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Following the trail of the suffragettes
AS A veteran of the Greenham Common peace camp, former Green city councillor Nuala Young knows a lot about public protest.
The mother-of-three from Iffley, Oxford, often got involved in the peace campaign demonstrations in the 1970s and 1980s and even went to jail for the cause.
Now Mrs Young, who works as a tour guide in Oxford, is taking an interest in the history of the suffrage movement in the city, whose members would sometimes go to extremes in their campaign for equality and the right to vote.
According to Mrs Young, drastic action taken by women campaigners in 1912 and 1913 in Oxford included setting fire to boathouses and postboxes.
The grandmother-of-seven is to host a tour around key suffrage locations in the city on International Women’s Day, Saturday, March 8.
The former teacher said: “The story of the Oxford Suffrage movement is very dramatic with a contentious rally in St Giles led by Sylvia Pankhurst in 1912.
“St John’s College students pelted her with stones and she had to get off her trolley and flee in a hackney cab.
“The following year, Lloyd George was pelted with mangel wurzels in front of Christ Church, boathouses were set on fire, and Magdalen College students responded by trashing a women’s club.
“Some women campaigners were peaceful while others favoured direct action.
“Once the First World War came, women were given more opportunities and that contributed towards them getting the vote.
“The suffrage movement has a very interesting history in Oxford and I am trying to find out as much as I can about it.”
Mrs Young, co-ordinator of Oxford Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, lives in Tree Lane, Iffley, with her husband Stewart.
She represented the St Clement’s ward on the city council between 2006 and 2012.
Mrs Young is a Blue Badge Guide in Oxford and runs a number of tours, including those on the subjects of Inspector Morse, Alice in Wonderland and the Pre-Raphaelite painters.
She added: “If the tour is popular I will run it regularly – it reminds me of the trials of women in the peace movement.”
Mrs Young protested regularly at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire and at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire.
She added: “We were very concerned about nuclear disarmament and like the suffrage movement there was a debate at the time about how best to go about campaigning.
“In 1982, I took part in a blockade of the base at Upper Heyford and was one of 752 people who were arrested for the non-payment of fines.
“I spent a night in Witney police station and then I was sent to Cookham Wood prison where I ended up spending one night.
“When you arrived at the prison, the prisoners helped to take your details and check you in and I was actually processed by the ‘moors murderer’ Myra Hindley, although I didn’t recognise her at the time.
“It was ironic because one of my worries was that I would end up having to share a cell with a murderer.
“That didn’t happen but I was processed into the prison by one, and I was horrified when I found out afterwards.
“Afterwards we travelled to America for a sabbatical and I thought my prison record might have prevented me from going but in the end it didn’t.
“I didn’t have any regrets about going to prison because I believed in the cause.”
Mrs Young said the tour would also take in locations linked to campaigning for the higher education of women, including the Sheldonian Theatre.
Oxford University did not award degrees to women until 1920.
- The tour starts on March 8 at 2.30pm, in front of the Ashmolean Museum in Beaumont Street.
HISTORY OF A PROUD MOVEMENT
EMMELINE Pankhurst (1858-1928), pictured, was leader of the British suffragette movement.
The suffragettes and suffragists were two separate groups, who campaigned for women’s right to vote.
The suffragists, established in 1897, campaigned through peaceful means, while the suffragettes, formed in 1903, campaigned through more direct action.
One of the most famous suffragettes was Emily Davison, who died at The Derby at Epsom in June 1913 after throwing herself in front of George V’s horse.
Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), Emmeline’s daughter, campaigned for the suffragist movement.
She did not back her mother’s support for the war effort and lobbied on behalf of poor women in London.
In 1913, a Carlisle to London suffragist march arrived in Oxford.
And in 1918, Britain granted women over the age of 30 the right to vote and in 1928 the age was lowered to 21.
‘Tremendous enthusiasm for the cause’
SOME of the foundations for the women’s suffrage movement were built in Oxford.
A number of colleges provided leaders that would eventually help women to earn the right to vote.
Campaigners in the city mainly belonged to the peaceful suffragist movement rather than their militant suffragette counterparts.
Janet Howarth, below, a retired history tutor at St Hilda’s College who has written on the subject, says: “Many of them were liberals.
“They belonged to the educated classes and there was a lot of support for parliamentary government.
“After all the whole point for this movement was to get access for women to the constitutional privileges that men already had.
- This picture taken from the Oxford Journal Illustrated features non-militant suffragists marching by road from Carlisle to London.
- They reached Oxford on Saturday, July 19, 1913.
- Their entry into the city, with a member of the party on horseback, and with banners flying, was witnessed by a large crowd of spectators.
- The party arrived at Summertown shortly after 4pm where they were welcomed by Oxford representatives of the organisation.
- After a short halt for tea, the procession headed for St Giles, and the suffragists then headed to the Lamb and Flag before a meeting at the town hall.
“They very much disliked the idea of breaking the law.”
The main period of activity in Oxford was between 1909 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914.
It included demonstrations outside the town hall, public meetings and processions.
A number of activists first became involved while studying at Oxford University including Emily Davison, killed after stepping in front of King George V’s horse, who studied at St Hugh's College.
Former principal of St Anne’s College, Grace Hadow, was a vice-chairwoman of the Women’s Institute and a member of the War Agricultural Committee during the First World War, encouraging women to contribute to wartime efforts.
A number of colleges had their own societies but they joined together in January 1911 to form the Oxford Students’ Society for Women’s Suffrage.
They made banners and the first were carried in the coronation procession for King George V in June that year.
The Oxford Women’s Suffrage Society was founded in 1904 and organised meetings behind-closed-doors, in the town hall and outside factories.
In January 1913, all the non-militant societies combined to hold a torchlight procession from Cowley Place to St Giles.
That summer, a suffrage pilgrimage from 17 cities to London passed through Oxford and residents provided accommodation for those taking part.
All Souls College was one of the opponents to the suffrage movement, with members fearing that granting the vote to women would weaken the British Empire in the eyes of the world.
It wasn’t just men against the idea.
Mary Ward, a resident of Bradmore Road in North Oxford, wrote under the name Mrs Humphry Ward, was a founding president of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and wrote the Anti-Suffrage Review.
She believed that only men could solve constitutional, legal, financial, military, and international problems.
Ms Howarth adds: “It was a period of mounting support for women’s suffrage from people of many different political and religious persuasions.
“But also there was a good deal of opposition recorded in the local press from people who didn’t approve of it.
“You get the impression from reading accounts of the suffrage pilgrimage and these demonstrations that there was tremendous camaraderie and enthusiasm for this cause.”