Janet Augusta Boyd was born in 1855 to George and Anne Haig. Part of a large extended family Janet's niece Margaret Thomas Haig, and her cousins Louisa and Florence Haig also became suffragettes. In 1874 Janet married George Boyd, a solicitor. His father was Edward Fenwick Boyd, an industrialist based in the northeast of England who built a substantial family home called Moor House in the small village of Leamside on the outskirts of Durham. On his father's death, George inherited the house, and he, Janet and their four daughters moved in. George died in 1909, and this appears to have influenced Janet to contribute to the fight for women's suffrage.
Janet was first arrested on Black Friday, 18 November 1910, and released, like all the other participants, without charge. Janet made a statement to the enquiry into the events of Black Friday - she had witnessed the police pinching or twisting women's breasts. Due to rheumatism Janet was, she asserted, incapable of throwing a stone, as alleged, 'without danger to those beside me.'Janet appears to have like many; campaigners avoided the 1911 census. In June of the same year, the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 12 June 1911, reported that Janet had refused to pay her rates amounting to £21. In consequence, an auction was to be held to raise funds. Janet offered a Spanish mantilla for sale, which was bought by her gardener. The auctioneer announced his support for the campaign permitting a member of the WSPU to address the crowd.
Janet was arrested on 19 November 1911 for breaking a window in the Strand. In court, she stated: 'I don't consider I was guilty, because I was doing it for a good purpose.' She was fined 10 shillings and three shillings for the damage or, in the alternative, 7 days imprisonment. It is unclear which she elected.Her second arrest was in March 1912. At the initial hearing, she was committed for trial alongside her cousin Florence Haig for each breaking four windows at D H Evans department store valued at £66. To the charge, Janet responded 'I have nothing to say.' By the time the matter came to court the value of the windows broken was stated to be £250 and rather than four the pair had broken thirteen windows. Janet was sentenced to six months imprisonment. Florence, who said that if she were bound over to keep the peace, she would feel like a soldier deserting in the middle of battle, was sentenced to four months.Following a hunger strike when Janet was not force-fed, as she was deemed unfit to tolerate the procedure, she was released in June of that year, two months early. This was following a report that Janet and Florence, both refusing food, were 'holding their own well.' Her release report described Janet as 'Senile, eccentric and weak-minded.' She had resisted attempts to be fed by a cup and spoon and was showing signs of malnutrition 'in condition of her tongue and increase frequency of pulse.'She was one of the women who "signed" a handkerchief owned now by the Priest House at Hoathly.
Janet died in December 1928 and is included in the Suffragette Roll of Honour.
The next entry reads Dinah or Nina Boyle who was arrested on several occasions during 1912, 1913 and 1914. Born Constance Antonia in 1865 to Robert, an army captain and Frances, her father died when she was four years old. Her widowed mother was left with six children, the youngest of whom David was only a few months old. At some point, Nina went to live in South Africa where she was a journalist writing for the Transvaal Leader alongside nursing during the Boer War. Nina wrote to the Times newspaper of the unequal treatment metered out to Boer and loyalist refugees. Interested in women's rights she founded the Women's Enfranchisement League of Johannesburg.
Nina returned to England in 1911. She was initially active in the Victoria League and Colonial Intelligence League for Educated Women. The former Nina resigned from feeling they were pursuing an anti-suffrage stance. She spoke at a meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in Redhill in April 1911 about the suffrage campaign in South Africa. Present was Katherine Harley, sister of Charlotte Despard with whom Nina was soon to become closely involved. A month later she addressed a joint conference of suffrage groups in Edinburgh highlighting the unpaid work women undertook without which the country would suffer.
Shortly, thereafter she joined the Women's Freedom League whose President was Charlotte Despard. Nina regularly addressed meetings and was elected to the executive. She was also a member of the Tax Resistance League. Nina was arrested alongside Charlotte Despard and Julia Wood; all three were charged with obstruction as current regulations banned protests in Trafalgar Square. In breach of these, Charlotte mounted a plinth addressing a growing crowd, standing alongside her were Julia and Nina who rang a handbell. All three refused to climb down and were consequently arrested. Nina was fined 60 shillings or 10 days in prison. The other two were treated similarly. All elected to go to gaol. However, not long afterwards, their fines were paid, and they were released.
