Friday, 4 March 2016

In advance of International Women’s Week .................... a new set of records on those arrested for campaigning for the vote before 1914

Now as we head towards International Women’s Week it is fitting that a whole new set of records on those that participated in a range of activities that led to their imprisonment are now online.

Ancestry has made available a government data base of those women that had been arrested between 1906-1914.*

“Upon the outbreak of war in August 1914 some of the suffrage societies (but not all) declared a suspension to militant tactics. In response, the government granted an amnesty to all suffrage prisoners. The WSPU was one of the key societies to move away from suffrage campaigns to support Lloyd George’s government in the war effort, though they had fire bombed his house only months before.

At the outbreak of the amnesty the Home Office compiled a list of all suffrage campaigners they were providing amnesty to, and although the document is entitled ‘Amnesty of August 1914: index of women arrested 1906-1914’ it also includes the names of more than one hundred men. 

The Home Office actually began keeping indexes of suffrage supporters (male and female) prior to the amnesty, so that they could trace and link multiple convictions of the same person. 

Originally written on index cards, which were often out of order, in 1922 the records were copied into a book. Each record consists of the name of the person arrested, and the date and place of arrest. 

If a person was arrested more than once, the details of each arrest are documented. In the last half of the book were inserted letters, minutes, reports, and several news articles related to the activities of the suffragists and suffragettes. The value of the index was primarily for day to day office work in the Home Office. 

However, the clerk notes “should the history of the Suffragette Movement ever …. be written in detail, [it] would be a source of information not otherwise obtainable.”

The richness of this source is not in the story of the amnesty and the different reactions to war by many different suffrage societies. 

Instead, it is in the literal wealth of names to be found in the document - over 1000 male and female suffrage campaigners who were at some point arrested. It’s a document that moves away from viewing only the Pankhurst figureheads of the movement to look at the wealth of individuals who, for a cause they believed in, were prepared to risk their jobs, families, and sometimes their health by hunger striking.”*

So there you have it, but I can’t close without reflecting that all of this is only part of the story and in the preoccupation with the women who broke windows and set fire to the contents of pillar boxes another equally important story often gets over looked.

This is the history of those other working women who campaigned in their workplace, their trade union and within the Labour Party for the extension of the franchise to all women, but that is another story.

Pictures; Suffragettes, 1905, m48441, Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manestra. who attacked pictures in Manchester City Art Gallery in April 1913. m08225, and Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wolstenholme, date unknown m08239 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

* About England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914,

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