Suffragettes: Two Ainsworths & Aitken
Annie Ainsworth was arrested on 25 February 1909 [this arrest is recorded incorrectly as 1908] and 22 November 1911, alongside Violet Aitken [see below]. The first arrest followed another attempt by the WSPU to enter the House of Commons. Following a meeting, at Caxton Hall a deputation led by Mrs Pethwick Lawrence, the secretary of the WSPU, set off to the House of Commons. The police stood firm before the door; the women were shoved forwards towards them by the crowd that had gathered to watch and demanded in vain to be admitted. The police removed them from the area one by one, but many endeavoured to return to the doorway being seen off by a large number of police congregated the other side of the doors. Some were arrested, others attempted to rally again or make speeches. Twenty-seven women and one man were arrested among them Annie who was recorded as being twenty-eight years old; she gave her address as 4 Clement’s Inn, the headquarters of the WSPU. When the matter came to court Annie refused to pay the £10 fine and was imprisoned for one month along with the other twenty-six women. Mrs Pethwick Lawrence lobbied the authorities for the right of the suffragette prisoners to exercise together and converse while so doing assuring them that if this concession was granted they would not breach the rule outside of the exercise period and would not cause any other trouble. A report includes a robust response: ‘I think this request is quite inadmissible…they want to dictate their own terms as to how they are to serve their self-imposed sentences’. The anonymous author continued to explain how, while Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter, had previously been allowed to exercise together this was only due to the former’s ill health and such a concession would not be applied. The prisoners were 2nd Division and therefore not entitled to such privileges. Her second arrest in November 1911 was for breaking windows with Kathleen Broadhurst at the West Strand telegraph office. They were fined 15 shillings or one week’s imprisonment. The campaign, this episode was part of, is discussed in more detail below.
At the Great March held on 8 June, 1910 Annie was in charge of leaflet distribution along the route and her involvement continued over the years with financial donations, leading the organisation of the Suffragette summer party in 1913 or leading a group of mourners at Emily Davison’s funeral.
Laura Ainsworth was arrested in Birmingham on 18 September and 26 November 1909. Much has been written about Laura, for example at https://spartacus-educational.com/WainsworthL.htm. The focus of this blog is those who have been forgotten as the years have passed and therefore no further research has been undertaken.
Violet Aitken [full name Marion Violet Aitken] was arrested on 22 November 1911, 5 March 1912 and 19 March 1912. Born in 1886 in Bedford she was the daughter of William and Eleanor Aitken. Her grandfather, Robert Aitken, printed the first English Bible in America in 1782. William, an evangelist, first worked with William Pennefather, the founder of the Mildmay Conferences and the deaconess movement where women lived together to be trained to work where they were most needed supporting hospitals, education or poor relief. The Mildmay continues today as an Aids and HIV charity. William was appointed to Christ Church, Liverpool but when his wife’s health failed, he moved his family to the fresh air of Derbyshire, and he travelled the length and breadth of the country preaching. He made two preaching tours to America, the last in 1896. In 1900 he was appointed Canon at Norwich Cathedral in 1900.
A member of the WSPU Laura was one of two hundred and twenty-three arrested including three men in Whitehall and Parliament Square on 22 November 1911. The WSPU had organised a demonstration, and in response the police were out in force. Some women attempted to force their way into the House of Commons while others began smashing windows at the Treasury and Scottish Education Office moving along Whitehall throwing stones at windows as they went. The stones were in contained small drawstring bags, and they used the strings as a form of sling to give the stone momentum. Windows were smashed in the Strand and at Somerset House. The protest continued after their arrests with some women using their elbows to smash windows at the police stations. Violet was arrested and charged with obstruction. She was sentenced to five days imprisonment. Like many who wished to retain an element of anonymity she gave her as the WSPU headquarters.
In 1912 the WSPU escalated the window-smashing campaign. Violet was arrested on 5 March 1912. The charge sheet for Violet states that she was arrested along with Clara Giveen for breaking twelve windows valued at £100 at the premises of Jays Limited in Westminster. Her father wrote in his diary: “she has been again arrested and this time for breaking plate glass windows, I am overwhelmed with shame and distress to think that a daughter of mine should do anything so wicked… ‘But my poor wife! It’s heart breaking to think of her being exposed in her old age to the horror….God help us!’ Violet was sentenced to four months imprisonment.
