The Weston women who fought for equality and the vote

PUBLISHED: 11:00 11 February 2018

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, from Weston, is released from prison in 1908 after lobbying for women's voting rights. Picture: Weston Museum

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, from Weston, is released from prison in 1908 after lobbying for women's voting rights. Picture: Weston Museum

Weston Museum

The suffrage campaign is synonymous with the Pankhursts and Millicent Fawcett, but thousands of women marched, petitioned and protested to win the vote – among them, some prominent and important Weston-super-Mare figures.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (Picture: Weston Museum) Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (Picture: Weston Museum)

Mrs MR Lunell, Susan Davies and Marion Williams from Weston signed the first mass petition by women urging for the vote. It had 1,499 names and was presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill in 1866. Historians have described it as a revolutionary document.

Weston was the childhood home of one of the movement’s most important suffragettes. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence grew up in Trewartha, the daughter of Henry Pethick, who owned the Weston Gazette.

She spent a number of years in London helping working class women before joining the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as treasurer in 1906. She was responsible for turning it into a co-ordinated piece of campaigning machinery.

She transformed the organisation, bringing in donations and setting up weekly meetings and luncheons for women released from prison, providing valuable publicity.

Ivy Millicent James. Ivy Millicent James.

She chose the WSPU’s colours – white, green and purple to symbolise purity, hope and dignity.

She was sent to prison several times, where she endured force-feeding. Emmeline and her husband Frederick were expelled from the WSPU in 1912, and they joined the United Suffragists.

Emmeline’s sister Dorothy regularly gave speeches around the country alongside the WSPU’s leading suffragettes. She was arrested a number of times, on one occasion for breaking the windows at a Post Office in Newcastle. She pleaded not guilty to smashing the window, but guilty of trying to.

She led a boycott of the census in Leicester in 1911, as a number of women decided ‘if they did not count, they would not be counted’.

Mrs Page driving one of the Weston trams. (PA Archive/Press Association Images) Mrs Page driving one of the Weston trams. (PA Archive/Press Association Images)

Weston artist Ivy Millicent James was also involved in the movement, designing the WSPU’s banner.

MORE: Who was Ivy Millicent James?

World War One was a defining moment for British women, as they filled the jobs usually taken by men.

Weston’s Beatrice Page, who lived in Whitecross Road, became Britain’s first female tram driver. She was paid less than the men were, and faced a lot of hostility.

She joined a national strike of female public transport workers in 1918, where women demanded equal pay to men. They did get a pay rise, but not equality.

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