British Newspaper Archive digitises ‘Suffragette Magazine’ and shines a light on the Cambridge Suffragettes


The local history goldmine that is the British Newspaper Archive posted this:

So if you want to see them yourself, subscriptions are from £6-£12 per month.

What does the magazine reveal about Suffragette activity in Cambridge?

Lots that we did not know (or was not widespread knowledge) before. Or rather was news at the time but very quickly became forgotten histories/herstories. The editions that have been digitised so far run from 1912-1918. As well as the basic details of their local meetings, we also find out about who were their financial backers – in particular those firms that advertised in the publication. We also find out – most significantly – a host of names who supported the Cambridge branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Local history gold dust.

Cambridge Independent Labour Party passes a motion backing the Suffragettes

121028 Cambridge Labour ILP backs votes for women

The resolution passed by Cambridge Independent Labour Party was:

“The Cambridge Branch of the Independent Labour Party, being determined that the political enfranchisement of the women workers shall be granted without delay, condemns the Government for introducing a Franchise Bill for men only, repudiates the sham pledges by which the Government are trying to trick advocates of Votes for Women, protests against the Government which is guilty of such a policy being kept in power by the aid of Labour votes – and finally calls upon Labour Members of Parliament to vote constantly and relentlessly against the Government from now onwards until they have either driven them from office or compelled them to introduce and carry a proposal giving votes to women on equal terms with men.”

When we read the above, this compares interestingly with the approach Clara Rackham, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and the Suffragists took when they met Prime Minister Asquith and Chancellor David Lloyd George the following year. That was shortly after the Cambridge leg of the 1913 Votes for Women Pilgrimage – one of the largest Votes for Women demonstration’s in Cambridge’s history.

The first listed meeting of Cambridge Suffragettes – Lynwode Road off Parker’s Piece & Fenners Cricket Ground

121025 Lynwode Rd meeting notice Brackenbury Causton

In the blue rectangle on the top left shows a meeting taking place on Lynwode Road – today one of the most expensive roads for houses in the city. Being so close to the railway station, you’d be lucky to buy a property – large town houses built in the Victorian era – for under a seven figure sum. We note “Mrs Causton” is listed as the hostess – I’ll be able to get further details from the various phone and trade books held in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

List of financial contributions

Before the Second World War, contributors to charitable causes were listed in local newspapers. The Suffragette is no different, and thus we find out the names of people who contributed and subscribed to the cause.

121025 Pankhurst visit announced

“Gratefully acknowledged:

  • Mrs Ecot – 1 shilling (s) 0 pence (d)
  • Mrs Morten – 2s.6d
  • The Misses Morten – 5s
  • Mrs Sutton – 2s
  • Miss Lance, 10s.6d
  • Miss Birt – 2s.6d
  • Mrs Bartels – 5s
  • Miss K.A. Daniell – 1s
  • Mrs M. Merryweather – 1s
  • Miss M Bartels – 10s
  • Miss Valentine – 2s.6d
  • Miss M.E. Pryor – 8s.6d
  • Mrs Webb – 5s
  • Mrs Baillie-Weaver – 10s
  • per Mrs Bartels, 1s
  • March members, 2s.

Note compared to other places listed, Cambridge is one of the smallest in terms of population – the town only had a population of 40,000 in those days. Yet the snapshot below shows that by 1912, there were groups of Suffragettes meeting up all over the country. This in part shows why it was so difficult for the police and politicians to get a grip on their campaign of direct action – the attacks came from everywhere.

121025 Snapshot local WSPU unions

The following month, we find Georgina Brackenbury is back in Cambridge – this time at Cambridge University’s oldest college, Peterhouse.

121115 Brackenbury at Peterhouse Cambridge

…shortly followed by a meeting at Tenison Road, just around the corner from Lynwode Road. Thus we start to build a picture that the Cambridge branch of the WSPU had more than a few very affluent and well-connected supporters who were willing to host meetings in their very large town houses.

More evidence of an affluent following

121115 Expensive clothes advert in Suffragette

An advert for expensive furs in “Ladies terror magazine”? 

Then there’s this former high street name that went into administration in 2017.

130509 Jaeger clothing advert

Did anyone in Cambridge advertise in The Suffragette?

Two stand out.

131017 Cambridge Health Food Depot Ad

A little bit of me would like to think that the Cambridge Health Food Depot was a forerunner of Arjuna on Mill Road given the latter’s history, and the Cambridge Sustainable Food hub. But there is another advertiser that stands out.

Heffers of Cambridge – one of the oldest bookshops in the city placed a number of adverts in successive editions.

“Soshlist Werker! Soshlist Werker! Buy your copee of the Soshlist Werker!”

