Womens’ Suffrage in Dover

Cinque Port Ship window, Council Chamber, Maison Dieu

Cinque Port Ship window, Council Chamber, Maison Dieu

Dover, as a Cinque Port, held on to the terms of Gavelkind, a Saxon Law, long after the Normans came in 1066. Meaning ‘Give all kind’, it was a form of land tenure dealing with intestate estates where, amongst other things, the children, whether male or female, of a deceased son inherited the father’s portion. It was not until the end of the 16th century, when Elizabeth I was on the throne, that it became custom for women to bestow their titles and properties on their husbands and sons. In consequence, they slowly lost their rights to property and associated rights. The Reform Act of 1832 replaced the term ‘person’, as was usual, with the term ‘male’ and women, from then on, were officially disenfranchised.

In 1857, women from the upper strata of society successfully campaigned for the right to sue ex-husbands after divorce for their share of the marital home. John Stuart Mill, in 1865, called for women to have the vote and women’s suffrage was discussed during the debates on the Second Reform Act of 1867. The Act extended the vote to ratepayers and male franchise increased to 2.5 million. The Act, however, did not specify the sex of the ratepayer. On 26 November 1867 Mrs Lily Maxwell, of Manchester, voted but the Court of Common Pleas declared her vote illegal and the word ‘man’ was inserted into the Act.

Richard Dickeson elected to the Corporation in 1871 through the influence of those women who had been given the vote in local elections

Richard Dickeson elected to the Corporation in 1871 through the influence of those women who had been given the vote in local elections

This led to an outcry from women, including a petition from Dover dated 17 June 1869, and led to the Municipal Franchise Act of that year. This Act allowed unmarried women householders to vote in local elections and in Dover, the women used their vote, most notably in 1871. Their vote turned the Conservative long-standing majority in Pier Ward to Liberal. Richard Dickeson was elected Mayor. He went on to make a positive impact on Dover’s economy and supported women’s rights.

The year before, MP Richard Pankhurst pushed through the first stage of the Married Women’s Property Act, which allowed married women the right to own property. However, it was another twelve years before it was fully achieved. Parliament’s procrastination triggered a public outcry ensuring that a Mrs. Ronniger spoke to a full house at the Apollonian Hall, Snargate Street, on 21 February 1872, on the subject.

Apollonian Hall, Snargate Street. Dover Museum

Apollonian Hall, Snargate Street. Dover Museum

Mrs. Ronniger also argued that, ‘It was unjust that those women who were taxed equally to men had no direct power to say, through members of Parliament, how the public money should be raised, and how it should be spent.’ Going on to say that, ‘Women must obey the Law and many laws affect the interests of women, yet they are the largest class of citizens without a share in the making of laws that affect them.’

Later that year the National Society of Women’s Suffrage was formed and on 15 January 1873, a meeting was held in Dover that initiated the Dover Suffrage Society. Its committee included Mary Anne Apps of 68 Maison Dieu Road and Mrs. Wakefield of 8 East Cliff, who was the secretary.

Public meetings were held and on 6 December 1876, 400 people, mainly women, attended a packed Wellington Hall, (between Snargate and Northampton Streets), to hear speeches from leading suffragists, Helen Blackburn, Isabella Tod, Caroline Biggs and Mary Anne Apps of Dover Suffrage Society

The third Reform Act of 1884 doubled male electors to 5 million. Five years later, in 1889, Emily, the widow of Richard Pankhurst, founded the Women’s Franchise League. Their campaigning led Government to allow property owning single women to become Poor Law Guardians, and to become members of School Boards.

George Wyndham Dover's MP. Photographer A J Grossman c 1885

George Wyndham Dover’s MP. Photographer A J Grossman c 1885

1892 and George Wyndham, Dover’s Conservative MP, made a stirring speech in Parliament advocating Women Suffrage. He thus became one of the oldest and trusted supporters of the suffrage movement. However, he did not receive the backing of the House of Commons and with frustration mounting groups women, all over the country, were setting up independent organisations all aimed at the same purpose.

