Evelyn Billings record states that she was arrested twice on 28 July 1913, and 11 August 1913. Next to the first entry is a pencil star which refers to a footnote which notes that no records have been found relating to the first arrest on her file. This note seems to be an administrative error as the first arrest is recorded in the newspapers. Evelyn’s surname is variously spelt with and without an “s”. The correct spelling appears to be Billing as included in advertisements in suffrage newspapers.
Evelyn was the organiser of the West and North Kent branch of the WSPU. In January 1912 she gave a speech at a meeting of the Hastings Branch commenting ‘It was for them [Cabinet Ministers] to prove that they were dishonourable, and they pretty nearly always did it.’ A keen correspondent, Evelyn often raised awareness of the cause by writing letters to the press. For example, she wrote to the Kent and Sussex Courier asking women to write to their Members of Parliament to protest at the force feeding of Olive Walton held in Aylesbury Gaol.
In July 1912 Evelyn travelled to London to take part in a protest in Trafalgar Square against the operation of the Cat and Mouse Act and the rearrest of Sylvia Pankhurst. Evelyn was one of thirteen women and, eleven men. She was charged with obstruction. According to the police, Evelyn incited the crowd crying “Come on, men.” She then proceeded to grab a walking stick; running into Great Scotland Yard yelling to the crowd to follow her and break the windows at the Liberal Club. To this evidence, Evelyn responded that it was all lies and raised a legal objection in that she understood there needed to be three witnesses for an offence to be proven. The magistrate pointed out this was incorrect to which Evelyn replied “Very well- I’ll find out for the next time, and we’ll get along”. She continued: the policeman “..has got the author’s brain and has invented a great yarn”. She was fined forty shillings or one month’s imprisonment. Evelyn shouting “Where are your witnesses?” was forcibly removed from the court.
It appears, however, that Evelyn did not go to gaol as, only a few weeks later, she was arrested again for her part in an attempt to enter Downing Street. The crowd were described variously by the police as a mob or almost a riot. Evelyn was charged with obstruction and assault. A policeman attested that Evelyn had attempted to break through a cordon; striking a policeman in the face. Evelyn argued that the police were, in fact, obstructing the crowd, not the other way round. The magistrate, while not agreeing with the argument, decided to concentrate on the assault charge. Evelyn stated she was a “marked woman” and that when she had been arrested previously, she had been assaulted by police officers. The magistrate retorted that this interjection “...was futile and irrelevant” and sentenced her to a fine, or one month in prison. Evelyn stated her intent to go on hunger strike.
Whether Evelyn did or did not go on hunger strike is unknown, but she did elect to go to prison. On her release, she continued campaigning. In the 25 October 1913 edition of the Bexhill on Sea Observer, a letter was published, written in response to a speech given by the Bishop of Chichester at the Diocesan Conference. Firstly, Evelyn responded to the Bishop’s contention that women should not be elected to the synod, the legislative council, of the church, by outlining in detail why his argument was incorrect. The Bishop had referred to a “filthy” paper, by which Evelyn believed he meant the Suffragette newspaper which had recently included informative articles on venereal disease highlighting, in particular, the way married women could be infected by unfaithful husbands suffering in silence due to the collusion of male doctors. She attacked the church’s lack of desire to recognise this or poverty: “Suffragists and Trade Unions are on the warpath, while the Church sleeps-or scoffs.” This impassioned conclusion sums up the often underlining motive of many campaigners. They wanted the vote, not for its own sake but to have a voice to raise awareness of poverty, disease or injustice.
No biographical information is given in any press report; the only clue is her role of organiser of the West and North Kent WSPU. When arrested, she gave her address as the WSPU headquarters. Evelyn does not appear on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners and, no further personal information has been located.
Teresa Billington was arrested twice on 21 June 1906 and 24 October 1906. Teresa was born in Preston, Lancashire to a devout Roman Catholic family in 1877. She strongly opposed her family’s religious values, becoming an agnostic. Teresa eventually ran her away from home, went to night school and trained to be a teacher. Her refusal to teach religious studies lessons brought her into conflict with the authorities who summoned her to appear before the Manchester Education Committee. Emmeline Pankhurst heard her case and arranged for her to teach at a Jewish school where she would no longer be called upon to teach religious studies. While studying for a degree, alongside teaching, Teresa became involved in the University of Manchester Settlement based in a deprived area of Manchester, Ancoats. The idea behind the Settlement was to bring learning to the community whilst exposing the more privileged to the impact of poverty on a community. Like so many of the suffragettes, this exposure was to spur Teresa into campaigning for the vote.
