May or Mary Clarke was arrested three times between 1908 and 1910. Mary Jane Goulden was born in 1862 to Richard and Sophia. One of eleven children: six sons and five daughters, Emmeline, later Pankhurst, was her eldest sister born four years earlier. Rachel Holmes in her far-reaching and excellent, recently published biography, of Sylvia Pankhurst, observes that Mary was Emmeline's favourite sister. Both of their parents were socially and politically active. By the time, Mary was nine; the family had moved to Seedley, part of the Salford where her father ran a printing firm employing over two hundred and fifty people. Although, forward-thinking her parents set little store by girl's education. Mary attended Seedley Castle School, passing the Government Art Examinations in 1877.
Emmeline, by now married with four children, moved to London in 1886 and Mary joined them. The two sisters opened art furnishers and decorators, Emerson & Co. Alongside retailing furniture and soft furnishings, they offered art classes. In time for Christmas 1890, they printed and distributed a trade catalogue explaining their reasons for embarking on 'the tempestuous billows of commerce', the primary line was white furniture which the purchaser could decorate themselves. Trade, however, was not brisk and by 1893 the shop closed. Emmeline's husband had already returned to the northwest, and the family and Mary followed. Mary began teaching dressmaking.
Two years later Mary married John Clarke – the 1901 census describes his occupation as a credit draper working for himself. The couple settled in Camberwell in the south of London. It did not turn out to be a happy union. Rachel Holmes writes that John was abusive, and, on at least one occasion, Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline’s daughter, rescued her aunt. By 1904 Mary had fled for good, returning to the north of England and joining Emmeline to fight for women's votes.
On June 21st 1908 the WSPU organised Women's Sunday – a suffragette march followed by a rally in Hyde Park. It was estimated that half a million people attended. Women wore white dresses embellished with suffragette colours. Within the environs of the park, the speakers were allocated to platforms. Mary was assigned to platform 1 alongside Georgina Brackenbury, Nancy Lightman and Mrs Morris, a health visitor from Manchester.
Mary was first arrested the following month. Many campaigners gathered at Caxton Hall. After several resounding speeches led by Emmeline, they marched towards the House of Commons to present a petition to Herbert Asquith. Mary was one of twenty-nine women arrested. Emmeline and Sylvia attended the court at Bow Street when Mary and all but two of her fellow arrestees were brought before the courts. Found guilty, Mary was ordered to pay a fine or face one month in prison. All elected to go to prison. There are no reports of Mary's first time in prison in the official files online.
Mary and fourteen fellow prisoners were released from Holloway prison at the end of July. A large crowd greeted the women along with a brass band and a hefty police presence. The women travelled to central London for a welcome breakfast. Several spoke during the meal, including Mary, who observed how much she would miss the women she had left behind in prison.
In February 1909, Mary was arrested for a second time alongside Lucy Norris. The two went to Downing Street to try and have a meeting with Asquith. They repeatedly knocked on the door despite being informed he was away. Eventually, the police intervened arresting the two women. Charged with obstruction, the court found them guilty. As before Mary refused to pay the fine and was sent to prison for one month. Ada, her sister, wrote to the governor of Holloway Prison, requesting a visit to discuss a family matter – permission was granted. From prison Mary wrote a letter which was published in Votes for Women:
'Before we are set free, the Women's Parliament, which meets in Caxton Hall on February 24th will be over. I know our comrades will on that day do their duty as we have tried to do ours. Let our motto be 'Never let I dare not wait upon I would.'
Mary was soon back on the campaign trail and was now the salaried organiser for the Brighton branch of the WSPU. In September, Joan Dugdale Clara Morden and Mary, addressed a meeting at the Council Rooms in Christchurch, Dorset, as part of a tour of the south coast. One newspaper described Joan’s speech as ‘most interesting’ but questioned whether the message was being dimmed by militant action. At Boscombe, Joan, Mary, and Clara were pelted with eggs, over-ripe bananas and tomatoes. The women took refuge in the Salisbury Hotel, leaving by a side entrance in the hope of avoiding the crowd which was loitering at the front. The women’s efforts were in vain and they were followed along the High Street forcing them to take refuge in a shop from where they left by taxi. The meeting the following day in Branksome was cancelled. Later Joan commented that the meeting had ‘ended rather disastrously’ and that the troublemakers ‘were rather rough with her,’ observing she was in awe of Mary’s fortitude.