A similar ban on public speaking had been imposed in Hyde Park. In May 1913 Nina and Annie Munroe were arrested for attempting to break the embargo. In court, Nina and Annie were fined 20 shillings or fourteen days imprisonment. They elected to go to prison. Both complained about the conditions of the prison vans use to convey them from Marylebone Police Court to Holloway Prison to the Prison Visiting Committee. The van picked up five women from the court proceeding from there to Marlborough Street Police Court where six men and two women were collected. After an hour's journey, the men were dropped off at Pentonville Prison and then the women at Holloway, only a short distance away. The van was designed to accommodate fourteen prisoners, and according to the guard, Nina and Anna elected to sit in an area known as the Association Cell which they had to themselves. The guard reported that he had been present in the passage of the van the entire journey and nothing untoward had taken place. Nina, however, asserted that she and Annie had witnessed 'most disgusting familiarities between a French street walker…and some of the men in the passage.'The Prison Visiting Committee, after consideration, raised their concern regarding the transportation of men and women together. The authorities stated that women were transported in 'closed compartments' while men were placed 'in the corridor of the van.' A decision was taken to hold an enquiry headed by a Police Commissioner and an Assistant Commissioner of Police; despite the fact, there was some confusion as to whether Nina's complaint was of her own experience or that experienced by another prisoner, Jane Short.Sworn statements were made by several women including Charlotte Despard, attesting that men had been present in the prison vans. Nina reported that although she and Annie were in a separate compartment the men had been able to make 'obscene gestures' at them and, another had 'reached his hand' into their section; 'it was a most disgusting, revolting and provoking performance.' Jane Short, it was reported, had travelled in the same compartment as a woman charged with soliciting. The Governor of Brixton Prison stated that he had often received complaints about the transportation; in particular that it was airless. He strongly felt that the adoption of motor vans would be a solution with different vehicles for male and female prisoners. One proponent of the Governor's proposal commented that 'in his personal experience a dozen or so [have been]taken to hospital on arrival' due to the high temperatures in the van.
Both Nina and Annie attended the enquiry. Giving evidence, Nina was clear she had no complaints with the officers in charge of the vans while Annie pointed out that while technically men and women were separated the necessity to keep the shutters up to let some air in meant that the men were able to see and communicate inappropriately with women prisoners. Both women urged the use of separate vans for the sexes and the employment of a matron for the female van. The enquiry was wide-reaching, including research on transportation to prison used in other cities. The concluding recommendations were motor vans and separate transport for women. Both changes were introduced over the next few years.
George Lansbury, a Labour politician, was a passionate advocate for women's suffrage. Originally elected as the Member for Parliament for Bow and Bromley in 1910 he resigned his seat in protest at the lack of support the Labour Party were giving to the campaign for women's votes. At the resulting by-election, George stood purely on the issue of suffrage losing to the Conservative candidate who coined the phrase 'Petticoat Government'. During April 1913 George addressed a WSPU rally at the Albert Hall. The authorities believed that his speech was an incitement to violence. Charged, after a trial and appeal George was sentenced to three months imprisonment unless he agreed to be bound over and provide sureties. His adamant refusal led to the prison sentence rather than any guilt in respect of the charges. Questions were asked in the House of Commons as to how a man could be imprisoned when he had not been found guilty and whether George was being accorded the privileges of a political prisoner; rights which were routinely denied to women prisoners. Despite this, the authorities note in the files that George was not receiving privileges because he was on hunger strike. An overt example of discrimination as the argument generally for denying the women prisoners was their cause was not political.
George went on hunger strike and was released three days later on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act. One report states that he had a 'bad heart' which was substantiated by a rise in his life insurance premiums ten years earlier. Another written after he was removed to the prison hospital: 'attacks of palpitations at times.' Although medical opinion was that George was a candidate for force-feeding so long as he did not violently resist no attempt appears to have been made. Despite the often used approach of re-arresting women when they were deemed to have sufficiently recovered their health if they failed to return to prison, George remained at large having not presented himself back at Pentonville Prison on the appointed day, 11 August 1913.
This led to many protests at the apparent different treatment of men and women. One woman wrote pointing out that while George remained free Sylvia Pankhurst had been re-arrested; 'does not this show there is a law for man very different to that which is administered to a woman.' The letter is included in the official files with a note appended 'the position is very awkward. Lansbury ought to be arrested but we can hardly do so now, if he remains quiet. At recent meetings he has been studiously careful and moderate in what he said.'
In a letter from the Home Secretary, Reginald Mckenna, to Lord Stamfordham, Private Secretary to King George V, explaining the position the reason for the lack of re-arrest is cited as 'he has been careful to avoid any language which could be construed as an incitement to crime.' The letter continues asserting that there have been 'several women' discharged who have not been re-arrested 'because it is known that they intend to refrain from further participation in militant action.' The fact that this only applies to several women when they were hundreds arrested and released only serves to underline the difference in treatment. The letter concludes 'The case of Miss Sylvia Pankhurst is quite different as she persists in open defiance of the law.' This exchange of letters took place over a year after George's arrest and nearly a year after his release.
