Florence Burley was arrested in July 1909. One of the Women’s Freedom League’s tactics was to pursue legal means to get their message across. One course of action was to present a petition to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Members repeatedly gathered at Downing Street with the intention of handing over the document while holding a silent vigil. In the morning of 16 July Maria Mackenzie and Bessie Semple stood in Downing Street waiting for Asquith to leave a Cabinet meeting. The Prime Minister’s Private Secretary offered to take the petition and personally hand it over. Maria and Bessie insisted that they desired a private meeting with Asquith. The police requested that the two women move along. When they refused the two were arrested and charged with obstruction of the police in the exercise of their duty. In court the police contended that if they had not arrested them a disturbance would have occurred.
Maria and Bessie maintained that it was their legal right to have a meeting with the Prime Minister. The magistrate advised an application to the High Court for a writ of mandamus which, if granted, would compel Asquith to meet with them but the law did not allow them just to stand in the street demanding a meeting. The two women were found guilty; fined £5 or in the alternative on month in prison.
Florence and Grace Johnson, a campaigner from New York, took Maria and Bessie’s place in Downing Street following their arrest. By this time, a crowd of about forty had gathered and the police ordered Florence and Grace to leave which they refused. Arrested and charged with obstruction the two were brought before the same magistrate later that afternoon. At court Florence informed the magistrate that the obstruction was just as likely to have been caused by the people arriving for the Prime Minister’s wife’s party. Both women refused to accept a fine and were sentenced to twenty-one days in Holloway prison. At the close of proceedings, the magistrate announced that he would align the sentences of Maria, Bessie, Florence, and Grace reducing the earlier sentence to a corresponding twenty-one days expressing the hope that the women would behave while in prison.
Florence and the other three were released on 31 July. A report from the prisoner governor notes they were met at the gate by some friends ‘who took them away in a brake, but there was very little excitement. None of them made any complaints on leaving’. The women were conveyed to the Eustace Mills Restaurant for breakfast served at tables decorated with the Women Freedom League colours. Around two hundred women attended, and each released prisoner shared their experiences.
Two days later, the Women’s Freedom League held a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Around the base of Nelson’s Column, the women laid green and gold banners inscribed with the names of suffragette prisoners with stars to indicate how many times each had been imprisoned. Florence was on of six recently released women who spoke.
In June 1910 women from all over the country gathered to march from the Thames Embankment to the Albert all in support of suffrage. Around fifteen thousand women and men marched divided into contingents from authors to actresses. One was imprisoned women who carried arrows on poles symbolising the marks on prison uniforms and their own internment. Footage of the march can be seen on the bfi.org.uk website. Among the women carrying an arrow was Florence.
The records note that Florence, a journalist, was born in 1888. The newspapers reported that, at the time, she lived in Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington. It has not been possible to identify Florence any further.
Lucy Burns was an American suffragette and advocate for women’s rights. Her actions are widely written about; as an opener the entry on wikipedia is well worth a read.
The following entry is Susan Burnton, an alias of Sarah Bennett whom I have written about in an earlier blog.