hold down demanding jobs – were either shockingly erotic, in possession of a sex drive which was hard to control, or satirised as bluestockings: walking Punch cartoons, with their gaiters, loosely fitting skirts and, possibly, bloomers. They were in the curious position of knowing too much to be interesting to men, a position most of them enjoyed.

Elizabeth Blackwell had broken the news as early as 1881 that women had sex drives:

The radical physiological error, which underlies ordinary thought and action in relation to the evils of sex, is the very grave error that men are much more powerfully swayed by this instinct of sex than are women. From this radical error are drawn the false deductions that men are less able to resist that instinct; that they are more injured by abstinence from its satisfaction; and that they require a licence in action which forbids the laying down of the same moral law for men and women.71 (#litres_trial_promo)

This was incendiary stuff. One of the scandals of Gertrude Blood’s divorce trial in 1886 was her husband Lord Colin Campbell’s allegation that she had had four adulterous relationships, one of them with the Duke of Marlborough. Of course, only men were allowed in the public gallery to hear the details as the evidence was considered not fit for female ears. Lord Colin Campbell’s solicitor denounced her to the jury as ‘grossly sensuous, guilty of yielding to the gratification of her passions, guilty of indecency of the grossest character as to time, place and circumstances’.72 (#litres_trial_promo)

Sexually liberated women were rather more sympathetically drawn in the popular novels of the day. One of the most widely read was Anna Lombard (1901) by ‘Victoria Cross’ – a nom de plume used by Annie Sophie Cory, the Indian-born daughter of a British army colonel.

It was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its day, selling an estimated six million copies, running through more than thirty editions and remaining in print until 1930, after which it mysteriously vanished from the nation’s book shops and shelves. On publication it was denounced by critics as ‘disgusting’ (Athenaeum) and ‘thoroughly impure’ (Academy) because its eponymous New Woman heroine, while engaged to be married to an assistant commissioner in the Indian Civil Service called Gerald Ethridge, sleeps with and then marries her servant Gaida.

Gerald finds himself in a quandary. Should he abandon Anna or persist with the engagement in the hope that she will come to her senses and overcome the physical obsession for which, Gerald concedes with extraordinary post-feminist empathy, she is ‘no more to be held responsible than she would have been for any physical malady’?

Adultery, interracial sex, infanticide … Cory took every Victorian taboo she could think of and moulded a bestselling novel out of them, complete with prose which cleverly (or not so cleverly, depending on your viewpoint) displaces onto the natural world the sex it would have been illegal for her to describe: ‘The purple sky above was throbbing, beating, palpitating … What a night for the registration or the consummation of vows!’73 (#litres_trial_promo)

Just as intriguing was Cory’s switching of gender roles – so that it is Anna who is the sexual adventurer and Gerald who nurtures and abstains. One contemporary reviewer who appreciated this was the journalist W. T. Stead, friend of Annie Besant, who wrote: ‘Never before in English fiction can I remember so clearly cut a representation of an embodiment in a woman of what, alas!, is common enough in a man.’74 (#litres_trial_promo)

The cultural reign of the New Woman was long – from the early 1890s to 1911, though establishment newspapers tired of her early: ‘Shall we never have done with the New Woman?’ asked The Times, reviewing Ella Hepworth Dixon’s only novel The Story of a Modern Woman in 1894. No one embodied her freewheeling sexual confidence like Amber Reeves – Maud Pember Reeves’ daughter and the model for Ann Veronica Stanley in H. G. Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica – ‘a girl of brilliant and precocious promise … [with] a sharp, bright, Levantine face under a shock of very fine abundant black hair, a slender nimble body very much alive, and a quick greedy mind’.75 (#litres_trial_promo) Educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she helped to found the Cambridge Fabian Society, Reeves read Moral Sciences and gained a double first in 1908.

Her affair with Wells was one of the great scandals of the day. When it was discovered, Wells was ostracised by many friends and obliged to resign from the Savile Club. But even though the relationship produced a child – a marriage of convenience to a lawyer called Rivers Blanco White followed hastily – there was never any suggestion that she was a victim. On the contrary, in the reckless, emancipated spirit of Anna Lombard, she had wanted sex with Wells as much as he had wanted it with her.


On 22 January 1901, Victoria died at the age of eighty-one. She had ruled over a fifth of the land area of the world, a population of four hundred million people. But imperial confidence was starting to crumble. The empire was expensive to maintain and, besides, other countries were catching up with Britain’s technological invention, expansionist ambition and naval power.