The Times reported on 26 June 26, 1912, that due to overcrowding at Holloway some women prisoners were moved to Winson Green prison, Birmingham. Violet was one of them. Refusing food, she was force fed. The file covering her internment makes bleak reading. The entry for Violet on 23 June notes that she was fed by a nasal tube and ‘vomited continuously’. One report, stamped 26 June 1912, records: No change. To be force fed again tonight’. The report goes on to note that it had been recommended by telephone that if necessary, Violet should be released. This decision was in response to a medical report which noted: ‘Vomited considerably-nervous anaemic state – continued force feeding would endanger health’. Keir Hardie, a Labour member of Parliament, requested details of the medical qualifications of persons subjecting the women to force feeding. He was informed they were all qualified with experience in lunatic asylums, but their names would be withheld in case of reprisals. The file includes a petition signed by one hundred and fourteen medical practitioners asserting that the danger came from the ‘force’ element of feeding which distinguished it from feeding tubes used as part of medical practice. It was the element of force which could cause suffering and potential damage.Shortly afterwards, Violet was released on medical grounds; she was recorded as being in a ‘fair’ state. She was immediately admitted to a nursing home. After, for a time, she worked for The Suffragette, the printed voice of the campaign for votes. She died in 1987 in Hertfordshire, aged 101.
 http://norfolkwomeninhistory.com/1851-1899/marian-violet-aitken/: NRO, MC 2165/1/23, 976X4
Old Blogs Revisited
The publication by http://findmypast.co.uk of a collection of suffragette documentation prepared by the courts and government has meant that new details can be added to the research already undertaken. The next few blogs will revisit old ones and update them. The first of these is posted below.
Ironically for a movement dominated by women the first name in the record is Alfred Abbey. He was arrested on March 1 1911, alongside Henry Garrett. Both men were members of the Men’s Association for the Promotion of Women’s Suffrage. While the Cabinet was meeting at Downing Street the men attempted to scale the wall into the garden with the purpose, they stated, of delivering a letter regarding women’s suffrage. Arrested, they were charged at Bow Street police station with disorderly conduct. The prosecution stated that if the men were “heartily ashamed” of their actions they could be bound over to keep the peace for three months. Henry accepted, but Alfred refused stating he had been forced into taking such an unusual step to get his letter delivered as all other attempts to be heard had failed. He was imprisoned for 21 days in the Second Division.
The previous year force-feeding had been stopped for suffragettes but continued in respect of other prisoners, who refused food, whose crime involved moral turpitude. Not classed as a suffragette due to his gender when Alfred went on hunger strike, he was force-fed. Questions were asked in the House of Commons of Winston Churchill. He stated that moral turpitude included amongst other things serious violence which had occurred in this instance. Given that the other defendant had been bound over to keep the peace this interpretation of events appears far from honest. Angered by Churchill’s answers Hugh Franklin, another campaigner who detested Churchill, wrapped a letter and a feeding tube around a stone hurling it at Churchill’s windows. Imprisoned in Pentonville Prison he was also force-fed. The Votes for Women dated March 17th 1911 carried the headline “Man Prisoner Force Fed.” For a brief time, he was headline news.
