Nina Boyle and Janet Boyd
Janet Augusta Boyd was born in 1855 to George and Anne Haig. Part of a large extended family her niece Margaret Thomas Haig, and her cousins Louisa and Florence Haig also became suffragettes. In 1874 Janet married George Boyd, a solicitor. His father was Edward Fenwick Boyd, an industrialist based in the north east of England who built a substantial family house called Moor House in the small village of Leamside on the outskirts of Durham. In due course George inherited the house and Janet and their four daughters moved in. George died in 1909 and this seems to have allowed Janet to pursue her contribution to the fight for suffrage for women.
The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette dated June 12th 1911 reported that Janet had refused to pay her rates amounting to £21 and in consequence an auction was to be held at her house to raise the funds. Janet offered a Spanish mantilla for sale which was bought by her gardener presumably funded by his employer. The auctioneer announced his support for the campaign and a member of the WSPU came to address the crowd. Prior to this it seems likely Janet joined the protest against the 1911 census return as she does not appear.
Janet was first arrested on November 19th 1911 for breaking a window in the Strand. In court she stated “I don’t consider I was guilty, because I was doing it for a good purpose.” She was fined 10 shillings and three shillings for the damage. Her second arrest was in March 1912. At the first hearing she was committed for trial alongside her cousin Florence Haig for breaking two windows each at D H Evans to a value of £66. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment. Florence stated that if she was bound over to keep the peace she would feel like a soldier deserting in the middle of battle was sentenced to four months. Following a hunger strike when she was not force fed she was released in June of that year. She was one of the women who “signed” a hankerchief owned now by the Priest House at Hoathly.[i]
She died in December 1928 and is included in the Suffragette Roll of Honour.
The next entry reads Dinah or Nina Boyle who was arrested on several occasions during 1912, 1913 and 1914. Born Constance Antonia in 1865 to Robert, an army captain and Frances her father died when she was four years old. Her widowed mother was left with six children, the youngest of whom David was only a few months old. At some point Nina went to live in South Africa where she was a journalist writing for the Transvaal Leader alongside nursing during the Boer War. She wrote to the Times newspaper of the unequal treatment metered out to Boer and loyalist refugees. Interested in women’s rights she founded the Women's Enfranchisement League of Johannesburg.
Nina returned to England in 1911. She was initially active in the Victoria League and Colonial Intelligence League for Educated Women. The former she resigned from when she felt they were pursuing an anti-suffrage stance. She spoke at a meeting of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Redhill in April 1911 about the suffrage campaign in South Africa. Present was Mrs Harley, sister of Charlotte Despard with whom Nina was soon to become closely involved. A month later she addressed a joint conference of suffrage groups in Edinburgh highlighting the unpaid work women undertook without which the country would suffer.
Shortly, thereafter she joined the Women’s Freedom League whose President was Charlotte Despard. She regularly addressed meetings and was elected to the executive. She also was a member of the Tax Resistance League. Nina was arrested alongside Charlotte Despard and Julia Wood and charged with obstruction. Current regulations banned protests in Trafalgar Square. In breach of these Charlotte mounted a plinth addressing a growing crowd, standing alongside her was Julia and Nina who rang a hand bell. They all refused to descend and were arrested. Nina was fined 60 shillings or 10 days imprisonment. The other two were treated similarly. All elected to go to prison. However not long afterwards their fines were paid and they were released.
A similar ban on public speaking had been imposed in Hyde Park. In May 1913 Nina and Annie Munroe were arrested for attempting to break the ban. At the same time four of the Women’s Freedom League executive including Nina wrote to every police force urging them to refuse to rearrest any woman who had been released from imprisonment suffering from the effects of force feeding, in other words women released under the Cat and Mouse Act on licence. In court Nina and Annie were fined 20 shillings or fourteen days imprisonment. They both elected to go to prison. Both complained about the conditions of the prison vans where contrary to the attestation by the Home Secretary that men and women were separated within the vans this was not the case. They both served their sentences in full.
Nina returned immediately to campaigning. In November 1913 Nina along with others was arrested and charged with obstruction. At the initial hearing Nina applied for an adjournment so she could call witnesses. The magistrate was far from amenable to which she retorted “Why should we be dictated to by Mr Muskett, sitting there with his ears cocked like an intelligent terrier?”[ii] Her requested was granted and she was bailed for a week. At the reconvened hearing Nina was bound over to keep the peace, on her refusal to agreed she was sent to prison for one day.
Campaigning swiftly resumed and Nina travelled the country addressing meetings. In July 1914 she was arrested and charged with obstruction. Five women, Nina gave her name as Ann Smith, chained themselves to the door in the waiting room of the Marlborough Street Police Court temporarily housed Francis Street. The police cut them free putting them outside of the building from whence they refused to move. They were each bailed for a £2 surety. At the trial Nina when entering the witness box exclaimed “Here we are again! It’s quite like coming to see old friends.”[iii] She was fined forty shillings or a week imprisonment.
Immediately after the outbreak of World War 1 Nina lobbied for the founding of a female body of Special Constables who could protect women and children in the absence of the men. She also was an active member of the Women Suffrage National Aid Corps formed to provide support services to women whose husbands were away fighting. Without any government approval for her proposal regarding women police Nina together with Margaret Dawson continued on their own and by January 1915 the Corps of Women Police Volunteers had been formed. Courses were undertaken in first aid, court rules and self-defence. Everyone wore a uniform, Nina being one of the first. However, she split from the Corps when they sought to curtail the freedom of women by imposing a curfew on prostitutes. Although a women’s force continued to operate in London and Brighton under the auspices of the Women’s Freedom League.
In October 1915 Nina was charged with failing to register under the Alien Restriction Order 1915. The case was dismissed when it was held the summons had not been issued correctly. In due course she was awarded damages for her illegal arrest. Nina used this experience to raise awareness of the lack of reasonable treatment for women held in police cells where there was no accommodation for women nor any women gaolers.
Towards the end of 1916 Nina travelled to the Salonika Front to act as a nursing orderly. It was widely reported in the press prior to this that her fiancée had been killed and perhaps that is what prompted her to take this step. There Nina renewed her acquaintance with Katherine Harley who was eager to learn of her sister Charlotte. Nina remained for eight months. On her return she continued with campaigning and supporting the wives left behind.
In 1918 Nina announced that she would stand in a by election as a prospective member of Parliament for Keighley. It was ruled that as a women she could stand but as her nomination papers were incorrectly completed she could not. This acceptance of a woman’s right to stand allowed others to stand in the general election in 1918.
Nina remained politically active for the rest of her life particularly supported the National Union of Women Teachers and the Save the Children Fund. She also wrote novels. She died in March 1943.
[ii] Globe November 17 1913
[iii] Daily Record July 14 1914