This year marks 100 years since Parliament passed The Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave the vote to women over 30 who were property owners or married to a property owner. It took another 10 years for all men and women to be given the same voting rights at the age of 21.
In the early 1900s there were two main groups campaigning for women’s suffrage. There were the suffragists in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett, who used peaceful methods such as writing letters and organising petitions. The other group were the suffragettes who were prepared to use any means including illegal and violent acts against property. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903, was the leading organisation.
Dora Montefiore lived at Clare Lodge, 32 Upper Mall, Hammersmith. She moved there in 1892 when her son began attending St Paul’s School. She was wealthy, articulate and a widow and her outrage at the legal disabilities suffered by a widowed mother, for example that she had no automatic right to guardianship of her children, mixed with the rising suffrage movement led her to a life of political activism.
The house in Hammersmith was surrounded by a wall and could be reached only through an arched doorway. For six weeks in 1906, Montefiore and her maid barricaded themselves into the house. She believed that “taxation without representation is tyranny”, she declined to pay her income tax and refused entry to the bailiffs. Mrs Montefiore used to address the frequent crowds from an upstairs window.
The “siege of Hammersmith” as the newspapers called it lasted 6 weeks and the house became the centre of a series of demonstrations led by Miss Annis Kenney and Miss Theresa Billington.
The Daily Graphic covered the story on the 25 May with the title “Petticoat Politics: Amusing Scenes at Hammersmith”. The siege ended on the 3 July when the bailiffs forcibly entered using a crowbar to open the garden gate and confiscated silver and furniture to the value owed.
Anne Cobden married the barrister Thomas Sanderson on 5th August 1882 and they lived at River House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith They both held progressive political opinions and adopted the surname Cobden-Sanderson. She became good friends with William Morris and joined his Hammersmith Socialist Society.
Anne and Thomas established the Doves Press in Hammersmith and this became an important part of the Arts and Crafts Movement. They lived there until Thomas died in 1922 and Anne in 1926.
In October 1906, Dora Montefiore, Annie Cobden- Sanderson, Miss Kenney and Miss Billington were among 10 members of the WSPU charged with using “threatening and abusive words and behaviour…at Old Palace Yard, Westminster”. In court Annie said: “We have talked so much for the Cause now let us suffer for it… I am a law breaker because I want to be a law maker.” They were ordered to each find surety of £10 for six months good behaviour or be imprisoned for two months. All declined to pay and were sent to Holloway.
Her friends were shocked and quick to leap to her defence, mainly through The Times letter page. George Bernard Shaw wrote that she was “one of nicest women in England suffering from the coarsest indignity” of being in Holloway Prison. Millicent Fawcett wrote, despite not always agreeing with her activities, complaining about the press reports of her behaviour in court: “I have known Mrs Cobden-Sanderson for 30 years. I was not in the police court on Wednesday when she was before the magistrate, but I find it absolutely impossible to believe that she bit, or scratched, or screamed, or behaved otherwise than like the refined lady she is.”
Mr Cobden-Sanderson wrote in November saying, “The suffragists claim first, equal rights with men, and then equal treatment: not the equal treatment minus the rights.” He described the conditions the women endured in prison and relayed his wife’s only request, that the Home Secretary allow all prisoners and captives the use of pen, paper and ink.
Annie was arrested again in August 1909 while picketing the door of No 10 Downing Street in order to present a petition to Asquith.
A branch of the WSPU was opened at 95 Fulham Road in April 1907. Mrs Flora Drummond, described in the West London Observer as the “Fulham lady who has the coveted distinction of being the woman to get nearest the Speaker’s chair at Westminster”, presided. Miss Isa Gardner became the hon. sec. of the branch.
This is one of the suffragette photographs taken by Christina Broom, reputedly the first woman press photographer, who lived and worked in Fulham. She photographed a number of suffragette events between 1908 and World War I although she appears to have been interested in the suffragette movement for its commercial value rather than from any political ideology. The Fulham & Hammersmith Archives have her rowing pictures, but her suffragette prints, including this one, belong to the London Museum, who have kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.
Sir William Bull
Although obviously not a suffragette, it is worth mentioning that the local Hammersmith MP, Sir William Bull, was a vocal member of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association.
He was publicly supportive of the campaign for better treatment in prison and both Sylvia Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst thanked him for paying a visit to militant WSPU organiser Vera Wentworth in Holloway Prison in 1908. He supported the efforts of Willoughby Dickinson MP who was one of the most dedicated campaigners for women’s suffrage in the House of Commons and regularly tried introduce legislation. He used to joke that although he supported his constituents, Dora Montefiore and Annie Cobden-Sanderson, they did not seem to support him!
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer