Janet Legate Bunting and Janet Legate Bunten are recorded in the amnesty record as two people whereas they are one and the same: Janet Legate Bunten. Janet was born in 1877 to Robert, a merchant in chemicals, and Flora. One of four children, Janet lost her elder sister in 1896, her mother two years later and her father in 1907. From there on her family was an elder and a younger brother.
In August 1909, Janet was one of eight women, all members of the Women’s Freedom League, arrested in Downing Street charged with obstructing the police in their duty. The Women’s Freedom League mounted a picket outside the Prime Minister’s residence. This, they claimed in a letter to the Times and in a leaflet which was distributed around the environs of the Houses of Parliament, was their constitutional right as the purpose of the picket was to be able to present a petition to the Prime Minister. The prosecution argued that no such right existed and in any event the papers the women had on them, when arrested, did not amount to a petition as they opened ‘with a respectful remonstrance’ and did not close with a prayer which the law stipulated was necessary. The women refused to move despite many requests and were arrested. A specific instance cited was the actions of Janet and Lily Boileau (see earlier blog) who were standing together on the Downing Street pavement when Asquith’s carriage drew up. Lily stepped forward holding a cardboard tube in her hand which contained the petition, as she did so requesting Asquith take it. His response was ‘No, don’t be so silly’. As he responded Lily extended her arm towards the Prime Minister where upon her wrist was grabbed by a policeman and the tube fell to the ground. Lily and Janet were told to go away. Perplexed Lily enquired why it had been legal to stand there yesterday but not today.
The women’s defence, led by Tim Healy, a King’s Counsel and Irish Member of Parliament, pointed out that the women had been on the pavement, but the charge was obstructing the police not causing an obstruction on the footpath; ‘the police might be obstructed by angels,’ he observed in an address the Vote described as ‘one of the finest and most stirring pieces of oratory.’ In cross examination the police superintendent conceded that he might have allowed the women to remain if they had been in possession of a legal document which would have potentially made their presence fall within the law. The superintendent admitted he had never inspected the papers and the obstruction was, in reality, caused by the crowd that had gathered to watch. The Magistrate adjourned for a week to consider his judgement.
The Magistrate found all eight women guilty fining them forty shillings or in default seven days in prison. An appeal was immediately launched and pending that hearing the women were at liberty. The appeal was heard in January the following year quickly becoming known as Mrs Despard’s case as she headed the WFL. This time the women were represented by Henry McCardie who presented an argument pointing out that Downing Street was a highway which the public had the right to use, adding that two defendants had only been there for a couple of minutes and Charlotte Despard and Mrs Cobden Sanderson had not even entered the street. The Lord Chief Justice dismissed the appeal expressing in his finding that a petition could be delivered by post and the women had used ‘the highway in an unreasonable and improper manner’. It is not clear whether, after this hearing, Janet paid the fine or went to prison.
While the appeal hearing was pending Janet was active in the Govan Branch, in the south west of Glasgow, of the WFL. During the 1910 general election Janet was active in Dundee. The branch held a Cake and Candy sale and after an opening ceremony four of them, including Janet, went to see Winston Churchill address a meeting for women at the YMCA. The four of them stood up and asked questions in response to Churchill’s statement that ‘Men have a vote because they are men’. The stewards attempted to eject them, but the women swung out of the gathering having received a cursory reply from the speaker. By November 1910 Janet was the Honorary Secretary of the Glasgow branch based in Sauchiehall Street.
Janet’s next brush with the law was being fined twenty shillings for keeping a dog without a licence. She was a member of the Tax Resistance League, the WFL being the first suffrage group to make such a protest part of its campaign. Janet argued, in court, that it was unjust to tax women who were unable to vote, and a licence was a form of taxation. Both the WFL and the WSPU demonstrated outside the court room. Janet was found guilty and fined twenty shillings. She refused to pay the fine and was given ten days to do so. The alternative was ten days in gaol. Again it is not clear whether Janet paid the fine. Like many she had her goods distrained for failure to pay taxes due. On one occasion Janet’s property was entered for sale while she was absent campaigning. A close friend of hers, a member of the WSPU who had also had her own goods seized, attended the auction where the property was to be sold buying back her and Janet’s.
In June 1913 Janet and Marianne Hyde were arrested on the corner of Downing Street and charged, again, with obstruction. Janet and Marianne had been attempting to hold a meeting to protest at the refusal to grant the former bail when she had been charged recently with a similar offence. Sadly, no report of the first instance has been located. The two women were fined forty shillings or fourteen days in gaol. They both elected to go to prison. On their release a reception was held at Caxton Hall and they were presented with bouquets ‘as a sign of the League’s appreciation of their services’. Janet observed that ‘twenty and a-half hours out of every twenty-four in solitary confinement were not conducive to good health or clear thinking’.
In the summer, the Glasgow branch moved its operation to the Isle of Rothesay dubbing it ‘On the Clyde Coast’. The idea was to appeal to the holidaymakers. Volunteers including Janet were described as ‘very literally [bearing] the heat and burden of the day’. During the summer season of 1914 the group held between four to six meetings in the day often with another in the evening. The following year Asquith stood uncontested in the East Fife by-election. Ahead of Asquith addressing a meeting in Cupar Janet and Ada Broughton placarded all ‘the most important buildings, hoardings, telegraph poles etc with a large poster protesting against the re-election of the Premier because his pledges to women remain unfulfilled’. This included every other telegraph pole from Springfield to Cupar, about three miles.
During the First World War the WFL adopted a pacifist stance while undertaking voluntary work. Although they suspended the campaign for suffrage fundraising continued to support the fight for the vote and the voluntary efforts. A big part of this was the annual Green White and Gold Fair. The American suffrage movement had garnered much publicity in 1908 by dressing a mannequin with a hundred pockets, women, in return for a donation, picked ‘a treasure to bring funds to the suffragette cause’. At the 1917 Green White and Gold fair Janet copied the idea but instead of a mannequin she dressed herself as the woman with a hundred pockets described as a ‘picturesque and irresistible figure’.
When the 1939 register was taken Janet was living in Littlehampton, Sussex with her brother, John, and his wife.