Catherine Tillyard and women in politics – 1892

Catherine was a well-known figure in turn-of-the-century Cambridge – in 1899 her husband, Alfred, the editor of the Cambridge Independent newspaper became Mayor of Cambridge. For several decades she wrote the women’s column which, unusually for its time covered many things political both local and national. As a result, it is a treasure trove of information around the time of the votes-for-women movement.

Catherine Tillyard from Sheila Mann’s huge study of her daughter, Aelfreda.

Above – Tamsin Wilmhurst’s board for the Museum of Cambridge

The article below is from 1892 from the British Newspaper Archive, when Catherine stepped down as the hon. secretary of the Cambridge Women’s Liberal Association – an organisation she had done a huge amount of work to built up.


Annual Meeting.


921021 Catherine Tillyard Liberal Women AGM

“The annual meeting of the Cambridge Women’s Liberal Association was held on Tuesday evening . at the Town and County Liberal Club, St. Andrew’s-street. The proceedings commenced with tea, at which a large number sat down, and at the meeting the capacious assembly room was well filled. Mrs. Bateson, President of the Association, occupied the chair, and was supported, among others, the Hon. Mrs. Lyttelton, Mrs. Hoare, Mrs. Tillyard, Mrs. Neville, Mrs. Muir, Mrs. Holmden, Mrs. E. O. Fordham, Mrs. S. L. Young, Mrs. L. Tebbutt, Mrs Maris, Mrs. Greer, Mrs. Congreve, Mrs. Flitton, Mrs. F. Ward, Mrs. Campion, Miss M. Bateson, Miss Lindsay, Miss Hall, and Miss Alice Smith.

“Mrs. S. L. Young presented the balance-sheet for the past year. At the beginning of the year there was balance in hand of £5 16s 10d. The subscriptions amounted to nearly £26 and the total receipts amounted £44 17s. The expenditure left balance in hand of £7 18s. 6d., which, she thought, they ought to congratulate themselves upon.

“The Hon. Mrs Lyttelton moved the adoption of the treasurer’s report, and a vote of thanks to the auditor, Mr. Bullock. Her experience had been that the balance was usually on the wrong side, with the result that there were earnest applications for money to make up the deficit. They had a balance the right side, however, and no doubt the treasurer desired to keep it so. It was often said that they contrasted unfavourably with the Primrose League [The Conservative’s equivalent women’s organisation] having too much education and too little amusement, but if they noticed the difference between the leaflets and the bands in the report they would think different.

“Mrs. Greer seconded, remarking that when they remembered the difficulty they had in balancing their own accounts they would have lively sense of the kindness of the auditor and treasurer.

“Mrs. Tillyard read the annual report:

“Your Association, which was formed June 17th, 1886, has now entered upon its seventh year of work; and your Committee has every reason to be satisfied with the unflagging interest and , energy which has been displayed by the Association as a whole.

“The past year has been the most memorable of our annals. The point to which our Liberal work had, to a large extent, been aimed has been reached, and passed—we have participated in the struggle of the General Election. Although the defeat of Mr. Lehmann was undoubtedly great calamity, yet we had the satisfaction of seeing the Tory majority reduced by 200; while the triumph of Mr. Hoare West Cambs, and the magnificently increased majority of  Mr. Newues in East Cambs afford us solid ground for satisfaction.

“If we bear in mind that our objects are to endeavour to spread Liberal principles in Cambridge and the neighbourhood, especially among women, as well to promote the return of Liberal candidates to Parliament, we feel as survey the work of the past year that we have unceasingly striven to carry out the former.

“We began our season with the annual meeting, the minutes of which you have just heard read. This was followed November 6th by a concert at the Women’s Liberal Club, which was free to all members. The Hon. Mrs. Lyttelton presided and spoke, and the room was filled to overflowing. A debate on Women’s Suffrage was held at the Club on Nov. 25th, which Miss Stuart came specially from London to open. All the members of the Association were again invited to concert at the Club on December 30th, when the chair was occupied by Mrs. Lawrence. A large meeting at which Mrs. Wynford Philipps was to speak and Mrs. Bateson to preside, and which would have been preceded a tea.had to be abandoned on account of the widespread sickness from influenza, and the advice medical men not to assemble large numbers of people together. Indeed, had the Committee not resolved upon abandoning the plan that account when they did, loyalty and compassion would have compelled it, for the meeting had been fixed for the very day on which the funeral of the Duke of Clarence took place.

