Ethelthreda Ball was arrested in November 1910 for throwing stones at the windows of the Home Office. According to the report in the Votes For Women dated December 2nd 1910 the reasoning for her actions was her anger at the sentence handed to her mother the day before. Her mother was Mrs Gennie Ball who decided to join the suffrage movement having worked in a tailoring firm for several years for low wages and hearing about the treatment of women at Winson Green prison. She was a founder member of the Suffragette Crusaders.
In the arrest record they are recorded as Ethelthreda Ball and Jennie Ball but next to the latter’s entry it states see Bell where under the entry of Jennie Bell her arrests are recorded. The Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners records Ethel and Gennie Ball. Next but one down on both records is William Ball. They are all from the same family: William, his wife Jennie and daughter Ethel. The Roll of Honour also includes Edith Warwick Bell research indicates that this is also Ethel who took to using her mother’s maiden name as a middle name. Some sources record that another prisoner Lilian Bell was also their daughter but I have not found any evidence to support this.
William was born in 1863 in Tamworth, Staffordshire. His father worked as a gardener in Tamworth with William working alongside him as an assistant. The family was large and all the children went out to work as soon as they could, the 1891 census records his twelve year old sister employed as a nursemaid. Jennie was in fact born Jane Mary Warwick in 1873, Tamworth. When her parents, Frederick and Henrietta married, Frederick was a widower. He was an innkeeper and left sufficient monies when he died in 1875, under £300, to be recorded in the probate records. Two years later her mother had died leaving Jennie an orphan. What happened to Jennie until the 1891 census return is not clear as no trace of her can be found.
By 1891 she was married to William and living with his parents, those of his siblings still living at home and her two year old son, William. Jennie was working as a tailoress where she clearly gleaned her first hand knowledge of low wages for women. William continued to work as a gardener. The couple appear to have lived in Tamworth and Birmingham. Their eldest son was born in Birmingham, their second Ethel in Tamworth. The 1901 census records four children: Ethel, Harold, May and Horace. The family appears to have been suffering financial hardship, another child Lionel born in 1895 had been adopted. Later reports written regarding William’s imprisonment and treatment suggest that he had been a master gardener and then a master tailor. The 1901 census records William as a salesman and Jennie was the tailoress both employing other workers. It seems more likely that Jennie was the skilled worker and William ran the business. In any event the business ran into financial difficulties.
For breaking a window Jennie was sentenced on in 1910 to a fine of £5 and the cost of the window or one month’s imprisonment. The following day Ethel was sentenced on one month’s imprisonment without the option of payment of a fine. Jennie was due for release on December 23rd 1910 and Ethel the following day.
The following year mother and daughter were arrested again, sentenced to fourteen days and twenty one days respectively to be released on December 11th and 18th 1911. Jennie had broken a window at 55, Parliament Street with the damage stated to be twenty five shillings. She stated that it was better to break a window than to go to Parliament Square to protest and be treated badly. Openly admitting she would do it again she refused to pay the damages or the fine of ten shillings. Ethel had broken three windows at the Colonial Office at cost of four pounds and fifteen shillings. During her evidence she stated that she had been moved to take direct action in protest at the sentence given to Emmeline Pankhurst of one month. The alternative to prison was a twenty shilling fine plus payment of the damages. The arrest record only records Ethel’s first offence not the second.
Only days after their release William was arrested for wilful damage of two windows at the Home Office with damages costing five pounds. At his trial he refused to give either his address or occupation. When questioned at the scene he told the police officer that the stones of which there were three made it clear why he was protesting. Wrapped around the three stones were bits of paper stating that the windows had been broken as a protest on the sentence passed on Mr McDougall of two months for assaulting Lloyd George and for the Manhood Suffrage Bill which had been introduced without any hope of it extending the vote to women. At his trial he stated he had sons and daughters and wished for them to be treated equally. He was sentenced to two months hard labour. Upon the announcement of the sentence a young woman shouted out “Shame!” Was this his daughter, Ethel?
