Edith Annie Bremner was born May 1881 in Weymouth, Dorset. Her father, John, was a paymaster in the Royal Naval, he and his wife, Annie, had seven children; five of whom survived to adulthood. Edith’s father died in 1896 while serving with the Royal Navy in Hong Kong. At the time of the 1901 census was taken, Edith was living with her mother and sister, Hilda, in Alverstoke, Hampshire; the sisters were working as governesses.
By 1908 Edith had joined the Women’s Freedom League spearheaded by Charlotte Despard. The Women’s Franchise newspaper lists Edith has one of the leading participants at various rallies across London during the summer of 1908. In October of the same year, Edith was arrested and charged with obstruction in connection with an attempt to gain access to the House of Commons. Fifteen arrests were made, fourteen women and one man. All were taken to Cannon Row Police station and were released on bail, Charlotte Despard standing as surety. Their actions were part of a larger protest - Muriel Matters and Helen Fox persuaded two Members of Parliament to assist them in gaining admission to the Ladies Gallery. Both women chained themselves to the grille of the gallery and began to address the House of Commons on the subject of women’ suffrage. At the same time, a man had entered the Strangers’ Gallery from where he shouted: ‘I am a man and I protest against the injustice to women.’ Outside members of the Women’s Freedom League had gathered. Two gained entrance to the lobby of the House of Commons, while another climbed the plinth of the statue of Richard I and began to address the gathering crowd. It took some time for the police and Parliamentary attendants to regain order.
At their trial all the women sported the colours of the League and passed their time, before the hearing started, making rosettes. The actions at the House of Commons were described as ‘one of the most disorderly and disgraceful scenes that had occurred in the last few years’ in connection with the suffrage movement. Edith was fined £5 or an alternative of a month in gaol. Refusing to pay the fine Edith was sent to Holloway Prison. She was released on 28 November. The League organised a celebration to mark the ‘red-letter day’ of the women’s release. Greeted at the gates of Holloway Prison, the women processed to breakfast at the Cottage Tea Rooms in the Strand. This was followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square and an evening reception at Morley Hall near Hanover Square.
Following her release, Edith joined in supporting the League at a variety of gatherings during December, often talking of her prison experience. The League mounted a silent siege at the gates to the House of Commons. The vigil lasted for over forty-four hours; one participant was Edith. She also continued throughout the year to address meetings and rallies. By the beginning of 1910, Edith was in Wales organising the North Monmouthshire branch of the League. The country was in the grip of a General Election campaign, and North Monmouthshire was significant as it was the seat of the future Home Secretary, Reginald Mckenna. In a report to the Women’s Franchise newspaper Edith recounts the difficulties of gaining a short-term tenancy of a vacant shop in Pontypool and how ‘slowly but surely we have won our way’ gaining permission from the council to hold meetings at the Cattle Market. She describes walking through the streets to the market in ‘drizzling rain’ to find the platform and that light had not been delivered. Undaunted Edith mounted a wall, only for a ‘sudden terrific squall’ to hit through which she addressed the small crowd for twenty minutes observing the polite tolerance with which she was received ‘even if they do not agree with us.’ Charlotte Despard joined Edith in Wales addressing a meeting in Blaenavon. Although Mckenna was re-elected, his percentage of the vote was slightly reduced and, as Edith observed, the numbers voting had increased significantly.
Edith travelled to East Fife, the seat of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The day before the poll the League adopted the tactic of following him in a car from meeting to meeting ensuring that ‘the green, white and gold fluttered behind the English Czar’s car.’ The women attempted to ask questions about the vote at each meeting, ‘now to questioning was added a policy of dogging and protest.’ The whole area was covered in posters. At the County Building, around three thousand turned up to hear Edith, Marguerite Sidley and Anna Munro speak. Asquith was returned as the Member of Parliament for East Fife but as the result was declared many shouted out ‘Votes for Women.’
Shortly afterwards Edith was made the organising secretary for Ireland, a country dear to the heart of the President of the League, Charlotte Despard. After a few months Edith, based in Southsea, was heading the campaign in Portsmouth proposing to hold meetings three times a week. On 18 June 1910, a suffrage march was organised which processed from the Embankment to the Albert Hall. The women were divided into groups from university women to an international section. Edith was in the group of women who had been imprisoned once. Not unexpectedly Edith does not appear on the 1911 census. Edith continued to be involved with the Portsmouth branch agreeing to address an open-air meeting during June 1912. Unfortunately, heavy rain brought the meeting to a halt before Edith had spoken. It was reconvened the following day. As Edith spoke a man in the crowd challenged her to a debate with ‘an Anti lady’, a duel Edith promptly accepted. Held the following week, not unsurprisingly, the Vote declared that Edith clearly was the victor.
It appears that by 1913 Ethel had possibly switched allegiance to the Church League for Women’s Suffrage and had also been elected to the executive of the National Union of Clerks. Both of which are areas for further research.
By 1939 Ethel is living in Battle, Sussex, employed as a secretary. She died in 1962 aged eighty.
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