This blog is a break from the usual alphabetical approach. A recent edition of the Times reported on the fundraising by the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal. This research had already been completed but not posted and I thought it would be a good moment to publish to add to the knowledge of her contribution to the suffrage movement.
May or Mary Clarke was arrested three times between 1908 and 1910. Mary Jane Goulden was born in 1862 to Richard and Sophia. One of eleven children: six sons and five daughters, Emmeline, later Pankhurst, was her eldest sister born four years earlier. Rachel Holmes in her far-reaching and excellent, recently published biography, of Sylvia Pankhurst, observes that Mary was Emmeline's favourite sister. Both of their parents were socially and politically active. By the time, Mary was nine; the family had moved to Seedley, part of the Salford where her father ran a printing firm employing over two hundred and fifty people. Although, forward-thinking her parents set little store by girl's education. Mary attended Seedley Castle School, passing the Government Art Examinations in 1877.
Emmeline, by now married with four children, moved to London in 1886 and Mary joined them. The two sisters opened art furnishers and decorators, Emerson & Co, which opened in Regent Street in its final incarnation. Alongside retailing furniture and soft furnishings, they offered art classes. In time for Christmas 1890, they printed and distributed a trade catalogue explaining their reasons for embarking on 'the tempestuous billows of commerce' their primary line being white furniture which the purchaser could decorate themselves. Trade, however, was not brisk and by 1893 the shop closed. Emmeline's husband had already returned to the northwest, and the family and Mary followed. Mary began teaching dressmaking.
Two years later Mary married John Clarke – the 1901 census describes his occupation as a credit draper working for himself. The couple settled in Camberwell in the south of London. It did not turn out to be a happy union. Rachel Holmes writes that John was abusive, and, on at least one occasion, Sylvia rescued her aunt. By 1904 Mary had fled for good returning to the north of England joining Emmeline to fight for women's votes.
On June 21st 1908 the WSPU organised Women's Sunday – a suffragette march followed by a rally in Hyde Park to raise awareness of the cause. It was estimated that half a million people attended. Women wore white dresses embellished with the suffragette colours. Within the environs of the park, the speakers were allocated to platforms. Mary was assigned to platform 1 alongside Georgina Brackenbury, Nancy Lightman and Mrs Morris, a health visitor from Manchester.
Mary was first arrested the following month. Many campaigners gathered at Caxton Hall. After several resounding speeches led by Emmeline, they marched towards the House of Commons headed by a small group led by Emmeline who wished to present a petition to Herbert Asquith. Mary was one of twenty-nine women arrested. Emmeline and Sylvia attended the court at Bow Street when Mary and all but two of her fellow arrestees were brought before the courts. Found guilty Mary was ordered to pay a fine or face one month in prison. All elected to go to prison. There are no reports of Mary's first time in prison in the official files online.
Mary and fourteen fellow prisoners were released from Holloway prison at the end of July. A large crowd greeted the women along with a brass band and a hefty police presence. The women travelled to central London for a welcome breakfast. Several spoke during the meal, including Mary, who observed how much she would miss the women she had left behind in prison.
During February 1909 Mary was arrested for a second time alongside Lucy Norris. The two went to Downing Street to try and have a meeting with Asquith. They repeatedly knocked on the door despite being informed he was away. Eventually, the police intervened arresting the two women. Charged with obstruction, the court found them guilty. As before Mary refused to pay the fine and was sent to prison for one month. Ada, her sister, wrote to the governor of Holloway Prison, requesting a visit to discuss a family matter – permission was granted. From prison Mary wrote a letter which was published in Votes for Women:
'Before we are set free, the Women's Parliament, which meets in Caxton Hall on February 24th will be over. I know our comrades will on that day do their duty as we have tried to do ours. Let our motto be 'Never let I dare not wait upon I would.'
In July 1910 Mary again addressed a suffragette rally in Hyde Park from platform 16 speaking alongside Dr Christine Murrell who in 1924 was the first woman appointed to the British Medical Association Council and the Honourable Mrs Haverfield. While organising the Brighton branch, Mary lived with Minnie Turner at Seaview, 13 Victoria Street. Minnie ran the house as a holiday bed and breakfast, a facility suffragettes availed themselves of to rest and recuperate. During September Mary arrived in St Leonards ahead of a visit by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. To advertise the event, a parade was organised. Several women gathered in their carriages, one sporting a banner which read 'Women's Suffrage Propaganda League,' others were on foot. Elsie Bowerman headed the procession. She and the other women carried banners with messages such as 'No surrender' and Face to the Dawn.' Mary accompanied Mrs Darent Harrison, a member of the Tax Resistance League, in her carriage. The local newspaper reported that during the town's circuit, which took an hour and a half, there were few outbursts against their cause.
The following week the well-publicised meeting was held at the Royal Concert Hall. Before this, Emmeline and Christabel visited Mary, who was staying in the town. The Hon Mrs Haverfield whom Mary had occupied a platform alongside in Hyde Park chaired the meeting supported by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and Mary who moved a motion in support of the Woman Suffrage Bill.
Mary was arrested again during November alongside Greta Allen, Laura Armstrong, Gennie Ball and Grace Chappelow (see earlier blogs) and charged causing criminal damage by stone-throwing. Emmeline requested to see Mary at Cannon Row Police Station. When the visit was denied, Mary broke a window. She was sentenced to a month in gaol.
Mary telegrammed the WSPU branch in Brighton 'I am glad to pay the price for freedom.' She was released on December 23rd. A welcome home lunch was held in her honour at the Criterion restaurant.
Mary spent Christmas Day with Herbert and his family at their home in Winchmore Hill. Sadly, Mary passed away during the evening. She was buried at Southgate Cemetery. One observer wrote 'Without approaching her sister's power as an orator, she did an immense amount of splendid service, and she was the leader of the women's franchise movement in Brighton.'
The January 6th 1911 edition of Votes for Women includes a memoir written by Emmeline entitled The Utmost for the Highest. She recollects being in Holloway prison at the same time as Mary was first imprisoned, describing her as a 'Prisoner of Hope' with her' extreme patience' and 'extreme gentleness.' Emmeline writes that Mary had been ill before she travelled to London to stand in solidarity with the women who had been ill-treated on Black Friday by throwing a stone to get herself arrested.
It has been widely written over the years that Mary was force-fed during her final time in prison. In her tribute, Emmeline alludes to the procedure but does not directly assert that Mary was subjected. The official files online are blank which, perhaps, in itself speaks volumes.
the link to the appeal in Brighton to raise funds to erect a statue in her memory. https://maryclarkestatue.com/
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