Meanwhile, Joan returned to the south coast to attend an At Home organised by the Hove branch. Mary, Jane Brailsford and Joan Dugdale addressed an At Home organised by the Hove branch in January 1910. Joan closed the meeting with a recitation of ‘The home is her sphere.’ In July 1910, Mary again addressed a suffragette rally in Hyde Park from platform 16 speaking alongside Dr Christine Murrell, who in 1924 was the first woman appointed to the British Medical Association Council, and the Honourable Mrs Haverfield.
While organising the Brighton branch, Mary lived with Minnie Turner at Seaview, 13 Victoria Street. Minnie ran the house as a holiday bed and breakfast, a facility a suffragette could avail herself of to rest and recuperate. During September Mary arrived in St Leonards ahead of a visit by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. To advertise the event, a parade was organised. Several women gathered in their carriages, one sporting a banner which read 'Women's Suffrage Propaganda League,' others were on foot. Elsie Bowerman headed the procession. She and the other women carried banners with messages such as 'No surrender' and Face to the Dawn.' Mary accompanied Mrs Darent Harrison, a member of the Tax Resistance League, in her carriage. The local newspaper reported that during the town's circuit, which took an hour and a half, there were few outbursts against their cause.
The following week the well-publicised meeting was held at the Royal Concert Hall. Before this, Emmeline and Christabel visited Mary, who was staying in the town. The Hon Mrs Haverfield whom Mary had occupied a platform alongside in Hyde Park chaired the meeting supported by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and Mary who moved a motion in support of the Woman Suffrage Bill.
Mary was arrested again in November alongside Greta Allen, Laura Armstrong, Gennie Ball and Grace Chappelow (see earlier blogs) and charged with criminal damage. Emmeline requested to see Mary at Cannon Row Police Station. When the visit was denied, Mary broke a window. She was sentenced to a month in gaol.
Mary telegrammed the WSPU branch in Brighton 'I am glad to pay the price for freedom.' She was released on 23 December. A welcome home lunch was held in her and other released prisoners’ honour at the Criterion restaurant. Joan Dugdale, who had been in prison, at the same time as Mary but was released the week before also attended the lunch. It would be the last time the two campaigners saw each other.
Mary spent Christmas Day with Herbert, her brother, and his family at their home in Winchmore Hill. Sadly, Mary passed away during the evening. She was buried at Southgate Cemetery. One observer wrote 'Without approaching her sister's power as an orator, she did an immense amount of splendid service, and she was the leader of the women's franchise movement in Brighton.'
The 6 January 1911 edition of Votes for Women includes a memoir written by Emmeline entitled The Utmost for the Highest. She recollects being in Holloway prison at the same time as Mary was first imprisoned, describing her as a 'Prisoner of Hope' with her' extreme patience' and 'extreme gentleness.' Emmeline writes that Mary had been ill before she travelled to London to stand in solidarity with the women who had been ill-treated on Black Friday by throwing a stone to get herself arrested.
It has been widely written over the years that Mary was force-fed during her final time in prison. In her tribute, Emmeline alludes to the procedure but does not directly assert that Mary was subjected. The official files online are blank which, perhaps, in itself speaks volumes.
There is currently an appeal in Brighton to raise funds to erect a statue in her memory. https://maryclarkestatue.com/
Emily Clarke was arrested in February 1914. Emmeline Pankhurst, from a balcony at Glebe House in Chelsea, addressed a crowd of around one thousand. Emmeline was out on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act, so the police were out in force. At the conclusion of proceedings, women exited the house surrounding a woman they wished the police to believe was Emmeline Pankhurst. The police stated that the women used Indian clubs to attack them and protect the decoy.
Later, the 'real' Emmeline exited accompanied by a small number of bodyguards and managed to depart in a taxi. Emily and Norah Neville were part of the bodyguard. Emily, described as elderly, was charged alongside Norah with disorderly behaviour. A constable gave evidence stating that the women shouted ‘Charge girls’ as they rushed towards plainclothes officers brandishing Indian clubs and rolling pins. The two other women charged were Cicely Sewell and Ruth Underwood.