Dorothy Foster Abraham was arrested on March 4th 1912. Born in 1866 she was the daughter, of Alfred Clay Abraham a prominent chemist in Liverpool and Lucy Ellison Clay herself an activist for women’s right to vote. Dorothy was educated at boarding school and then went on to study at Liverpool University and King’s College, London. An early member of the WSPU, whose early meetings her mother hosted in her drawing room, Dorothy was active in both London and Liverpool. In March 1912, the WSPU ceased giving prior warning to the authorities of their intended actions and launched a surprise attack. Over hundred women were given hammers and directed to designated sites, hiding the hammers in their muffs. At 5.45 pm they started to smash windows in Oxford Street, Regent Street and other well-known addresses. Amongst the shops targeted were Liberty’s, Marshall & Snelgrove, Burberry and Harrods where Dorothy was arrested. Sent to Holloway Prison she was charged with malicious damage to a window at the Aerated Bread Company valued at £15 and two windows the property of Charles Stuart valued at £50. Dorothy was, however, released due to insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
When war broke out Dorothy, and her mother joined the Home Service Corp which succeeded the Liverpool WSPU; a group formed to enable women to put themselves forward for war work. Dorothy who had studied at Agriculture College worked on several farms. Ultimately settling on a farm her father bought for her. In 1923 Dorothy married Thomas Place. During World War II she served as an air raid warden. She died in 1976 leaving four children.
Lilyarde Acherling was arrested on November 22nd 1911 and December 12th, 1911. There are no records under this name, but research indicates from a report in The Citizen dated December 12th 1911 that her name was Lelgarde Acheling aged 26 an actress. Perhaps unsurprisingly given her profession this name also appears to be pseudonym or stage name. On November 22nd 1911 over, two hundred women were arrested for breaking windows. Her second offence, in December, was when she was charged alongside Frances Rowe and Violet Jones with damaging plate glass windows at the National Bank. The damage amounting to £50. The report does not record if the three women were imprisoned, but this seems likely as women tried on the same day for a similar offence were.
Christine Adams, sometimes known by the alias, Miss de Pass, was arrested on June 8th 1914. She was charged with riotous behaviour at the Brompton Oratory where a group of women interrupted the service by chanting about Mrs Pankhurst. The priest escorted two of the women out, and on his return, Christine was standing in front of the pulpit screaming, her hat having been ripped off by members of the congregation. She was fined £5 which she refused to pay and was therefore imprisoned for one month. On June 17th she was released under the Cat and Mouse Act having been on hunger strike for ten days. Her condition was described in the press as critical. After a period of recuperation, she was returned to prison finally released at the end of July.
Martha Adams was arrested for the same episode of window breaking in March 1912 as Dorothy Abraham. Recorded as Martha A she is, in fact, Martha Helena Adams. She was born in 1868 in Edmonton, North London. Her father, Joseph, was an ironmonger. Martha had numerous siblings; some of the younger ones were born in France where the family lived for a while. By 1891 the family had returned to England settling in Brecknock Road, Holloway, North London. Ten years later the census records the family living in the same house. While the sons had flown the nest five unmarried sisters, aged between thirty-five and eighteen remained living at home. Although the arrest records state Martha was employed as a clerk the census return, a year earlier does not record any employment. Little had altered from ten years previously. Her mother now widowed lived at the same address still with two unmarried daughters, one of whom was Martha. Perhaps, it was frustration at her position in life that drove her to campaign for the vote.
At the initial hearing several, including Mrs Pankhurst were found guilty and imprisoned, but Martha’s offence, malicious damage to two windows valued at £15 meant the matter was referred to a higher court as the damage exceeded £5. She was sentenced to four months imprisonment in Holloway, only a short distance from her home.
By 1939 Martha was living in Brighton where she died just before Christmas 1946.
Kate Adamson was arrested on March 4th 1912 having taken part in the same window breaking as Dorothy Adams and Martha Adams. However, rather than being arrested for malicious damage, the charge was insulting behaviour. She was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment.
Violet Ethel Addis was arrested on February 12th 1908. A member of the WSPU she was part of an attack on the House of Commons. The women split into two groups: some were concealed in a van which pulled up outside St Stephen’s Hall, and the other group marched from Westminster Hall where the Women’s Parliament had been sitting to present a resolution of the meeting demanding the vote. Both groups failed in their attempt to enter the House of Commons, and about fifty women were arrested. Violet was recorded as being thirty- one years old, married and from Birmingham and appears to have gone to prison.
Audrey Aimler was arrested on March 12th 1912, again part of the window smashing protest. Recorded as born in 1884, she was charged with maliciously damaging a post office window along with Jessie Heward. Audrey was sentenced to two months hard labour. The records note that she was also known as Mary Fitzgerald.