As we saw earlier, Victoria had railed against the ‘mad wicked folly’ of women’s rights. The next twenty years would show her to have been on the wrong side of history. But many women, particularly aristocratic ones, agreed with her. In 1889 a petition in the Nineteenth Century magazine signed by over a hundred mostly upper-class women rejected calls for equality because of ‘disabilities of sex’ (menstruation) and ‘strong formations of custom and habit resting ultimately on physical difference, against which it is useless to contend’.76 (#litres_trial_promo)

Funnily enough, the first woman to vote did so accidentally. Lily Maxwell owned a crockery shop in Manchester and so met the property qualification that would have allowed her to vote had she been a man. Her name had been added to the electoral register in error. Encouraged by Lydia Becker, she voted in a by-election in 1867 (for her local Liberal MP, Jacob Bright), although her vote was subsequently declared illegal. ‘We are told that Mrs Lily Maxwell is an intelligent person of respectable appearance,’ the feminist Englishwoman’s Review reassured its readers. ‘It is sometimes said that women, especially those of the working class, have no political opinion at all, and would not care to vote. Yet this woman, who by chance was furnished with a vote, professed strong political opinions, and was delighted to have a chance of expressing them.’77 (#litres_trial_promo)

From the 1860s onwards there was constant fracturing and realignment of pro-suffrage groups; constant disputes over tactics and even goals. In 1897 another Women’s Suffrage Bill passed its second reading with a seventy-one-vote majority, only to collapse when the government refused to allocate further time to it. Some saw this as evidence of progress, others as the exact opposite.

The most obvious split was between the ‘suffragists’ – whose most famous figurehead was Millicent Garrett Fawcett – and the ‘suffragettes’ – led by the Pankhursts. The suffragists, represented by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), were committed to winning the vote by constitutional, non-violent means. Suffragettes, on the other hand, felt a defiant, militant path was the only appropriate one. They rallied to a different banner – that of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed by Emmeline Pankhurst.

The Pankhursts occupy a curious place in our culture. They’re synonymous with the fight for suffrage to the point where most people aren’t aware that anyone else was involved. Like Florence Nightingale and the Brontës, they are better known as a heritage brand than as actual people. Remarkable though their idealism and crusading zeal undoubtedly was, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters could be, in their biographer Martin Pugh’s words, ‘ruthless, high-handed and self-righteous’; characters who on close inspection ‘come as a shock’.

The Pankhursts’ fame has overshadowed the contribution of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who, in a quieter way, played a more effective role in acquiring the vote for women. She also found time to co-found Newnham College, Cambridge and, in 1901, travel to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps the British had set up there after the Boer War.

Pankhurst mania has also obscured fascinating figures like Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Duleep Singh. (He married a chambermaid, Ada Wetherill, after Sophia’s mother died of typhoid, caught from ten-year-old Sophia who miraculously recovered.) Sophia was another of Queen Victoria’s goddaughters, but turned against the Empire after visiting India in 1907. Once back in England, she campaigned for both the Women’s Social and Political Union and Dora Montefiore’s Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL) – motto, ‘No vote, no tax’. And despite her aristocratic credentials she was happy to stand on street corners selling The Suffragette newspaper.

So how did the Pankhursts come to own the suffrage story? The answer lies, rather prosaically, in the political scene of the 1880s and 1890s.

Gladstone’s Third Parliamentary Reform Act of 1885 had massively expanded working-class suffrage for men, giving male agricultural labourers the vote but not women. As it happened, 1885 was also the year that a Manchester-based barrister and campaigner called Dr Richard Pankhurst stood for Parliament in Rotherhithe as a Liberal candidate, having tried his luck in Manchester a couple of years before. This time he won 45.7 per cent of the vote. Close, but no cigar. Still, his campaign experience was, his wife Emmeline reflected, ‘a valuable political lesson, one that years later I was destined to put into practice’.

Emmeline Goulden had been born in 1858 into a radical liberal Mancunian family. When Emmeline was still a child, the barrister and would-be politician Richard Pankhurst, already a key figure in the women’s suffrage campaign, was something of a hero. In 1870 he had drafted the first Women’s Suffrage Bill, a Private Members’ Bill which had passed its first and second readings in the House of Commons before being thrown out by Gladstone.