“In accordance with one of the objects of the Women’s Liberal Federation, to which are affiliated, we have thought it our duty not to neglect the interests of children, and we therefore invited representative of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (Mr. Burton Betham) to give us an account of the working of that organization with a view starting, if possible, branch in Cambridge. A public meeting was accordingly held at the Liberal Club, St. Andrew’s Street, and the Hon. Mrs. Lyttelton presided over a large audience. After further consultation with the headquarters the Society, it was deemed advisable to start the branch under the auspices of the Mayor, and thereby avoid awakening any party prejudice on the part of those who might be disposed to help. The Society is now in working order here.

[Note – this is a significant new finding – the setting up of the NSPCC’s Cambridge Branch in 1892]

“Besides these meetings, to which all members had received invitations, there had been numerous district meetings, which the report specified, and the Committee considered it a very creditable record of meetings for one winter season, and they felt they might assert with confidence that the meetings had never been flippant on the one hand, nor dull on the other.

“The Committee expressed their indebtedness to the Club for providing them with room, and in winter a fire, for the monthly Executive Committee meetings, for numerous District Committee meetings, and also both rooms for public meetings free. The Club Committee wished it to known that every Friday the Club rooms would be open to all members the Association, to read the papers, or amuse themselves with the games.

“The pleasant picnic to Odsey on July 31st will long be remembered one of the most successful excursions our Associaton has ever enjoyed. A garden party was planned for August 18th. but it could not be carried out on account of the wet weather. However, impromptu party was held the Liberal Club, St. Andrew’s Street, on which occasion a handsome bracelet was presented by the Association to Mrs. Lawrence, on her leaving for Chicago.

“Your Association regrets deeply the temporary absence of Mrs. Lawrence, who was not only secretary of the Christ Church District, but also Chairman of the Club, and who invariably performed her duties with exceptional ability. Mrs. Rye, secretary of the New Chesterton District, has also retired from that position, and at present living away from Cambridge. Mrs. Verrall has resigned the office of district secretary for Castle End [where Shire Hall is], and Mrs. Pattison-Muir likewise retires from the Central District. These changes try the strength and cohesion of the Association, but they are inevitable, and it will not do to be unduly depressed by them, but trust that their places may lie taken by willing and intelligent workers, and that the organization may not be seriously injured.

“Many of the members are aware of the death of Miss Rhodes, who was for a considerable time a member of the Executive Committee, and who withdrew from it owing to her prolonged absence from Cambridge every vacation. Her withdrawal was source of regret to those members of the Committee who appreciated her wisdom and her clear sightedness, and those of us who had the privilege of working with her would here record their sorrow for her death.

“At the Annual Conference of the Midland Union, held at Leicester last autumn, your Association was represented by Mrs. Bateson and your Secretary Miss Hall travelled to Birmingham on behalf of your Association to be present at a meeting of the Women’s Suffrage party in the Midland Union. Meetings of that party in the Federation itself have also been attended in London by your President and Secretary. It is needless to enter upon the peculiar circumstances of the Women’s Liberal Federation, and the triumph of Women’s Suffrage principles in the Federation, of which Mrs. Gladstone still remains President. The delegates chosen to attend the annual meetings of the Federation in May were the President. Hon. Secretary, Mrs. Rye, Mrs. Broom, and Mrs, Thompson, two of whom were hospitably entertained by Mrs. Bateson, who, in the capacity of President of the North Hampshire Association, was also entertaining delegates from that place.

“The present number of our members is 588. The fact that many of our members were working hard at the elections, which came at the time of year which is most favourable for getting fresh members, accounts amply for this number being only one more than last year. “ In presenting this report, your Committee feel that you will not fail to be satisfied that a solid educational work is going on whereby the women of Cambridge and the neighhourhood are becoming better fitted, not only to take an intelligent interest in the political affairs of this great nation, but also to take their share in forming its destiny by their votes when that long desired right shall have become theirs.” (Loud applause.)”