The King, Stamfordham wrote, wished to know why George had not been force fed. Mckenna responded that 'force feeding is not administered except in the case of serious offences…if Lansbury's offence had been serious enough to justify the adoption of force feeding, the medical report ...would have rendered the course undesirable.' During this research, thus far, there has been no indication that force-feeding was settled upon depending on the nature of the offence. Nor does George's medical reports rule out force feeding. In support four of the Women's Freedom League executive including Nina wrote to every police force urging them to refuse to re-arrest any woman who had been released from imprisonment suffering from the effects of force-feeding, in other words, women released under the Cat and Mouse Act on licence.
In November 1913 Nina along with others was arrested and charged with obstruction. At the initial hearing, Nina applied for an adjournment so she could call witnesses. The magistrate was far from amenable to which she retorted "Why should we be dictated to by Mr Muskett, sitting there with his ears cocked like an intelligent terrier?" Her request was granted, and she was bailed for a week. At the reconvened hearing, Nina was bound over to keep the peace, on her refusal to agree she was sent to prison for one day.
In May 1913 it was decided that in future all suffragette prisoners would be photographed and fingerprinted regardless of their offence or in which division they were placed unless the prisoner was not convicted but imprisoned due to a failure to provide sureties like George Lansbury. These rules were altered on 1 January 1914 when it was decreed that fingerprints and photographs should be taken whether or not the prisoner was convicted of an offence. Force could be used; specific guidance was given as to how to hold the arm and fingers. Only if there was 'serious resistance' should the Medical Officer be summoned. If the charge was 'so serious as to make the prisoner's identification of serious importance' and force failed a telegram was to be sent to Scotland Yard who would 'send an expert officer' to assist in the presence of the Medical Officer. Both were to be undertaken as soon as possible after admission to avoid prisoners who were 'suffering from physical exhaustion as a result of self-imposed starvation; and as they mostly resist…there is always a risk.' A photographer was at Holloway Prison at the cost of £2 per hour to take the pictures either when the women were in the exercise yard or in the entrance yard from a vantage point hidden in a police van. Code names were settled upon 'to be used in telephone conversation' with the photographers: 'Wild Cats' was suffragettes; Holland House, Holloway Prison and 'Photogram', attend with camera.
As head of the Political and Militant Department of the Women's Freedom League Nina wrote numerous letters in February 1914 as to the treatment of Marguerite Sidley and Lilian Ball. Both were sent to Holloway Prison on 11 February 1911 for four days, like George Lansbury, for failing to provide sureties and according to Nina's letter 'were violently and illegally subjected' to having their fingerprints taken. Neither, Nina pointed out, were 'under reasonable suspicion of concealing their identity.' As members of the Women's Freedom League, they were 'not concerned in the actions of a sister society which adopts sterner measures.' The charge against Lilian was obstruction. Marguerite's father joined in the protest describing in a letter to the Chairman of the Prison Commissioners what had taken place. A visiting Magistrate at Holloway Prison had asked Marguerite if she had any complaints to which she replied in the negative. As soon as he departed, Marguerite was removed from her cell to an area where 'five wardresses who by violence after a long struggle succeeded in taking my daughter's fingerprints.'
Only a month later, the Deputy Medical Officer at Holloway Prison was adding his voice to the concerns. He pointed out that 'It was very difficult to gauge the amount of force which can with safety be used in fingerprinting prisoners…It has been found advisable owing to the violence of the prisoners resistance to stop the process at a very early stage…the results [obtained] are very indifferent and obtained at some risk.' The officer suggested that the practice should at least be desisted from where the prisoners had committed minor offences. The matron at Holloway Prison wrote to the Governor expressing the opinion that due to the level of resistance the quality of fingerprints taken was poor and at the expense of 'abrasions & bruises' to the prison officers involved. She concluded 'The staff would be very grateful to be relieved of this duty.'
The taking of photographs was also subject to failure. A police photographer was dispatched to Holloway Prison to capture an image of Kitty Marion. He reported that he 'was unsuccessful owing to her head being completely covered with a dark green motor veil.' A report stated that given Kitty's state of health, she had been on hunger strike, it had not been felt appropriate to remove her headgear. The Prison Governor wrote that he personally supervised the taking of photographs. In the instance of Kitty, she had been brought to the prison on 6 January. The following day the Hospital Warden took Kitty to the exercise yard. The pair 'walked about the freely and several times came up to the marked spot on the ground, indicated by a few crumbs.' The Warden had felt plenty of opportunities had arisen for a satisfactory photograph to be taken as she and Kitty were in the yard for half an hour. When it was known the attempt had failed a second was made on the day of Kitty's release when she was encouraged to remove her veil.Kitty refused, and the Warden did not persist as it was felt it would lead to a 'struggle with the prisoner when she was in a debilitated condition.'