This led, on 14 October 1897, to the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies or the NUWSS. Their main aim was to put pressure on non-supportive MPs. The long-standing president was Millicent Fawcett, the sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), and UK’s first female doctor. Of note, Dr Anderson had been reluctantly admitted to the British Medical Association in 1873 and it was another 19 years before the next female was admitted.

Emily Pankhurst and her two daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, were members of the NUWSS but felt that it was not radical enough. Thus, in 1904, the Pankhurst’s set up the Women’s Social and Political Union -WSPU. Their first campaign was aimed at a Liberal Party conference but made little impact. With the slogan, ‘Deeds Not Words’, in June 1906, they organised a Women’s Sunday march in Hyde Park attended by 250,000 people. It was at this time the word Suffragettes was coined and was only applicable to members of the WSPU.

The following February (1907) the NUWSS held a demonstration in which over 3,000 women took part – including a small contingency from Dover. On 30 September 1908, the NUWSS held an even larger rally and again Dover was represented. Of those who attended was Dr Annie Brunyate (1872-1937) Dover’s first female medical practitioner.
A graduate of Girton College, Cambridge (1892-5) she had undergone medical training at Durham and gained her doctorate from St Hugh’s, Oxford. She lived with her mother at 4 Effingham Crescent, where she practised. The house was also the HQ of the Dover Suffrage Society.

In January 1909, Dr Annie along with six other ladies took the Dover Women’s Suffrage Society (DWS) into the NUWSS and invited women of the town to an ‘At Home’. This was held in the then Christ Church Mission Hall and one of their speakers was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The chairman was Hungarian born Ilena Ginever, the wife of a vicar and lived at 17 Park Avenue.

Women's Suffrage meeting, Maison Dieu - then the Town Hall - 22 April 1909. Dover Library

Women’s Suffrage meeting, Maison Dieu – then the Town Hall – 22 April 1909. Dover Library

The meeting was a lively affair emphasising that the right to elect an MP was not an end in itself but the beginning of major social reforms appertaining to women. These included:
Equality in wages,
Equality in the work place, for instance the abolition of sweating system for women – it had already been abolished for men;
The availability of technical training for women – trades unions had successfully legislated against this being available to women
Opening up the professions, such as the law, to women.

The majority of those who attended were impressed and on Thursday 22 April 1909 DWS held a public meeting at the Town Hall. Mrs Alice Barlow, wife of Edward Percy Barlow, Chairman of Wiggins Teape, Buckland, was elected President. Her daughter-in-law Alice, vice-president. Honorary Secretary was Dr Annie Brunyate and Honorary Treasurer was Lorna Bomford. Lorna was born on 29 December 1883, the daughter of the retired Indian Surgeon-General Sir Gerald Bomford. She lived with her parents at Hillesden, 14 Godwyne Road.

Alice Mary Barlow President of Dover Women's Suffrage Society and wife of the Chairman of Wiggin Teape's Buckland Paper Mill. Photo Ralph Harding

Alice Mary Barlow President of Dover Women’s Suffrage Society and wife of the Chairman of Wiggin Teape’s Buckland Paper Mill. Photo Ralph Harding

The DWS committee arranged further public meetings frequently joined forces with Florence Macauley (1862-1945) of Folkestone. She was the Kent representative of the radical WSPU, led by Mrs Pankhurst.

1909 saw an increase in militancy by the WSPU with more of their members arrested and imprisoned. Following her imprisonment, on 5 July that year, Marion Wallace Dunlop went on hunger strike. She was released after 91 hours of fasting. 9 July a deposition was made to King Edward VII for female suffrage, but was blocked by protocol. In retaliation, hunger strikes, following imprisonment became the next stage in the WSPU campaign. By September, force-feeding was introduced – this was not only by mouth.

At the end of December 1909, the Dover Express published a long letter from Alice Barlow, Lorna Bomford and Annie Brunyate – saying, in essence, that woman should not be disqualified from voting simply on the grounds of their sex. Making the same points as before, they added that at the General Election, to be held in January 1910, they would wait with their petitions outside the polling stations.