After a spell studying in Paris, during which she nearly married a French man, Emmeline returned to Manchester. On 31 April 1878 her father took her to an anti-Disraeli rally at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, where she was charmed by the passion and erudition of Dr Pankhurst, who had a high-pitched voice, a red, pointy beard and a ‘tendency to go over the top in his determination to set the world to rights’ – a determination which would ultimately cost him a successful career.78 (#litres_trial_promo)

Richard and Emmeline married – he was forty-four, she twenty – and between 1880 and 1889 produced five children. Christabel was the eldest, followed by Sylvia, Frank, Adela and Harry. (Frank died aged four of diptheria.) In line with Richard’s marital declaration to Emmeline that ‘every struggling cause shall be ours’, the children were brought up to be agents of ‘social betterment’ – drilled into moral shape by their ambitious, disciplinarian parents, who treated them as little adults.

The Pankhursts flitted between a new house in London’s Russell Square and Manchester, Emmeline throwing herself into the role of political hostess while the children jostled for her attention which, when it was given at all, was usually lavished on confident, beautiful Christabel. Sylvia and Adela particularly suffered from this genteel neglect. Sylvia had poor eyesight, but since Emmeline disapproved of glasses she was never allowed a pair and so endured migraines for years.

In this charged environment, dysfunctionality reigned: the squabbles and more serious relationship breakdowns that blighted the Pankhursts’ adult lives were, says Pugh, ‘clearly foreshadowed in childhood’.79 (#litres_trial_promo) During this time Emmeline was always exquisitely dressed in the latest Paris fashions, and despised women who looked shabby. She would always take ‘enormous trouble over her appearance in public’, as if to reassure doubters that suffrage-seeking women were not the mannish caricatures of satirical cartoons. Sylvia, by contrast, was a notoriously shabby dresser – ‘a proper scruff’, in the words of one former trade union leader.80 (#litres_trial_promo)

Emmeline’s involvement with the women’s suffrage movement was, to begin with, politely constitutional, conforming to the widely held view that only single, unmarried women should get the vote. This was partly tactical, as it was thought that pressing for full female suffrage when 40 per cent of men still couldn’t vote was pointless and unrealistic. Emmeline’s subsequent change of tack had two catalysts. One was her election as a Poor Law guardian in Chorlton in 1894, which saw her campaign successfully for workhouse inmates to have private lockers for their possessions, warmer clothing and better food. The other was the death in 1898 of Richard – aged sixty-four – from a perforated ulcer.

Christabel, meanwhile, had been drifting aimlessly, and in 1901 wrote to her mother: ‘Have you any ideas about me yet?’ She befriended two powerful, highly politicised women, Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper, both members of the North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage. They have sometimes been portrayed as a lesbian couple who drew Christabel into their relationship. The Pankhursts’ biographer Martin Pugh thinks this unlikely, but they had a warming, softening influence on Christabel. At Gore-Booth and Roper’s suggestion, she decided to study law. It would prove the perfect training for her quick, lively mind.

Emmeline seems to have been infuriated by Christabel’s political awakening. In 1903, perhaps jealous of Christabel for picking up the suffrage baton, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an extension of an earlier suffrage society she’d founded in 1889, the Women’s Franchise League. The WSPU motto, ‘deeds, not words’, underwrote their manifesto of what Ray Strachey calls ‘moral violence’, which was born of impatience with Fawcett’s slow attempt to obtain reform by constitutional means.

Emmeline sought a close relationship with the Independent Labour Party (ILP), but the ILP was ambivalent about female suffrage, fearing that if property-owning women got the vote as the WSPU demanded, they’d be more likely to vote Tory or Liberal. They also feared that allowing women to work would be bad for wages.

In 1905 the ILP leader Keir Hardie, to whom Sylvia had grown close, tried to introduce a bill proposing suffrage for female householders. His failure bolstered the Pankhursts’ confidence and they vowed to turn the WSPU into an ‘army in the field’, recruiting key personnel such as Hannah Mitchell, Flora Drummond – a stout Scot nicknamed Precocious Piglet who liked dressing in military uniform – and Annie Kenney. Annie had met Christabel in Oldham in spring 1906 and pledged allegiance on the spot. The fifth child in a family of eleven, she had left school at thirteen and was needy and damaged – a naive dreamer looking for a good, brave cause. Sylvia Pankhurst would later write that ‘her lack of perspective, her very intellectual limitations, lent her a certain directness of purpose when she became the instrument of a more powerful mind’.81 (#litres_trial_promo)

That powerful mind belonged to Christabel. For her, militancy was important because of the message it sent that women were capable of such behaviour. On 13 October 1905 she was arrested and imprisoned for deliberately spitting at a policeman outside Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, an event which turned the suffragettes, as the Daily Mail called them, into martyr-heroes.