Not only did Nina and the two women prisoners seem unaware of the new regulations but so did the Prisoner Commissioners who wrote to the Home Secretary that the regulations, as they currently stood, were that an application needed to be made by the police to the Prisoner Governor for permission to take the fingerprints of an untried prisoner and force was only to be used with the consent of either the Home Secretary or a Justice of the Peace. The Commissioners suggested the rules should be modified to allow the taking of fingerprints of any prisoner if they agreed but if they objected only by force if the police informed the Prison Governor that a Justice of the Peace had agreed and the fingerprints were 'necessary for the purpose of justice' or if food had been refused and release was anticipated under the Cat and Mouse Act. The prison governor stated that Marguerite's resistance 'was not very serious' and 'she talked a good deal.' He concludes 'The fingerprints were very good.'The rules were modified in April 1914. While the modification did not go as far as the Prison Commissioners had suggested it was decreed that no attempt should be made to take fingerprints from prisoners convicted of minor offences such as obstruction unless 'fingerprints are necessary for the purpose of justice, or when the prisoner is known to be refusing food' or it was felt they would refuse to eat or had done in the past. This would, therefore, apply, in future, to prisoners such as Lilian and Marguerite.
The most chilling photograph is of a woman believed to be Robina Macleod whose head is being forcibly held up. According to the correspondence on the file, the arms belong to the Prison Matron. The photographer helpfully pointed out that he could if necessary, remove the arms from further prints.
After her release, campaigning swiftly resumed, Nina travelled the country addressing meetings. In July 1914 she was arrested and charged with obstruction. Five women, Nina gave her name as Ann Smith, chained themselves to the door in the waiting room of the Marlborough Street Police Court temporarily housed in Francis Street. The police cut them free, putting them outside of the building from whence they refused to move. They were each bailed for a £2 surety. At the trial, Nina, when entering the witness box exclaimed "Here we are again! It's quite like coming to see old friends." She was fined forty shillings or a week imprisonment. Nina attempted to raise several complaints during her trial, which were denied, but she was permitted to present her protests at the conclusion of the case. Again Nina complained about the prison vans stating 'the distressing effect of being brought' in such transport which left the occupants feeling ill on arrival which 'was a serious handicap to a prisoner in putting forward her own case before the Court' and 'the disregard of arrangements for decency at Police Stations.' In the Police Station, Nina had been taken to an area where men walked along the passage outside the women's cells 'without any warning to the occupants …the latter are subjected to observation not consistent with decency.' The Chief Magistrate passed Nina's complaint on.
Immediately after the outbreak of World War 1, Nina lobbied for the founding of a female body of Special Constables who could protect women and children in the absence of the men. She also was an active member of the Women Suffrage National Aid Corps formed to provide support services to women whose husbands were away fighting. Without any government approval for her proposal regarding women police Nina, together with Margaret Dawson, continued on their own and, by January 1915 the Corps of Women Police Volunteers had been formed. Courses were undertaken in first aid, court rules and self-defence. Everyone wore a uniform, Nina being one of the first. However, she split from the Corps when they sought to curtail the freedom of women by imposing a curfew on prostitutes. However, a women's force continued to operate in London and Brighton under the auspices of the Women's Freedom League.
In October 1915 Nina was charged with failing to register under the Alien Restriction Order 1915. The case was dismissed when it was held the summons had not been issued correctly. In due course, she was awarded damages for her illegal arrest. Nina used this experience to raise awareness of the lack of appropriate treatment for women held in police cells where there was no accommodation for women nor any women gaolers.
Towards the end of 1916, Nina travelled to the Salonika Front to act as a nursing orderly. It was widely reported in the press before this that her fiancée had been killed and perhaps that is what prompted her to take this step. There Nina renewed her acquaintance with Katherine Harley who was eager to learn of her sister Charlotte. Nina remained for eight months. On her return, she continued with campaigning and supporting the wives left behind.
In 1918 Nina announced that she would stand in a by-election as a prospective member of Parliament for Keighley. It was ruled that as a woman, she could stand, but as her nomination papers were incorrectly completed, she could not. This acceptance of a woman's right to stand allowed others to stand in the general election in 1918.
Nina remained politically active for the rest of her life mainly supporting the National Union of Women Teachers and the Save the Children Fund. She also wrote novels. She died in March 1943.