Sophie Albert was arrested on November 27th, 1911. The name given to the authorities appears to have been an alias as the records also record that her name was Margaret Bennett. Suffragettes often used pseudonyms to disguise their identity from family or employers. The arrest related to the activities of the suffragettes on November 22nd 1911, following the adoption by the WSPU of window breaking as a critical plank of protest. Sophie was a member of the WSPU, and like other members she gave her address as Clement’s Inn the headquarters of the WSPU and home of the Pethick Lawrences. Again, this was often a tactic used to protect their identity. She was sentenced to five days imprisonment or a 5 shilling fine for obstruction. The fine was paid on November 30th.
Ann Alice Alder was arrested on February 12th 1908 along with Violet Addis, mentioned in the first blog, following an attack on the House of Commons. Ann, according to the newspaper report, was thirty years old, married and had travelled south from Honley, Yorkshire to attend the demonstration. Although both the newspaper reports and the suffragette record state her surname is Alder it is, in fact, Older.
Born Ann Alice Sykes on August 12th 1876, Slaithwaite, Yorkshire, she was the daughter of Joseph, a shoemaker and Rebecca. The 1891 census return records Ann, aged thirteen, working as a cotton piecer in the local mill. Ann married Charles William Older on April 14th 1900, while she has no recorded occupation, Charles was a stoker. After their marriage they settled in Honley. They had one daughter, Murial, born in 1915.
Ann was a member of the Huddersfield WSPU alongside her aunts Ellen Beever and Annie Sykes who had first demonstrated in London in 1907. Ann was sentenced to six weeks in prison. Like many on the record this was her only offence.
Ann died on February 16th 1958; Charles having died two years earlier.
Grace Alderman was arrested at the same demonstration on February 12th, 1908. Like Ann Grace had travelled south this time from Preston. Grace was born in 1885, Crewe, the daughter of a solicitor. She was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment. Later she moved south to Witham in Essex. She died during December 1968.
Mary was a dogged, determined and brave woman. Born in 1858 she was nearly fifty years old when she was first arrested. In 1883 Mary married Arthur Robert Aldham, a commercial clerk. Mary and Robert had two daughters Mary and Gertrude. By the time of the 1901 census, the family were living at 22 Coom’s Hill, Greenwich. Mary Ann’s life took a tragic turn when Arthur died in 1905 and Gertrude four years later in 1909.
In 1908, Mary’s trial, along with several others, was adjourned to allow her to obtain legal representation. At the delayed hearing, Mary was found guilty and given the choice of being bound over to keep the peace along with a fine or be sent to prison for one month, which she elected to do.
The offence in October 1910 was, along with seven others, breaking windows valued at £5 at the house of John Burns, the member of Parliament for Battersea. Burns frequently locked horns with the leader of the WFL, Charlotte Despard who strongly disagreed with his view that women whose children failed to thrive was due to their feckless mothering rather than poverty. For this offence, Mary was fined £5 or one month in prison. She chose to go to prison. Mary also participated in Black Friday on 18 November 1910 when approximately three hundred women marched to the Houses of Parliament. Following the general election in 1910, the Liberals led by Herbert Asquith only had a majority in the House of Commons if they were supported by the Labour party which led Henry Brailsford to lead the foundation of a Conciliation Committee for women’s’ suffrage. The Committee which consisted of thirty-six members of Parliament from all parties drafted a bill, the Conciliation Bill, which would have given about a million women the vote. It was seen by many as a step in the right direction, and Emmeline Pankhurst, on behalf of the WSPU, agreed to cease all militant activities while the bill was debated. However, while the bill received the backing of the House of Commons, Asquith made it clear it was a piece of proposed legislation which he intended to shelve. The demonstration now known as Black Friday was a response to Asquith’s declaration.
The women were met by flanks of police officers who resisted their attempts to access the building for six hours. Many of the women complained of violence, some of sexual assault. One hundred and nineteen were arrested, only to be released without charge. The portrayal of the events in the newspapers was mostly pro the police praising them for their restraint in dealing with women intent on attacking them. Many called for a public enquiry which Winston Churchill, Home Secretary, refused.
Nonetheless amongst the files transcribed by http://findmypast.co.uk is one including statements from police, the women and a few members of the public. Mary wrote ‘I was thrown about a good deal by the police for a long time … My arms were wrench back and twisted so that I had to have help to dress the next morning’. Part of this file is made up of the Brailsford report prepared by Henry Brailsford and Jessie Murray in response to the refusal to hold a public enquiry. A powerful advocate of women’s suffrage was Robert Cecil, a Conservative member of Parliament, one of only a few of that party who supported the vote for women. Amongst the papers in the file is a damning critique of why his calls for an enquiry are misguided and potentially damaging to the democratic process.
Arguably Black Friday marked a change in the campaign for women’s votes. Many women disavowed militant tactics, and it was the last demonstration of that type the WSPU undertook as they move towards activities such as window breaking which enabled the women to flee more easily.
In this vein Mary was next arrested on November 22nd 1911 for window breaking at Charing Cross Post Office, one of two hundred and twenty- three. She was the first defendant in the dock at the trial attended by Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst. Refusing to pay the imposed fine, she was imprisoned for fourteen days. She was now fifty-three years old.
Undeterred Mary continued to campaign. She was arrested during March 1912 for breaking a window to the value of £20 and was imprisoned for six months in Holloway. Her release date was 18 September 1912. Mary went on hunger strike. Amongst the papers is a list of names of woman whom it was doubtful were medically fit to be force-fed; another of those where it was unclear whether they were sufficiently strong, Mary features on this list. Minutes record that an order was issued for the immediate release of any prisoners subjected to force-feeding without further discussion if their health necessitated; Mary was one of five released following a medical assessment which noted ‘Elderly woman presenting slight indication of cardiac degeneration. Resists cup feeding and it would not be safe to feed by tube; shows indication of impaired nutrition quickened pulse, coated tongue which are likely to become more marked. A report written a few days later highlights the number of prisoners involved in the refusal of food, fifty-seven. Of those twenty-nine were being fed forcibly by tube and fifteen by a cup or spoon. Thirteen had been on hunger strike for one day, so no measures had been taken. A further sixteen had been released due to a deterioration in their health, Mary being amongst them. These numbers were over four prisons: Holloway; Aylesbury; Birmingham and Brixton. James Agg-Gardner, member for Parliament, raised a question concerning prison visits. These the authorities responded would be withdrawn if the medical practitioner felt that the prisoner was medically unfit to receive a visit, and it would be detrimental to their health.
In 1912 Helen Gordon, a suffragette who had been subjected to force-feeding, wrote a pamphlet describing her experiences. It is a graphic and frank account. Placed in solitary confinement for refusing food she was taken to the hospital. Forced on to a bed she was restrained by four wardresses, her head held by a doctor, a gag forced ‘roughly between my teeth…A mixture of brown bread, milk, bovril, or mince, was half poured or ladled out of a basin down my throat.’ If she did not swallow her nose was held until she did. This was the cup and spoon method. The alternatives were either a nasal tube or an oesophageal tube. The latter Helen described as ‘The worst torture of any kind’. The authorities unaware of the pamphlet hastily obtained a copy. On this occasion, the records note Mary was released without being force-fed on 23 June.
During her imprisonment, she and her fellow inmates signed a handkerchief, a poignant memento. https://sussexpast.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Priest-House-suffragette-handkerchief.pdf