Eileen Casey or Irene Casey or Eleanor Cleary, the latter two both aliases, was arrested during March 1912, March 1913, and October 1913. The fight for the vote was a family enterprise with Eileen’s mother, Isabella, also appearing on the amnesty record and her sister, Kathleen, mentioned numerous times in the suffragette press. As it becomes clear below, it is often unclear whether mother or daughter was the arrestee.
Eileen, 1881, was the eldest of four children born to Philip, a doctor, and Isabella. Philip worked as a P&O ship’s doctor before settling in Australia where the couple married. Eileen, Kathleen, and a brother Edmond were born in Australia. Another son, born in Ireland, died as a baby. By 1901 the family had returned to London settling in Kew.
The first record of Eileen’s involvement is a donation to the WSPU £100,000 and General Election Funds. She became involved with the Richmond and Kew Branch addressing meetings where the audiences were described as ‘attentive and most sympathetic’. Votes for Women notes that Eileen was Captain of the Victoria pitch where she successfully sold copies of the newspaper. Eileen’s motivation, she explained, was that she had been born in a country where women could vote and the same should be true in Britain.
The press reports that Eileen was arrested and charged with obstruction during November 1910, Black Friday, when all the charges were dropped against the numerous suffragettes detained as the Government feared extensive adverse publicity as the numerous cases wended their way through the courts. However, the amnesty record attributes the arrest to her mother, Isabella. Adding to the confusion is a statement given to Henry Brailsford and Jessie Murray, who investigated the travails of Black Friday, headed Isabella Casey.: ‘One policeman caught me by the collar of my coat and flung me on the pavement, spraining my leg. Note by Dr Murray: Mrs Casey was so knocked about that she fainted on arrival at Caxton Hall. She was lame for two weeks’.
Isabella subscribed to Votes for Women, a newspaper she had delivered by her local newsagent. Eileen’s amnesty record indicates she was arrested on 2 March 1912 and Isabella on 11 March. Isabella was charged with breaking windows valued at £5 in Oxford Street. The sentence was two months with hard labour. Eileen’s charge was breaking a window at the department store Marshall and Snelgrove valued at £140 which, it was alleged, she had done alongside Olive Walton. She was sentenced to four months in Holloway Prison. Due to the number of women prisoners they were sent to Holloway, Aylesbury, Maidstone, or Winson Green prisons. Isabella, however, does not appear on any of the lists of inmates and it is unclear what sentence she received. However, it is known that she did spend time in Holloway as she is a signatory on the embroidered handkerchief now on display at the Priest’s House Museum, Dorset.
Eileen went on hunger strike. Although, no reports have been located of her treatment or release.
Eileen was arrested again in March 1913 charged with putting a noxious fluid into a letter box in Villiers Street. A policeman approached Eileen requesting that she accompany him to the letter box. Eileen responded that she had only poured water through the opening but on examination a white liquid was found around the edge which appeared to be the same as the white opaque liquid in her possession. She was sentenced to two months.
During May 1913 seven suffragette leaders were charged with conspiracy to cause damage to property. One piece of evidence was an envelope on which was written ‘Ex-prisoners invited to Albert Hall, April 10 1913’. Inside were numerous replies accepting or declining the invitation; one was from Eileen who declined, writing ‘If you would like I should be pleased to be at the Albert Hall, but someone paid my fine and I had only one day’s imprisonment. I will join the ex-prisoners, but I hardly thought I ought to come amongst them under the circumstances’. Eileen had been released on 18 March.
Both of Eileen’s parents were involved in circumstances surrounding the arrests of Kitty Marion and Clara Giveen on suspicion of having loitered to commit a felony. A policeman had followed the two women, in the early hours of the morning, along the streets of Kew eventually asking them where they wanted to go. The women informed him they wished to go to the bridge by the gasworks- they often, kept late hours as Kitty was an artist. The two set off again; still being followed by the policeman. Kitty and Clara then asked him the way to Kew Gardens Station. They followed his directions but rather than entering the station crossed the nearby railway bridge entering 25, West Park Road, the home of Eileen’s parents. An observation was mounted, and a warrant granted. When the police entered the house, Kitty was lying fully clothed on a sofa downstairs; Clara also dressed was lying on a bed upstairs surrounded by suffragette literature. Isabella had given the two women a latch key as they had thought they might be late back. The magistrate declined to remand both women in prison as the evidence was insufficient. Granted bail; the magistrate assured them it was in order to attend Emily Davidson’s funeral as this would not breach the bail condition of no suffragette activities. A few days, later Kitty and Clara were charged with arson at Hurst Park.