Dover Ladies Suffrage Petition January 1909. Dover Library

Dover Ladies Suffrage Petition January 1909. Dover Library

1910, was unusual in that for the first time in over 200 years there were two Parliamentary elections, but only one contest took place in Dover. The first Parliamentary Election was on 15 January and in the run up deputations from the DWS was received by both local candidates, Conservative, George Wyndham and Liberal, Montague Bradley. George Wyndham reiterated his commitment to women being enfranchised on the same grounds men but added that his Party was divided. Montague Bradley did not pledge himself. George Wyndham won although the Liberals were returned to power at Westminster.
In the second contest, which took place in December, Mr Wyndham was returned unopposed and again the Liberals won nationally.

During 1910, the WSPU increased their campaign and on Saturday 28 May organised a march along the Westminster Embankment to the Royal Albert Hall, where Emily Pankhurst chaired the meeting. A delegation from Dover attended.

On 4 June Dr Annie Brunyate called for local Suffrages to attend another demonstration organised by the WSPU but this was openly frowned upon by the Executive Committee of the NUWSS. Angered with this response together with a change in the election policy within the NUWSS, the Dover ladies voted to affiliate themselves with the New Constitutional Society. That Society’s policy was to ‘unite all suffragists who believe in the anti-Government election policy, who desire to work by constitutional means and to abstain from public criticism of other suffragists whose conscience leads them to adopt different methods’.

Thus, distancing themselves from the NUWSS, the Dover ladies joined the WSPU London march on Saturday 18 June along with over 10,000 women. These included factory workers, teachers, university students, office workers and nurses – who carried banners, bearing a flaming red cross. The leaders wore outfits representing famous women of the past but most ladies wore white dresses adorned with purple green and gold ribbons – the ‘uniform of the Suffragists’– many carried bunches of flowers. Those who had been incarcerated in prison carried small banners with their names inscribed. A thousand police officers were deployed keeping back tens of thousands of spectators most of whom were cheering. The establishment press barely mentioned the march.

Support for the 1910 Consolidation Bill from Dover Conservatives. Dover Library

Support for the 1910 Consolidation Bill from Dover Conservatives. Dover Library

In the meantime, on 10 June, William Crundall, Mayor of Dover, wrote to Annie Brunyate saying that Dover’s MP, George Wyndham would be voting for the Bill supporting Women suffrage. This was the Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill, better known as the first Conciliation Bill, and if enacted it would enfranchise women on the same terms as men. The Bill was given a Second Reading on 12 July and by the large majority of 299 to 190 was sent for consideration to Committee. To keep up the momentum going the next major demonstration was scheduled for 23 July.

Anti-Women Suffrage leaders 21.07. 1910

Anti-Women Suffrage leaders 21.07. 1910

However, two days before a letter, signed by the Anti-Suffrage League, was published in the Times. Lord Curzon of Kedlestone, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (1904-5), founded the League on 12 July 1908. Prominent women in public also actively supported it. The stance was that:
– Women were predominantly confined to the domestic sphere and therefore their husbands vote was effectively their vote.
– Female suffrage would ‘raise unduly the standard of women’s pay. Men work to provide the home, women’s place is in home.’

The views expressed by the League were supported by the Socialists and Trade Unionists and given positive coverage by the establishment press. Added to this, were the populist views of Harley Street specialist, Leonard Williams. He stated that women were breeding machines. ‘That the operation of that machinery, whether actually productive or potentially, unfits her for any other use or activity whatsoever between the ages of 17 and 50. Therefore, if women were given suffrage on the same grounds as men it would affect the future of the British race.’

The WSPU demonstration of 23 July 1910 took place and the ladies of Dover were at the forefront receiving a special mention. In Dover on 9 September the largest demonstration ever to take place in Dover’s Market Square was held – it was the third that summer. Led by WSPU’s Florence Macauley with a Mrs Arnott, representing women working in sweatshops. Mrs Arnott gave a descriptive account of their working conditions and poor pay – many of the women were widows with families to support. The meeting was a great success and in reply to questions, Miss Macauley told assembled throng that she believed equality of pay would be achieved and that it would not be long in coming – this received the loudest cheer.