One of the themes that also emerges is the repeated exhortations by the magazine to get volunteers to sell the magazine. Sometimes it reads as if it’s almost as if selling the magazine is more important than the campaign aims themselves. Thus we get a sense of just how much of a ‘command and control’ operation the Pankhursts were reputed to have run.

In one week in May 1913 they made a huge claim.

130509 15000 magazines sold

…which is the equivalent of one magazine for every four people in a safe-as-houses Conservative borough as it was at the time, with a town population (we weren’t a city until 1951) of 40,000, even with the help of the villages (which were even more Conservative than the town) the sceptic in me questions the truthfulness of that number.

Reporting on their actions and attacks

The attempted firebombing of the Cambridge Rugby Club Pavilion was one of the few acts of very serious violence – one that would fall under the definition of terrorism today – that was carried out by the Suffragettes in Cambridge. The torching of Storey’s Way homes by Norwich Suffragette Miriam Pratt was another. The magazine summarised who did what.

130516 direct action press summaries rugby club fire

Bungalows fired, firebomb at rugby club, bombing the bishop’s throne at St Paul’s Cathedral – along with blown up letter boxes and more broken windows all feature on this page.

The authorities’ responses of arresting and imprisoning the people involved

Campaigners thrown into prison would go on hunger strike, resulting in horrific attempts at force-feeding. In October 1913, Professor of Divinity James Bethune Baker put his name to a letter signed by fellow clergy nationwide to the Home Secretary condemning the ‘cat and mouse’ act due to the impact repeated hunger strikes were having on the health of women. His wife Edith would, seven years later be sworn in as a Cambridge magistrate in the first cohort of women to be elevated to the bench following the removal of the ban on women serving as magistrates.

Market Square stalls

Hardly any photographs survive, but we find listings and descriptions of the Suffragette stalls in Market Square.

130725 Market Square meetings

Ida and Barbara Wylie, according to June Purvis in her biography of Mrs Pankhurst owned a home that a number of Suffragettes recovering from their stays in prison would recuperate in. With the home under surveillance at the front, it was large enough for recovered activists to escape over a wall at the back into the home of another sympathiser, enabling the activists to escape those watching them. We also note the appearance of Mrs Lummis of Fulbrook Road.

Who was Mrs Lummis?

The Lummis family are of interest because this is the first appearance I’ve discovered of non-conformist preachers (in this case Unitarian) appearing in the Cambridge story.

Mrs Lummis appears to me Evelyn Constance Dixon, who married the Unitarian Preacher William Edward Lummis. (Who once wrote a poem for/to Mark Twain – see here). 43 Fulbrook Road is in Newnham – West Cambridge – a short walk from the college of that name. The address appears in successive editions in public notices.

140320 Unitarian Prayer E W Lummis

Every so often, a small notice like the above would appear.

Suffragettes chanting in churches

Churches were ideal places to target for actions for it was one of the few public places where women could be targeted en masse. Also, mindful of the churches that they targeted – the ‘establishment churches’ rather than the non-conformist mission rooms and halls serving Cambridge’s slums, it also meant they were targeting affluent women.

Furthermore, churchgoing was much higher back then than it is today, and more than a few of them would have been very pious and religious people with strong civic relationships with their clergy. Perhaps reflected in Professor Bethune-Baker’s signature in the letter to the Home Secretary.

131107 Suffragettes chanting in churches

The incidents in Cambridge mainly involved a handful of women standing up in church during a period of silence, recanting a prayer at the top of their voice in support of particular women in prison or for the cause generally, before quietly walking out.

Suffragettes in the People’s Republic of Romsey Town, Cambridge

Home to the workers in the town’s railway industry (which was huge at the time), there were a handful of meetings in what was Cambridge’s ‘East End’ – after which there were cement works before you hit the church end side of the village of Cherry Hinton.

140403 Romsey Town Institute meeting Margaret Wright

Almost a century later, a woman of the same name would be elected in the neighbouring ward, Abbey, to become Cambridge’s first Green Party Councillor – the late Margaret Wright who would serve our city before her untimely death from cancer in 2012.

And finally…

There’s Charles Gray’s speech which the Suffragette says over 1,000 people came to. I’ll need to cross-reference that with local papers from the time.

131107 Charles Gray thousand people

So, while the presence and activities of the Suffragists was perhaps more notable given the presence of the likes of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Eleanor Sidgwick, and the social actions of the likes of Florence Ada Keynes and Eglantyne Jebb, the Suffragettes didn’t just sit back and watch – they were very active too, even if we don’t have accounts of widespread window-smashing and sabotage that occurred elsewhere.



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