Emily had a head wound that the police testified had been caused by an accidental blow by Norah. Both women denied speaking or striking anyone accidentally or not. The constable produced a rolling pin which, he claimed, had blood on it. The magistrate responded ‘I don’t want you to be too realistic, constable. As long as there is no blood on your truncheon, it’s alright’.
Emily was clear this evidence was untrue, and she had been struck by a plainclothes officer. Found guilty Emily was bound over to keep the peace and fined £10. Refusing to accept this, Emily was sentenced to three days in gaol.
There is insufficient information to find anymore information about Emily but if anyone knows any more please do get in touch.
The references/footnotes have been removed but if you require any further information we are happy to provide them.
Edith Clarence was arrested in March 1912. She was born in 1876 in Sri Lanka. Her father, Lovell, a colonial judge, retired to England by Edith’s stepmother, Elizabeth. Edith’s mother, Blanche, died in 1888 when Edith, one of five children, was eight years old. On their return, the family settled in Axminster, Devon. By 1911, Edith’s two sisters had married, leaving her living with her father and stepmother.
The first mention of Edith’s involvement with the WSPU is a donation in August 1908. During the summer months, the WSPU encouraged volunteers to target seaside towns to raise awareness of the cause. The women were advised to take a sufficient supply of literature and Votes for Women for distribution together with membership cards for those who wished to join. Ideally, a second helper would be present to copy the membership details down so the head office had the information on their files. Edith spent a week, it was reported, working ‘indefatigably’ in a shop opened by the National Union of Suffrage Societies in Sidmouth, not far from Axminster. Edith also travelled to Oxford to attend a course specifically aimed at women which presented an opportunity to raise awareness of the suffrage campaign. Part of the plan was to hire a boat from which literature and the newspaper, Votes for Women, could be handed out. Edith attended few of the lessons for which she had signed up; most of her time was taken by ‘organising processions, open-air meetings,’ many of which she spoke at.
The following spring, Edith and Elsie Howey addressed a series of meetings in the Penzance area with Edith providing support. During the 1910 election campaign, Edith was joined in Torquay by, amongst others, Annie Kenney, Jessie Smith and Jane Malloch. By the autumn of the following year, Edith was appointed the honorary secretary of the Axminster Branch. In a speech, in February 1912, Edith expressed some of the reasons why she wished to gain the vote which echoes so many other campaigners: infant mortality, poverty and sweated labour. Through Edith’s campaigning, she met Hope Malleson who with Mildred Tucker, had settled in Devon. This led to a friendship with Hope’s sister, Mabel. A month later in March 1912, Edith was arrested and charged with obstruction, an alternative report states the charge was insulting behaviour. A fellow arrestee was Constance Bray (see earlier blog). Found guilty, Edith was sentenced to one month in prison. Following her release from gaol, Edith spent two weeks in July assisting the campaign in Glasgow and West Scotland. Over the coming months, Edith continued to work hard for the cause.
The following year, a letter was published in Common Cause, the newspaper of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, in which Edith objected to an assertion included in an article titled the National Union and Militancy. The writer had contended that ‘Militancy has introduced into the Suffrage Movement elements of revenge, of contempt for others, of unreason, of deafness to honest and considered criticism, which in a movement which stands for peace and justice and humanity are tragic.’ In a robust response, Edith argued that responsibility for the militant element lay with the Liberal government who had ignored the campaigners’ peaceful approach responding with ‘contempt, deafness and unreason.’ This attitude introduced ‘the elements of bitterness … which has deepened into rebellion.’ While the newspaper published the letter, in a note underneath, a strong response was published: ‘We do not feel that Miss Clarence’s statement touches our argument at all.’
It was a spat which spilled into the next edition of the newspaper. Edith submitted a further letter attempting to clarify her position arguing that militants accepted responsibility for their actions, but it was not correct to attribute to them the errors of the Government. The Editor, again, responded by pointing out that in her view the sentence in the original letter did not mean what Edith contended.