Suffragette removed from a demonstration Thanks to Eveline Robinson

Suffragette removed from a demonstration Thanks to Eveline Robinson

At the same time, the Anti-Suffrage league collected well over 250,000 signatures and Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, refused to give the Conciliation Bill more Parliamentary time. Instead, the wording was changed to enfranchise more men thus keeping both the Anti-Suffragist and the Unions happy.

The response by the WSPU took place on Friday 18 November when a delegation of about 300 women demonstrated outside Parliament. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, called out the police and many of the women were beaten. Over 100 were arrested. The day was named Black Friday.

In response, the WSPU began to wage guerrilla warfare, alienating many Suffragists. The Suffragettes aim was to get themselves arrested and arrived at court carrying their bags and smiling. On being given prison sentences of 3 days to several months – usually in Holloway – they went on hunger strike and suffered force-feeding.

A Second Conciliation Bill – Women’s Enfranchisement Bill – was introduced into the new Parliament on 9 February 1911. The Second Reading debate was scheduled for 5 May. However, although the Bill secured a Second Reading by 255 to 88, it made no further progress. The WSPU organised a mass rally for 17 June, prior to the Coronation of George V on 22 June.

Womens' March prior Edward VII coronation 17.06.1911. Dover Library

Womens’ March prior Edward VII coronation 17.06.1911. Dover Library

On that day, the Suffragists again wore historic costumes and some Dover ladies watched while others, led by Lorna Bomford, took part. The Third Conciliation Bill was introduced on 19 February 1912 and set down for Second Reading on 22 March but delayed until 28th. It was then defeated by 222 to 208 votes due to:
– The Anti-Women Suffrage league launching an active campaign
– The Irish Parliamentary Party who did not want to waste parliamentary time, which could be used for discussing Home Rule, on women.

Hillesden House, 14 Godwyne Road

Hillesden House, 14 Godwyne Road

On 23 June 1912, Edward Barlow, the husband of Mrs Alice Barlow, the President of the Dover Women’s Suffrage died at the early age of 57. Although Alice remained President, it appears that she ceased to take an active part in Dover’s suffrage campaign. By that time, Annie Brunyate had moved away. However, the Vice President of the DWS was Countess Brassey, the wife of the new Lord Warden! Lorna Bomford was by this time, the chief and most active protagonist representing Dover. The centre of activity was her home, 14 Godwyne Road

The WSPU campaign of active disobedience and hunger strikes, following imprisonment, continued. Many women such as the Deal, Walmer and District Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, who, in July 1912, passed a resolution condemning ‘the recent outrageous and wanton window breaking and other acts of militancy’, condemned this. The government buoyed by such proclamations introduced the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 or as it became known, the Cat and Mouse Act.

The rationale behind the Act was to stop force-feeding, which led to public sympathy, and replaced by the women being kept in prison until they became extremely weak when they were released and on recovery re-imprisoned. Thus, the government reckoned, they could say that any harm the women suffered was entirely their own fault. However, as the women recovered they were moved to ‘safe houses’, including ones in Dover organised by Lorna Bomford. The Act soon became counter-productive.

 Emily Davison falls under King's horse, Anmer, at the Derby 1913

Emily Davison falls under King’s horse, Anmer, at the Derby 1913

On 4 June 1913 Emily Wilding Davison, trying to pin a WSPU flag on the King’s horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby, fell underneath its hoofs. The establishment were outraged, with the Times giving lengthy coverage on the state of the horse and the jockey. The horse was unharmed and the jockey’s injuries consisted of slight concussion, cuts and bruises and an injury to his arm.

As for Emily Davison, she received a few short sentences, saying that she had been taken unconscious to Epsom Cottage Hospital and that she was a suffragist who had been imprisoned several times but usually released after hunger strike.

What mention there was of Emily’s condition was shrouded in vilification until she died on 11 June. Then it emerged she had gained a 1st class honours degree from Oxford. Emily was to be buried in Northumberland and the Suffragists announced that there would be a public tribute as her coffin crossed from Victoria railway station to Kings Cross in London.

The Home Office issued a statement saying that only a few women were to escort the body and the establishment press made it clear that only extreme militants would do so. On the day, Emily’s body was accompanied by a long procession of Suffragists, including Lorna Bomford and members of Dover’s Suffrage movement. On the way, the cortege stopped at the WSPU headquarters in Kingsway, where a memorial service was held.