William refused food in prison or to wear the prison uniform. Stripped he was force fed twice a day. After a month according to the prison officers he became confused wandering and ranting. William began to eat but only a few weeks later the authorities declared him insane transferring him to a mental asylum at Colney Hatch in North London admitting him as a pauper. Jennie had been writing to the authorities requesting information about her husband but had not received a reply. She was not informed of his transfer to the asylum. When she eventually established what had happened she secured his release for treatment privately.
Hugh Franklin, one of only a few men imprisoned for their fight for women’s suffrage, was well connected and was horrified by William’s treatment. Hugh Samuel the first Jew to be appointed to the Cabinet was a relative, at the time he was Postmaster General. Hugh wrote to him asking him to investigate the treatment of William. The case was referred to the Home Office who appointed George Savage, a psychiatrist, to investigate. His report was seen by many as a cover up citing his poor mental abilities and personal life as the reason for his falling into mental collapse. Thus distancing it from any relationship to the force feeding. It was alleged that William had been transferred only at the end of his sentence when no one came forward to collect him. This was clearly untrue as Jennie had made continuous attempts to obtain information from the prison.
Charles Mansell Moullin, a surgeon, supporter of women’s suffrage and campaigner against force feeding, examined William on his release from the asylum. His findings did not agree with those of the medics in George Savage’s report which he felt excluded evidence which would not support their claims regarding William’s physical state. It was also pointed out that William has undergone various tests to establish his mental abilities but these had centred around topics that in all likelihood it was known he would not have known the answers. William’s story became a platform from which both sides endeavoured to vindicate their own position.
His experiences did not put him off as he was arrested again in October 1913. Annie Kenney had been released under the Cat and Mouse Act. In breach of the terms of her release she was to speak at the London Pavilion. The police arrived to arrest anyone breaching their release under the Act. Initially Annie evaded them by arriving before the police. She was about to start speaking when the police climbed onto the stage. Annie tried to make a getaway but failed and was bundled out of the theatre with members of the audience trying to stop the police. Outside the trouble continued with people climbing onto the taxi in which Annie was being held by three officers. Eleven arrests were made, one of them was William. He was sentenced to twenty days in Pentonville Prison which does bring into question how much the authorities believed their own statements of less than two years before. An anonymous person paid his fine and he was released two days later.
Jennie’s activities with the Suffragette Crusaders appears to have started around 1915 using the colours purple and yellow. The group were part of the militant suffrage movement based in the South East of London. Any advertisement in the Vote For Women dated August 13th 1915 gives some indication of their specific activities. It seeks donations to enable them to carry on with their work providing “meals at less than cost price to the Sweated Women Workers of SE London.”
The government introduced compulsory registration of all men and women aged between fifteen and sixty five with the day for registration being August 15th 1915. Not only was it a means of ascertaining how many men had yet to sign up for active service it would record how many women were available to replace men in the work force. Many women’s groups protested arguing for equal pay, work conditions, guarantees of continued employment after the war. When registration was opened on August 15th the difference between the sexes was underlined by the use of different coloured cards for male and female.
Militant groups organised a protest for the first day of registration, the Suffragette Crusaders was one such group. The advertisement mentioned above also requested the loan of a car in the days leading up to the protest to carry banners. An announcement in the same edition set out details of the march from East to West across London. The two groups organising this aspect of the march were the Suffragette Crusaders and the East London Federation of the Suffragettes. Two separate processions were to unite at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place; one from south London and one from south east London. One slogan used was “A Woman who does a Man’s Work must have a Man’s Pay.” At the last minute the Queen’s Hall withdrew their permission for the use of the hall when they discovered the women were working class. Undeterred they persuaded the Portman Rooms to allow them to use their premises.
Charlotte Despard chaired the meeting for over three hours sitting alongside Sylvia Pankhurst. Various resolutions were passed in relation to working women’s conditions and the right of women to vote if they were doing a man’s work. After August 1915 no further press coverage has been found.
Ethel married Gylbert Kershaw, a civil engineer, in 1935 in Birmingham. William is not traceable after 1913. Jennie died in 1953 in Kent.