Isabella was a witness at their trial. She knew Clara but had not previously met Kitty. Clara had asked if she could stay over if they missed the last train together with a friend. Given the late hour the two women might return Isabella gave Clara a key. She did not ask any details about Clara’s friend. The prosecution responded ‘What? They were going to occupy your house? They are suffragists’. Isabella replied ‘That is good enough for us. We will trust anyone who is a suffragist’. The case was sent to the Assizes. The prosecution pointed out that it was strange that Kitty and Clara had been wearing cloaks when they entered Isabella’s home, but Clara’s had not been seen since. Isabella did not recollect Clara’s outer garment.
During September 1913 Eileen and her sister, Kathleen were charged with setting fire to a letter box in Peel Square, Bradford. In 1910 Kathleen had married Charles Holtam, a bank cashier. Eileen was denied bail but, on an undertaking, to be of good behaviour Kathleen, who was seven months pregnant was freed, pending a further hearing. The evidence was that a young man called Thomas Artus had seen two women near the letter box whom he later identified as Eileen and Kathleen. One pushed something into the aperture which began to emit smoke. Later, two glass test tubes, containing phosphoric acid, wrapped in paper which was burning were found in the letter box. The matter, after an initial hearing, was referred for trial on 3 October with, this time, both sisters being granted bail. The Bradford Branch of the WSPU rallied supporters to attend the hearing. Kathleen, she stated, had been moving to Huddersfield where her husband had been transferred. Eileen had come to help. Kathleen had not seen her sister do anything nor had she been party to any wrongdoing. Eileen was found guilty and sentenced to three months with hard labour, Kathleen was acquitted. The suffragettes in court cried out ‘Shame. Votes for Women’.
Eileen was sent to Armley Goal. She sent a statement to the Suffragette detailing her time in prison. Eileen refused food and water from the day of her trial, a Friday. The following Tuesday the prison wardress realised that Eileen was not taking any water. This was the day attempts were made to take her fingerprints. She locked her fingers together. As Eileen struggled five wardresses blindfolded her, held her by the waist and grabbed her arms in an attempt to take a satisfactory print; all of this was witnessed by the prison governor, matron, and medical officer. Eileen describes herself as ‘very prostrate … unable to walk’ – two wardresses had to help her back to her bed. Her statement concludes with a long-reasoned argument about force-feeding. By the 7th Eileen was still refusing food and water; her condition was described as ‘decidedly weaker’. The following day it was noted she had lost nine pounds since admission and was now walking with ‘some difficulty’. The medical officer considered that Eileen could be force-fed without detriment. The medical report for the 9th recommends discharge as ‘nervous symptoms’ had appeared.
Eileen was released, having refused food for six days, on a nine day licence under the Cat and Mouse Act into the care of Mr and Mrs Bowers of Frizinghall. The Globe, a few weeks later, reported that Eileen had gone missing. Mrs Bowers informed the police, when they visited her home on the expiration of the licence, that Eileen had gone out and not returned. Claims were made that the police had failed to mount surveillance. Eileen purportedly left disguised ‘in a silk hat and frock coat, in imitation of a medical man’, similarly attired to the two doctors who had regularly attended since her discharge from gaol. Kathleen had now moved to Huddersfield where the police now mounted a watch and journalists jostled for information. Kathleen informed one she had not seen her sister; ‘as far as she knew, she might be in Timbuctoo’. Kathleen gave birth to a baby girl, baptised Eileen, on 19 November.