[Catherine’s speech ends]

“At the conclusion of the report, Mrs. Tillyard said she was obliged very unwillingly to resign the post of hon. secretary, which she had held since the formation the Association, in consequence of ill-health. She had been advised to take rest, and she was sure the members of the Association , would not grudge it to her. She took that opportunity of thanking them all for the loyal and cordial support, and the patient forbearance with her shortcomings, and for the unfailing courtesy and consideration she had received at their hands. (Applause.)

“Mrs. Hoare said she had great pleasure in moving the adoption of the report. Miss M. Bateson seconded, and expressed the hope that few months rest Mrs. Tillyard would be ready to resume her duties, and would read many another report to them.

“The report was adopted.

“Mrs Holmden proposed the re-election of Mrs. Bateson president. She was sure that as long as Mrs. Bateson was willing to serve them none of them could think of anyone else, and they could congratulate themselves especially upon retaining the services of one who had been from the beginnings a friend of the Association.

“They looked at the seven years’ growth of the Association.and the extension of its usefulness and increase of members beyond their brightest hopes. The report was remarkable one, and there were not many Men’s Liberal Associations that could show work so honestly and steadily done. They must feel how largely this was due to the efforts of the Secretary (Applause.)

“Mrs. Neville seconded, and the re-election was agreed to unanimously.

“Mrs. Bateson had hearty reception on rising to accept the position of president and the renewal of their confidence in her. She felt it was a very great act of favour their part, for she could not believe that the growth of the Association had of late years been at all attributable to any efforts of her own, living far from them and only able to come occasionally. Still her heart was in the work, and she was very pleased to accept the office once more. Miss Lindsay had simple task in proposing the re-election of Mrs. Young as Treasurer. The position was a thankless one, included bother, worry, and responsibility without figuring on the platform and getting into the way of people’s thanks.

“Miss. Lindsay referred the departure of Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence for America, mentioning the fact that she was one of the last to see them leave in the tender, and expressing the belief that Dr. Lawrence would find something to do in politics even in that land of freedom. Their Association was going on marvellously, and they need not mind the loss of anybody, because there were plenty of persons present to sustain the work. (Applause).

“Miss Flack seconded the resolution, and alluded to the fact that during the coming year in all probability Mr. Young would be mayor. (Applause). Mrs. Young accepted the office unanimously granted to her, and thanked them for their kind expressions. The next business being the election of a secretary, Mrs. Bateson proposed that a hearty vote of thanks be accorded Mrs. Tillyard for her past services. (Applause).

“There was really no one who could tell but those who had been very closely connected with the Association of the amount of hard work that it had required from the Secretary to build up that Association and bring it up to the present stage of development. It was upon the Secretary that the great amount of work and responsibility devolved, and the office required many qualities and combinations which they had found in Mrs. Tillyard, who had borne the burden for upwards of six years. And if they felt the very heavily it would ill become them to unduly press her to go on with the work, but they hoped that the time would not be far distant when Mrs. Tillyard might return to it (hear, hear).

“Miss Hall, in seconding, said no one who had not worked with Mrs Tillyard could imagine the zeal, devotion, and discretion she had combined. The Association had grown out of her work, and was the result of her zeal and wisdom, and losing her they were losing one of the best friends the Association had had (applause).

“The resolution was carried with acclamation, and Mrs. Tillyard, in responding, remarked that if she had, in addition to the qualities described by the President, the strength of horse, she would have kept on with the work (laughter). She spoke of the pleasure she had derived from the work, which had been reward sufficient (applause). After some discussion to the appointment of new hon. sec, it was agreed to adjourn the meeting for that purpose to some dale immediately following the meetings of the Midland Union next month.”

NSPCC Cambridge Branch founded

One of the things Catherine mentioned in her speech was the founding of the Cambridge Branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It was the Cambridge Women’s Liberal Association that made this happen, as confirmed below from the British Newspaper Archive.

920304 NSPCC Cambridge Branch founded

Many decades later…

In the days when local council committees could co-opt women onto their committees (Eglantyne Jebb serving on-and-off on Cambridge borough council’s education committee), Catherine Tillyard made an appeal that revealed the problems Cambridge was having with its slums.

180712 Catherine Tillyard public baths showers schools

Note that this was before the Housing Act 1919 which put money behind a large building of the first council houses.

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