Josephine Carter was arrested in March 1912 for breaking windows at the government offices of woods and forests. She was sentenced to two months with hard labour. One file notes that Josephine was alternatively known as Joan Cather. While Josephine Carter appears on the Suffragette Roll of Honour Cather does not, but the British Museum has in its collection a Hunger Strike medal awarded to her. It appears this is another example of an alias being used on arrest. The inscription accompanying the medal reads ‘Presented to Joan Cather by the Women’s Political and Social Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.
Joan was born in 1882 in Hendon, north London. Her baptismal record notes that Joan is the daughter of Arthur, a solicitor, and Jane Joan. The couple had three children before Joan: twin boys who tragically died before they were one and a daughter, Mary born in 1879. By 1886 the family had moved to Sevenoaks in Kent where Jane died in 1886. It is unclear what happened between then and 1891 when Joan is recorded living with her paternal aunt in Brighton.
Joan married John Leonard Cather, known as Leonard, a captain in the Royal Navy in 1908, Brighton. Both Joan and Leonard participated in the suffrage campaign; the first mention in the press of involvement in the suffrage movement is a donation of £5 to the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement. In August 1911, both spoke at a WSPU meeting. Joan is not included in the 1911 census return. Her husband retired from the navy and running a business building metalwork for cars wrote on the form: ‘Conscientious scruples prevent me from rendering a return of the female occupants of this house for the purpose of assisting the preparation of statistical tables which will be used as the basis of further vexatious legislation affecting women, and in which they have no voice. Should the Conciliation Committee’s Bill be passed into law this session the additional details required will be forthcoming’. In pencil, the enumerator has noted that two women have been recorded by the Registrar, in the Summary Book, as ‘the probable number’.
Two years later, Joan was billed to speak alongside Mrs Aryton Gould at a WSPU meeting at the Steinway Hall in central London. While Leonard spoke at meetings alongside Georgiana Brackenbury, joined the WSPU for a rally on Streatham Common and supported their regular meetings on Wimbledon Common. Joan was appointed the Honorary Secretary of the Redhill Branch of the WSPU. The local newspaper published a letter in response to a speech made by Lord Robert Cecil in the town. A conservative on the left of the party Cecil supported women’s suffrage, as a barrister, he had defended Emmeline Pankhurst. By 1912 Cecil was an Independent Conservative Member of Parliament still pro-suffrage but opposed to militancy. Joan took issue with Cecil’s assertion that women would, if the Conciliation Bill had passed, have obtained the vote but the Government ‘torpedoed’ it as ‘some of the warmest adherents of the woman suffrage had not foolishly and deliberately killed their best chance of getting what they desired’. Joan pointed out that, during the time in question, militant suffragettes ‘had loyally kept’ a truce’ and, if, ‘the Cabinet had kept faith with women … they would not now be bewailing their reversion to militancy’. Joan concluded that they would not be another truce as the Government had tricked women twice.
Leonard spoke at a rally in Hyde Park arguing, in what was described as ‘a short, straightforward speech’, that ‘this was a man’s fight as well as a woman’s’ to which one confused bystander suggested Leonard should go home and mind his baby. Joan was from 1913, a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage. Early in 1913, she spoke at a meeting in Portsmouth. By June Joan is mentioned in their newspaper as the Honorary Propaganda Secretary based at 6 York Buildings, Adelphi where every Wednesday for an hour and a half she invited visitors to call to discuss the League’s work. In each issue, Joan wrote of the progress selling the newspaper requesting more volunteers to assist with selling. The women sold papers, as the Pilgrim’s March entered London, along the route. To rally some competition between the various branches Joan announced that Hampstead had topped the list, selling ninety-nine copies.
During the last week in September, the Church League was to hold a Congress in Southampton. Joan pleaded for more volunteers to sell the newspaper, ‘Will not some of those who sold for the first time [at the Pilgrim’s March] … and found it ever so much easier than they expected, come forward again and help?’ The following issue announced the provisional agenda for the Congress; Joan was to speak at a meeting alongside the Earl of Lytton, and the following day, her husband was to chair a discussion. The local newspaper described Joan’s speech as ‘a most lucid discourse’ during which she explained that it was not only a movement for the vote but a far wider one; ‘the vote was only the key to the wider emancipation of women.’ As strong feelings began to mount against the practice of force-feeding Leonard wrote a letter to the Times in response to a statement issued by Thomas Beecham, President of the Royal College of Physicians. The newspaper declined to publish. Leonard forwarded it to Votes for Women who printed it in full. Leonard wrote of force-feeding: the ‘abundant testimony [which] is available of the frequently unscientific, insanitary, and violent manner of its application’.
Joan and Leonard on occasion both spoke at meetings, for example, the Fulham and West Kensington Branch in November or the Camden Branch in April 1914. In March Joan had been re-elected to her role, and Leonard was elected a member of the executive acting as Honorary Treasurer. During the war, Joan initially worked in Home Defence or munitions. By the conclusion of the conflict, the Church League newspaper reported she was in the nursing service while her husband was on active service in the navy. Leonard was serving on HMS Goliath when it was torpedoed in the Dardanelles with the loss of five hundred and seventy men. He was one of only one hundred and eighty crew who survived. Despite the pressure, he was under Leonard found time to write to the Church League enclosing a donation: ‘good wishes for the present and future work of the League, and gratitude to those who doing my share of in my absence’.
After the war, the couple settled in Bexhill on Sea. Joan became the secretary of the Hastings Branch of the Women’s Protestant Union writing to the local paper encouraging support for the 1929 International Peace Week. Leonard returned to his role of treasurer of the Church League which in 1917 had become the League of the Church Militant which called for equal treatment of men and women together with the settlement of international questions based on right, not might. At the end of the war, the League changed its aims to campaign for the right of women to become priests. Ten years later, it was wound up leaving, the campaigning for equality in the priesthood to other groups. In 1923 Leonard chaired a series of lectures on Theosophy. He also became involved in the National Council for Animals’ Welfare. By 1931 he had been elected the Honorary Organising Secretary. By 1953 Leonard was President. On the outbreak of World War II Leonard had retired but served as an ARP warden and treasurer of the Club for Blind Evacuees.
Leonard died in 1964 and Joan three years later. Leonard’s niece, Pamela, married the actor, Desmond Llewelyn, famous for playing M in the James Bond films.