On this day in history : 26th November 1867 – Mrs Lily Maxwell of Manchester becomes the first ever woman to vote in a British election, due to an error on the list of registered voters….
Scottish born Lily had a shop in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester – where she sold a variety of household items including candles and crockery…. She was not always as honest as she should have been – and was even once fined £1 by the courts for diddling her customers with short-comings in weights and measures…
As a shop owner Lily was obliged to pay rates to the local council…. When the 1867 by-election for a local MP came around Lily, as a woman, was not entitled to vote – whereas all male rate payers were…. Somehow Lily’s name got on to the list of these entitled men….
Early suffragette Lydia Becker came to hear of this and urged Lily to use her vote…. Lily agreed, as she was a keen supporter of Liberal candidate Jacob Bright, who advocated Women’s Suffrage and was a campaigner for peace….
When voting day arrived Lily, accompanied by Lydia, arrived at the town hall to cast her vote…. Bearing in mind in those days it was not a secret ballot – she had to announce loud and clear to all present who she wished to vote for…. She caused quite a commotion amongst the crowd – but as her name was on the list the presiding officer had no choice but to record her vote…. The room exploded with cheers for the first British woman voter….
More than 5,000 women then applied to have their names added to the electoral registers and on the 2nd of November 1868 the case for these claims came before the Court of Common Pleas…. However, it was ruled that women could not vote in British elections and Women’s Suffrage was declared illegal….
On this day in history : 13th February 1958 – The death of Dame Christabel Pankhurst – eldest daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and co-founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union….
Christabel Harriette Pankhurst was born on the 22nd of September 1880 in Manchester…. Her mother owned a small shop at the time and her father, radical socialist Richard Pankhurst was a barrister…. Christabel and her two younger sisters, Sylvia and Adela, attended Manchester High School for Girls and then Christabel went on to the University of Manchester to study law….
In 1893 Richard and Emmeline formed a branch of the new Independent Labour Party (ILP) and in 1895 Richard stood as ILP member for Gorton in the General Election…. Christabel and Sylvia became involved in the campaign, in which Richard got a respectable amount of votes but lost to the Conservatives…. It was whilst Christabel and Sylvia were in Geneva in 1898 – as part of an extended European holiday – that they received a message to hurry home as their father was ill…. By the time they had arrived Richard had died from a perforated ulcer….
In 1903 Christabel and her mother founded the Women’s Social Political Union….adopting the slogan ‘Deeds not words’…. Christabel was arrested and imprisoned for the first time in 1905 – she and fellow suffragette Annie Kennedy disrupted a Liberal Party meeting in Manchester by unfurling a banner proclaiming ‘Votes for Women’…. Her actions caught the attention of the world, even more so because of her imprisonment – her arrest and subsequent treatment afterwards prompted Emmeline to begin to take more militant action….
Upon her release Christabel embarked on a campaign including more direct action…. She helped organise large rallies and as civil disobedience escalated was involved in arson attacks and even bombings…. In 1906 she obtained her law degree – but being a woman was not permitted to practice…. Instead she used her legal training to produce speeches and pamphlets – she was appointed ‘Organising Secretary’ of the WSPU and earned the nickname ‘Queen of the Mob’….
Christabel was jailed several times and went on hunger strike…. The authorities began to use the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’…. A cruel procedure – women on hunger strike would be released from prison to recover, often after having endured traumatic and painful force feeding, only to be re-arrested to finish their sentences once their health had improved…. Between 1913 and 1914 Christabel lived in Paris to avoid re-arrest….
Suffragette being force fed in Holloway Prison circa 1911 – Public domain
Whilst in exile she continued to help run the Suffrage campaign, mainly in an administrative role…. It was at this time the publication ‘The Suffragette’ was founded….
Returning to the UK at the start of World War I Christabel was re-arrested to serve a three year sentence…. However, after immediately going on hunger strike she only served 30 days of her sentence….
At the end of the War some women were granted the Vote and Christabel decided to stand as a Women’s Party candidate in the 1918 General Election…. She was narrowly defeated by the Labour Party candidate standing against her….
Christabel moved to California in 1921…. She became an Evangelist and prominent member of the Second Adventist Movement, later lecturing and writing books on the Second Coming…. She returned briefly to Britain during the 1930s and it was in 1936 that she was created a Dame…. At the onset of World War II she went back to the States, to live in Los Angeles….
On the 13th of February 1958 her housekeeper found her passed away – sitting in a straight-backed chair, there was no obvious indication as to how she had died…. She was 77-years-old…. Christabel was buried in the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica, California….
On this day in history : 10th October 1903 – Emmeline Pankhurst forms the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – to fight for women’s emancipation in Britain….
The WSPU was founded at 62, Nelson Street, Manchester – the home of the Pankhurst family…. Emmeline, her husband Richard and their daughters Christabel and Sylvia had all previously been active members of the Independent Labour Party, which was founded in 1893 by Keir Hardie, who was a family friend…. (Hardie went on to form the Labour Party)….
Many women had put their faith in the ILP – believing it to be the party to fight for their cause…. However, Emmeline became disillusioned with the party – finding its commitment and support of female suffrage half-hearted….a lot of talk and promises but nothing was happening…. She invited a group of women members of the ILP to her home and together they formed the WSPU…. Their motto ~ “Deeds, not words”….