Eileen was not found until the middle of June, the following year. King George and Queen Mary were undertaking a three-day tour of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire. Police were drafted in from all three counties. An officer from Bradford recognised the woman, in his lodgings, as Eileen. In consequence, she was placed under surveillance. When she was spotted examining a grandstand which had been erected for the Royal visit and then making a telephone call; she was arrested. The police also claimed to have seen Eileen in the company of a suffragette the previous evening. At the police station Eileen, who was carrying a green suitcase, was searched, and placed in the cells where she smashed the windows and refused food or water. Her suitcase was found to contain:
Four 1/4lb packets of cheddite (an explosive)
Twenty feet of fuse
Fuse matches and two other boxes of matches
A bottle of benzine
Two bundles of firelighters
Two electric flash lamps
A glass cutter, pliers, chisel, trowel, rubber shoes, scissors
A street map of Nottingham with the market place marked
A map of Derbyshire
A motorcycle road map
A map of the Home Counties
Views of Derbyshire churches including one of a church recently burnt at Breadhall
A guide to Southwell Cathedral
One newspaper dubbed Eileen ‘A Walking Arsenal’.
At her initial appearance in court, charged with loitering with intent to commit a felony, Eileen kept up ‘a constant chatter’ making it hard for the witnesses to be heard. She shouted out ‘I protest against being here, and shall not be quite’. Remanded in prison, she gripped the handrail of the dock so tightly she had to be forcibly wrenched free. The court was filled with suffragettes including Charlotte Marsh who, protesting at Eileen’s treatment, was removed kicking and screaming from the court. Initially, Eileen was committed to Bagthorpe Jail in Nottingham but was then transferred to Holloway Prison from where she was taken to appear again at court in the city where she had been charged. Suffragette support gathered but women were refused admittance. Again, Eileen kept up a continuous monologue. The police informed the court that discussions were taking place with the Attorney General to bring charges under the Explosives Act. Placed on further remand, Eileen shouted ‘No surrender, women, no surrender. They are forcibly feeding me at Holloway Prison three times a day’.
Reports on the official files record the force-feeding. Below are extracts from reports that record a process that took place twice a day:
27 June Fed Nasal tube. Very resistive. Retained all food. General condition satisfactory
30 June Very resistive. Retained all food
2 July (the day Eileen was taken to Nottingham) Fed twice by nasal tube. Retained all food
3 July Resistive. Retained all food
7 July Resistive. Fed nasal tube. Retained all food.
A week later, Eileen was again taken from Holloway Prison to court in Nottingham for a charge under the Explosives Act to be added along with wilful damage of six panes of glass in her cell. Again, Eileen chatted throughout the proceedings. This time she was sent to Winson Green in Birmingham. The admission report on 9 July notes ‘a thin anaemic looking woman with a patch of lupus (a sore) on her left cheek…Mentally calm and composed.’ Eileen was taking water but refusing food. On admission she was fed by nasal tube, a process which was repeated three times the following day: ‘She resists being prepared for the feeding but is quite passive during its progress’. Eileen weighed just under seven and half stone, six pounds less than when she was arrested. Five days after her admission the medical officer reported that force-feeding three times a day had led to a gain of three pounds. By now Eileen was not taking any water voluntarily.
Eileen tried to send to her friends some clothes; among which she had concealed a handkerchief on which she had sewn ‘health A1 feeding painless’. At the bottom of each report is a note that the information has been sent by telegram, presumably to the Home Office. As time passes the reports become more perfunctory, just noting how many times Eileen was fed. Several letters are on file from medical practitioners expressing concern at the continuation of force-feeding given her medical history of Raynaud’s disease and tuberculosis of the skin. The medical report, following receipt of the letters, notes that when questioned about how she felt, Eileen replied ‘I think I feel as well as I ever did’. This response, the medical officer noted ‘is a sufficient commentary on the attached … received last evening’. The possibility that Eileen might have said this regardless of how she felt is ignored. On 24 July Eileen was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen months with hard labour. She was taken by train back to Winson Green; out of the window Eileen shouted, ‘No surrender’. No further reports are on the files.
Eileen went to Japan as a teacher of English. In 1929 she gave a talk to the Women’s Freedom League on the life and work of women in Japan. She recounted visiting a political room in Japan adorned with photographs of Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, and Charlotte Despard. Kathleen, whose husband was killed, during the First World War, settled in Lewes, Sussex close to her widowed father who died in 1928. Their brother, Edmond, also died during the war. Isabella died in 1922, Kathleen in 1971 and Eileen, a year later.
Below is a link to a blog which includes photographs of Eileen.