A committed feminist Teresa was one of the first to join the Women’s Social and Political Union of which, in due course, she became an organiser having first served as an organiser of the Independent Labour Party. By 1905 Teresa was a regular speaker on the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill or other topics such as Socialism and the Women’s Question. In April 1906 she was part of a group of women including Annie Kenney who gained access to the Ladies Gallery in the House of Commons during the debate on the Enfranchisement Bill. Their cries of protest led to them being forcibly removed, but they were not charged with any offence.
In June 1906 Herbert Asquith was due to address a meeting of the Liberal Party. All week Teresa accompanied by Annie Kenney campaigned to raise awareness of their cause ahead of the meeting; handing out flyers which read “Come in crowds to oppose Asquith, the enemy of liberty and justice.” Later in the week, they were joined by Emmeline Pankhurst. All three gained entry to the meeting. As soon as Asquith rose to speak, they attempted to drown him out. Members of the audience and stewards bundled the women out of the hall. One newspaper report claimed Teresa produced a whip from under her skirt and lashed out with it. Given she was not charged with any offence and no other newspaper reports this act, it may well be an embellishment. After Teresa was ejected, Emmeline rose to protest and when she was shouted down and removed others took her place to continue interrupting.
Only a week later Teresa attempted to knock on Asquith’s front door in Cavendish Square, London. When she refused to move on, she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and inciting others. In court, she refused to enter a plea or give any personal details on the basis that the courts were there to apply laws made by men and therefore had no jurisdiction over women. She was fined £10- or two-months imprisonment which, was later reduced to £5- or one-month imprisonment. Teresa did not serve much of her sentence as an anonymous sympathiser presented herself at Holloway Prison and paid the fine; stating that the trial and initial imprisonment had raised the profile of the cause sufficiently, negating the need to serve any more of the sentence. Amusingly the well-wisher was made to pay the full fine of £10 as the prison authorities were not aware of any reduction, they would in due course refund the difference if it proved to be true.
Alongside her hands-on actions, Teresa wrote many letters to the national press and articles explaining the rationale of the women’s activities. Her report, The Militant Policy of Women Suffragists, outlined the reasons why women felt they had the right to protest. Her campaigning took its toll. In, an article, The Woman and the Whip, she wrote of leaving meetings “‘in a state of nervous humiliation, shocked, weeping, and shuddering.’[i] These feelings did not deter her, and after her release from prison, she continued campaigning; addressing meetings during a tour of Scotland. By October Teresa had returned to London joining an attempt to enter the House of Commons. She was arrested and charged with using insulting and threatening language likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The court hearing was chaotic with, one woman detained at the court. All of the women were fined but on refusing, collectively, to pay they were sent to prison for two months. All were released having served one month.
Teresa returned to the campaign trial, visiting the North of England and Scotland. During her work in Scotland, she had met Frederick Lewis Greig, the manager of a billiard supplies company to whom she became engaged to much comment in the press that she had broken her vow not to marry until women obtained the vote. The reality was that Teresa had told Frederick she would give a further year to the campaign before she wed. She married Frederick in Scotland in February 1907 in a low key ceremony intended to prevent journalists attending; the groom reportedly was working until an hour before the nuptials. In a very modern move, they combined their surnames becoming Billington Greig. The couple went on to have one daughter, Fiona, born in 1915.
Teresa was straight back on the campaign trail after her marriage continuing to give talks and write to the newspapers. At a meeting of the WSPU in June 1907 she was presented with a belated wedding present, a typewriter, by Charlotte Despard. At the September conference of the WSPU Emmeline Pankhurst stated her intent to run the organisation without any meddling from doubters of, in particular, the tendency of the leadership to take decisions without consultation. Charlotte Despard questioned this stance and Emmeline invited those who challenged her authority to found an organisation of their own. Teresa, amongst others, joined Charlotte and left to form the Women’s Freedom League.
The campaign continued with both organisations pushing their message but in different ways. In February 1910 Teresa, travelling to Scotland, was injured when the train she was on hit a landslide, derailing the train and sending some of the carriages into the sea. She sustained wrist and ankle injuries. While continuing to question the leadership of the WSPU, she became disenchanted with the Women’s Freedom League citing their “weak intimidation.” Thus, mostly independent of any group, she campaigned by writing articles and books such as Women and the Machine published in 1913.
With the dawn of the First World War, Teresa organised, in Glasgow billiard halls, afternoons for women where they could enjoy demonstrations, talks and playing to raise funds for the Sportsmen’s Ambulance Fund. In 1928 she returned to the fray campaigning for more women Members of Parliament.
She died in 1964.