Emily was born Emily Charlotte Mcmahon Foyle in London in 1878. The family lived in Aldgate, London where her father was a warehouseman. When Emily left school she worked in a hotel in Hanover Square in the West End of London as a clerk. On June 16th 1901 Emily married Albert Brandon, a upholsterer, from Tring, Buckinghamshire. The couple settled in Chesham, Buckinghamshire where Emily founded the Chesham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
What happened to Emily after her spell in prison is not clear.
She died in 1968 in North London.
Stated on the arrest records as Mary Grace Branson her correct name is as recorded on the Suffragette Roll of Honour, Grace Mary Branson. On the 1911 census return is entered “Until I am acknowledged to be a citizen of Great Britain I refuse to carry out the duties of citizens.” Other than G M Branson, Branson daughter, Prout servant, Mrs Harvey visitor and her three children daughter, son and son. The only clue is it states that Grace is a widow. No trace has been found of any further background information. Her daughter Edith was born on May 26 1899 and she went onto to marry on of the anonymous sons of Mrs Harvey, Charles Donald Warren Harvey.
Grace was arrested twice, March 1912 and February 10th 1913. The first time was for breaking windows in the Haymarket. She was sentenced four months and sent to Aylesbury prison. Along with four others she was released early. Winston Churchill had promised that they could wear their own clothes and be given books to read. When these concessions were not forthcoming the prisoners started a hunger strike. The prison authorities commenced force feeding.
The following year Grace was charged with breaking three windows at the Junior Carlton Club with a value of £4 10 shillings. One witness stated that Grace had thrown several pieces of lead at the windows. In her defence, Grace addressed the court “I did it as a suffragette and as one who protests against the government of the country by men alone. Also the fact of prostitution existing is enough to justify any of these acts on our part. This standard of morality makes us women sick to death, and we are going to cleanse and abolish it.”[ii] Found guilty she was sentenced to two months in prison. This time she was sent to Holloway. Alongside Sylvia Pankhurst and Edith Ball [see earlier blog] she was force fed.
Grace is mentioned in a letter that Sylvia wrote to her mother, Emmeline. She describes in graphic detail the process of being force fed “They prise open my mouth with a steel gag…My gums are always bleeding.” She wrote that the authorities claimed they did not resist “Yet my shoulders are bruised with struggling...”. She mentions that Mrs Branson, Grace has a heart defect and wonders whether anything can be done.
A meeting was held where the Bishop of London protested at the barbarity of force feeding. In response, a debate took place in the House of Commons. Reginald Mackenna, the Home Secretary, stated that the women were prepared to die which he did not intend to let them do, thus the force feeding. The movement needed to be broken down using “patience, forbearance and humanity.” [iii] It is possibly a stretch to imply that keeping the women from starving themselves to death by force feeding is a sign of humanity. He proposed, in response to the growing public disgust at the practice of force feeding, that the women could be freed on licence if their health was in danger. This proposal would become the Cat and Mouse Act where women were released on licence and when they had physically recovered were taken back inside to serve the rest of their sentence. Early in April 1913 Grace was released. She spoke to the press describing one suffragette would had learnt how to contract her throat so that a finer tube had to be used but this was not before she had had two teeth smashed. The treatment of Grace and many others forced the government into the release on licence of women who it was felt could not endure the practice of force feeding but it did not alter their stance on the vote or the practice of force feeding until it could be endured no longer.
Grace and her daughter and son in law settled in Devon where she died in 1961.
[i] Bucks Herald December 9th 1911
[ii] Sheffield Daily Telegraph February 11th 1913
[iii] Ibid March 19th 1913