Around 1916, Edith moved to Dixton Manor in the village of Gotherington, near Cheltenham, the family home of the Malleson sisters. Edith and Mabel lived there until about 1925 when Mabel purchased the nearby Detmore House, Charlton Kings. At some point, Alice Fison, another suffragette, moved in with Mabel and Edith. Mabel died in 1931.
The 1939 register records Alice as the owner of Detmore House and Edith as the housekeeper/farmer. Edith remained politically active, often writing letters to the local press. In one she commented that to her socialism was ‘a practical embodiment of the truths enumerated 2000 years ago by the teacher whom the majority of the citizens of this country profess to follow.’ Edith became involved with the Tewkesbury and District Labour Party providing entertainment at social gatherings with recitations. During the General Strike in 1926, in a repeat of her activities for the suffrage movement, Edith sold the Gloucester Strike Bulletin. A man, the local managing director of a company, gave Edith the money to buy all the copies but, when it dawned on her what he was attempting to do, refused to hand over more than one copy. Angered, he attempted to wrest the remainder from her. The matter ended up in the Magistrates Court with the man charged with assaulting Edith. The charges were dropped after the man gave an apology. In an insight into Edith’s character, she instructed her solicitor to accept the apology and to make it clear she did not wish the matter to proceed but she took the opportunity to make it clear that the principal at stake was the freedom to sell newspapers for a political purpose without interference.
Edith was a memorable figure, ‘small rosy-cheeked, and very alert’ who cycled everywhere, often wearing clothing she felt was appropriate to the task in hand such as leather breeches. Interested in cultural and social affairs she founded a local Bulb Show which was held annually. Committed to the idea that education could improve a child’s opportunities she was, for many years, a manager of the local Holy Apostles’ School. A member of the National Council of Women, founded in 1895 to lobby for improved working conditions for women.
In an impassioned letter to the Gloucestershire Echo, Edith called for support of the Miner’s Relief Fund – ‘Our Christian religion bids us to feed the hungry – not the hungry with whose politics we agree.’ By May the following year, Edith was chairman of the Cheltenham Labour Party, often writing to the local newspaper, in that capacity, which led to some lively responses. The following year Edith stood for election as a councillor for the Charlton Kings Urban Council, a seat which she did not win. Over the coming years, Edith continued to support socialist politics; endorsing the formation of a child guidance clinic; speaking on agriculture and its associated difficulties and campaigning for a local theatre.
Alice and Edith lived together until Edith died suddenly in September 1941. Her obituary was headed ‘Miss E Clarence Dead Feminist Leader in Cheltenham’. She was described as having held ‘a very individual part in the life of the community’ – ‘a personality’ who ‘will be remembered chiefly for her own kindliness to and interest in others.’
Olive Clapton or Clapson was charged in March 1913, alongside Jane Cooper, with breaking windows at Schomburg House and the Oxford and Cambridge Club. Refusing to pay a fine they were both imprisoned for ten days. Olive appeared for a second time in the courts the following month, charged, alongside Helen Clarke, with causing an obstruction when selling Votes for Women. Found guilty, they were both fined ten shillings and sixpence.
Olive May Bartlett Clapson was born in 1892 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She had two elder sisters, Violet and Clarissa. Her father, Edmund, was an auctioneer’s clerk, and her mother, on the 1891 census, is recorded as a hotel proprietor to which the word pub has been added. Five years after Olive’s birth her father died. Alice and her three daughters moved to Brighton. By 1911 Olive is living near Regent’s Park employed as a children’s nurse.
In February 1912 she joined the Kensington Branch of the WSPU volunteering to sell the newspaper, Votes for Women. Following her release from prison, Olive who was now living in Finchley, north London, placed an advertisement in the Suffragette seeking a position looking after a child; it seems likely that her prison sentence left her unemployed.
Sylvia Pankhurst, who opposed the arson attacks, fell out with her mother, Emmeline, and sister, Christabel, turning her support to the Labour Party and the East London Workers Socialist Federation. Like many, particularly after the outbreak of World War I, Olive supported the Federation. At one fundraising gathering where one of the speakers was Charlotte Despard, Olive ran the fancy goods stall.
For many years, Olive continued to live in north London. She died in 1975 in Staffordshire.