Women Ambulance Drivers. Thanks to Eveline Robinson

Women Ambulance Drivers. Thanks to Eveline Robinson

On 4 August 1914, World War I (1914-1918) was declared and the WSPU suspended its activities when the Government released all those held in prison. The Suffragists throughout the country threw themselves into supporting Britain’s war effort. By Christmas, nearly 5.9 million out of the 23.8 million females in Britain were in paid employment and many more worked in the voluntary sector.

As more men were sent to the Front, women replaced them by taking on jobs that were traditionally regarded as ‘men’s work’. However, only nurses were sent to the front line. In August 1915, the Dover Women’s Volunteer Reserve was formed under the command of Mrs Vasse and in 1916, the Women’s Land Army. In 1917, the Queen Mary’s Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens), were formed.

Women's Royal Navy Reserve in training. Doyle Collection

Women’s Royal Navy Reserve in training. Doyle Collection

Mrs Maria Barnes of Shooters Hill, Dover, the last surviving founder member of the Wrens at Dover died in St Mary’s Hospital, Etchinghill in April 1984 age 90 yeas of age. Along with five other local girls, their job was to take damaged parts from minesweepers to the Ordnance repair shop. Because no uniforms were available they were issued with souwesters, overalls and gumboots. Towards the end of 1917, as food shortages became severe, the Dover Food Control Committee was established and Lorna Bomford was appointed chief assistant and organiser. A role she resumed following the outbreak of World War II.

Woman coalheaver carrying 1 cwt sack. Thanks to Eveline Robinson

Woman coalheaver carrying 1 cwt sack. Thanks to Eveline Robinson

By 1918, it was hard to imagine a single job that had not been taken by women. In farming, industry, offices and health services there were women in every position.  In the coal trade, a minor concession was made to women with the introduction of the 1-cwt weight sacks instead of the pre-war sacks weighing 2-cwt.

In response, the Government introduced the Representations of the People’s Act, 1918, which gave the right of Parliamentary vote to women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and/or graduates of British Universities. As a result, 8.5 million women became entitled to vote in General Elections. On 23 October, the Commons had voted 274-25 to allow women to become MPs.

The next General Election was held on 14 December 1918. Several of the women involved in the suffrage campaign stood for Parliament but only Countess Constance Markiewicz, standing for the Sinn Fein, was elected but she never attended Parliament. Nancy Astor, who played no part in the women’s suffrage movement, became the first woman to take her seat in the Commons. She won Sutton, Plymouth by-election in December 1919.

In January that year, a by-election called in River saw Lorna Bomford elected as the first woman on Dover Corporation. She was appointed to the Housing and the Higher Education Committees. Her lasting legacy was the naming of the roads of the first part of the Buckland Estate after characters from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – Friars way, Weavers Way, Knights Way etc.

On 23 December 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, the first piece of equal opportunities legislation, entered the statute book. However, the first solicitor, Helena Normanton, was not accepted into the profession until December 1922 and only after a struggle. Women were not permitted to sit in the Lords until 1958 and then only as Life Peers. Hereditary Peeresses were not given seats until the passage of the Peerage Act 1963.

In March 1920, the Dover Housewives Union was established with the aim of combating the ever-increasing cost of food and other items. That year the Dover Autumn Quarter sessions saw, for the first time, women jurors. In 1926, Emily Pankhurst paid a visit to Dover and was photographed in Cambridge Road. In April 1927, Lorna Bomford was appointed a County Magistrate, the first woman from Dover to be given the office. She remained a Justice of the Peace until 1947.

East-Lee, 108 Maison Dieu Road. The home of Emma east the first women to be appointed an Honorary Freeman of Dover

East-Lee, 108 Maison Dieu Road. The home of Emma east the first women to be appointed an Honorary Freeman of Dover

On 26 April 1927, Mrs Emma East was given the honorary Freemanship of the town, the first lady so honoured. She had supported her husband, who was the Mayor throughout the General Strike when they were on duty 24/7. He died shortly afterwards. To date, although Emma’s marital home still stands, the powers that be in Dover have not erected a plaque to honour Emma.