After the Liberals won the 1906 election, Christabel severed her links with the ILP, and the WSPU moved to London, its goal to attract fashionable, bourgeois women and acquire both a funding stream and (with Keir Hardie’s help) a treasurer. A newspaper, Votes for Women, was launched and was selling 22,000 copies by May 1909. A car was bought for Emmeline and a chauffeur hired – former actress Vera Holme, who wore masculine attire and was always called Jack.

Artistic Sylvia, once a prize-winning student at Manchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, oversaw the WSPU’s visual branding – the flags, banners and a broad range of ‘official’ memorabilia – while Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, a wealthy philanthropist who was co-editor of Votes for Women, came up with the iconic colour scheme: purple (for dignity), white (for purity) and green (for hope). Members were encouraged to wear the colours ‘as a duty and a privilege’. Suffragette ‘uniforms’ were stocked by leading department stores like Selfridges and Liberty.

The WSPU fractured repeatedly over the next few years as new offshoots formed, such as the Women’s Freedom League. On 21 June 1908, a staggering 250,000 people attended a WSPU rally in Hyde Park, only for Asquith to dismiss its significance. Christabel was roused to violence once more and the suffragettes stormed Parliament Square in October 1908, after which Emmeline, Christabel and Flora Drummond were put on trial charged with incitement to rush the House of Commons. Lawyer Christabel scored another PR victory when she called Lloyd George and Gladstone in evidence and ran rings round them, controlling the courtroom ‘like a little singing bird’ (as the caricaturist Max Beerbohm put it). Jailed again, Christabel became a huge celebrity, and Madame Tussaud’s even commissioned her waxwork. But prison ground her down and the Liberal government, more distracted than ever by the effort of forcing through its radical programme under Lloyd George, continued to ignore female suffrage as an issue.

In the years leading up to the First World War, the WSPU continued to pursue its policy of seeking out violent conflict for propaganda purposes. When the suffragettes marched on Parliament again on 29 June 1909, Emmeline struck a policeman so that she would be arrested and tried for sedition. This ushered in a period of arson, chemical attacks and hunger strikes. The first imprisoned woman to refuse food was Marion Wallace Dunlop, who in July 1909 had been sentenced to a month in Holloway for vandalism. When she was denied political prisoner status, she refused food for ninety-one hours. Afraid that she would die and become a martyr, Gladstone released her early on medical grounds. This established a pattern other suffragettes would mimic – imprisonment followed by swift release. The government tried to break the pattern, first through barbaric methods of force-feeding (from September 1909), then later in April 1913 through the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, known as the Cat and Mouse Act. This enabled a hunger-striking prisoner to be released from prison when her health started to fail, then re-imprisoned when she had recovered so that her sentence could be served in full.

After 1910, Fawcett’s NUWSS became the main players as support for militancy crumbled. The WSPU had announced a cessation of hostilities in January 1910, but it didn’t last long. The eighteenth of November 1910 became known as Black Friday when Asquith’s quashing of the Conciliation Bill, which would have extended the vote to property-owning women, caused widespread protests. Around two hundred women were assaulted by police and the event gave rise to one of the suffrage campaign’s most famous photographic images: demonstrator Ada Wright lying on the ground, her hands covering her face while two men stoop over her.

By the end of 1911 there was still no real progress, despite Lloyd George being sympathetic to the cause. Asquith continued to voice his opinion that granting the vote to women would be a ‘political mistake of a very disastrous kind’. He simply didn’t understand why women would want to vote. After all, neither his wife nor his daughter did. He believed militancy – which he experienced personally when militants tried to tear off his clothes on the golf links at Lossiemouth in Scotland – was off-putting to the public and would kill popular support for the cause.

After the 1912 Reform Bill failed to give women the vote, Fawcett allied herself with the Labour Party, who agreed to vote against any future franchise bill that did not include women. The Pankhursts’ response was to go into furious overdrive – more window-smashing, more imprisonment, more force-feeding. Tiring of the melée, Christabel bailed out and moved to Paris, leaving Annie Kenney in charge. ‘Where is Christabel?’ asked the headlines. In fact, she had booked herself into a hotel under the name ‘Amy Richards’ and for a while continued to exert control remotely, for example issuing the order for the MP Lewis Harcourt’s house to be burned down. In practice, though, this was the beginning of her detachment from British politics. With Christabel out of the picture, Sylvia Pankhurst set up her own socialist-inclined suffrage campaign in the East End.
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