Emily Pankhurst died on 14 June 1928, the same year as the Representation of the People’s Act gave women the vote on equal terms to men. To the end, the Establishment never honoured Emily. However, close to Houses of Parliament is a statue to her, the cost was born by former WSPU members and sympathisers.

The General Election of 1929 was given the derogatory nickname ‘Flapper Election.’ The Labour Party took office for the second time with Ramsay MacDonald as Premier. Margaret Bondfield was appointed Minister of Labour – the first woman to hold a Cabinet position.

Alice Barlow died on 2 March 1930 and was buried in SS Peter and Paul Churchyard, River. near Dover.

Alice Barlow died on 2 March 1930 and was buried in SS Peter and Paul Churchyard, River. near Dover.

On 2 March 1930 Alice Barlow, Dover’s Suffrage President, died at 15 Victoria Park – her residence. She was buried next to her husband in SS Peter & Paul Churchyard, River, near Dover. Her death passed unnoticed.

Dr Annie Brunyate, Dover’s first woman doctor and Suffrage leader left Dover to take up the post of assistant medical officer of health in Manchester and Stockport (1913-17). She then went to the Lindsey Division of Lincolnshire (1917-1932) where later was appointed deputy medical officer of health. She died in Bristol on 13 October 1937 but her death passed unnoticed. Her home in Effingham Crescent, the first headquarters of Dover Suffrage movement, was badly damaged by a shell on 3 November 1943, during World War II, and was subsequently demolished.

Dr Annie Brunyate's home and centre of the early Dover women's suffrage campaigns in Effingham Crescent following shell attacks in World War II. Dover Library

Dr Annie Brunyate’s home and centre of the early Dover women’s suffrage campaigns in Effingham Crescent following shell attacks in World War II. Dover Library

During World War II, women were given major roles, but when honours were given out, they tended to be lower than their male equivalents. Following the war, in July 1946, Dorothy Knight Dix, (1909 –1970) a barrister and Deputy-Recorder of Deal, made legal history when she covered for Dover’s Recorder, at the Quarter Sessions. She was the first woman to pass sentence.

The following year, the Dover’s Business and Professional Women’s Club made equal pay an issue that, it was hoped, would be achieved within the members’ lifetime.
– Equal Pay Act came into force following the Ford Dagenham female workers dispute and under the auspices of Labour politician, Barbara Castle, in 1970
– Sex Discrimination Act came into force in 1975. This was superseded by the Equality Act of 2010 to bring UK anti-discrimination law into line with EU Equal Treatment Directives.

Dorothy Bushell - Dover's first lady Mayor 1960-61 - Courtesy of Fr. Peter Sherred

Dorothy Bushell – Dover’s first lady Mayor 1960-61 – Courtesy of Fr. Peter Sherred

On 25 February 1962, Dover’s leading fighter for women’s rights, Lorna Bomford, died aged 78 at her home, Milestone House, Temple Ewell. She has never been given a civic honour nor is there a plaque on Hillesden House in her honour. Two years earlier, on 23 May 1960 Alderman Mrs Dorothy Bushell was elected the first ever lady Mayor of Dover.
As Mayor, she proved that a woman was more than capable of holding the office. Dorothy died in 2004 age 95 – again, there is nothing publicly to honour her.

Post Script.
Following the author giving a talk on the above to the Dover Ladies Luncheon Club, member Patricia Biginell, publicly expressed the view there should be recognition given to these ladies. They had worked hard, against all the odds, to secure rights for women.

The Ladies of the Luncheon Club agreed and the Committee organised a plaque that was unveiled by the Chairman Avril Woolf on Wednesday 27th February in the Stone Hall, Maison Dieu (former Town Hall).

Dover Ladies Luncheon Club - Plaque dedicated to the leaders of Dover Women's Suffrage

Dover Ladies Luncheon Club – Plaque dedicated to the leaders of Dover Women’s Suffrage

Dover Ladies Luncheon Club: http://www.doverladiesluncheonclub.co.uk

  • Published:
    Dover Society Magazine July & November 2012 + March 2013
    Dover Mercury 07 March 2013 Full page article + Centre Spread

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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