Woman’s Suffrage in Stamford Fight for the Vote 1913

Chris Hunt


On Saturday July 12th 1913 the talk in Stamford was of that evening’s meeting on the Meadows where the issue of female suffrage and the right to vote was to be discussed.

Reporters from the three local newspapers were in attendance, the Stamford and Rutland Guardian, the Stamford & District News and the Lincolnshire, Rutland & Stamford Mercury.

Today we remember the Suffragettes, the militant wing of the movement for Votes for Women. There was however a non-militant organisation, the Suffragist’s, who allowed men to join their organisation, and it was them who organised the meeting on the Meadows as part of the 1913 Great Pilgrimage for women’s suffrage. Groups of women, with some men, marched from all parts of the country to London. Where on Saturday July 26th 1913 in Hyde Park a crowd of over 50,000 heard speeches calling for Votes For Women and those present unanimously passed the motion: - “That this meeting demands a Government measure for the enfranchisement of women.” 

As to the meeting in Stamford. The Guardian reporter summed up the day as follows:-

The announcement on local hording, in eye-aching red and green, that a number of ladies belonging to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies would address the people of Stamford on Saturday evening, in the Meadows, created keen interest, and their arrival was awaited by a huge assembly.

The party, known as the Great North Road section, is one of a number marching through the country to London, and they are identified with a strictly law abiding and non-party organisation. Leaving Newcastle on June 18th, the contingent under notice has been subjected can only be described as describable to hostility and rough treatment in some places, notably, in Mansfield and such occurrences can only be described as despicable seeing that the ladies are pursuing their agitations for the vote – the merit or de-merit of the demand we are not concerned with – by perfectly peaceful and legitimate means. On the other hand they have been the recipients of extraordinary kindness and hospitality.

The National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage did not allow the march of the pilgrims to proceed without protest, and consequently men paraded the streets bearing sandwich-boards, upon which placards declared that women do not want votes. The Pilgrims made it quite clear that some women want them badly.

The Suffragists, neatly attired in walking costumes, and wearing sashes of red, white and green, numbered about a dozen and carried banners setting forth the nature of the cause they are advocating. A motor car preceded them, containing Miss Norma Smith, who made the necessary arrangements at each place.

The party left Grantham on Saturday morning (July 12th 1913), and on the way to Stamford held successful meetings at Colsterworth and Great Casterton.

Their arrival here took place about 7.30 and an eager and expectant concourse of people gathered in Red Lion Square and lined Scotgate. As the Suffragists accompanied by several Stamford ladies who supported their cause, marched to the Meadows their reception was by no means unfriendly. Several of the ladies carried bouquets of flowers and altogether they presented a very attractive appearance.

No time was lost in starting the speech making and very soon the trollies forming temporary platforms were surrounded by a dense throng of people.

The crowd in the Meadows and lining the river bank must have numbered between three and four thousand, and very wisely, the police force was strongly augmented by constables from the adjacent district (Kesteven Constabulary). The arrangements for coping with any rowdyism were excellent, and Supt Theaker, the head of the Stamford force, who was consulted regarding the arrangements by the Union representatives, is to be congratulated on the way in which such a huge assembly was handled.

It will be well recollected that upon the occasion of a Suffragette meeting in the Square a few months ago there were disgraceful scenes, and on Saturday evening it was soon evident that a number of those present were bent on creating a noise. Rushes were made for the platform occupied by Miss Garlick and her friends, but the police were able to prevent any mischief. Verbal interruptions were frequent, but these were of a good natured character, and the ladies powers of repartee were fully demonstrated. It was a case of give-and-take, and the sallies evoked hearty laughter.

Strangely enough all the opposition was centred on one trio of speakers. The speeches from the other platform proceeded without interruption to the end.

Miss Garlick presided over the unruly assembly, and the other speakers were Miss Beaver and Miss Meikle (Leeds). On the other platform were Mrs Gerald Dowson as “chairman,” accompanied by Miss Norma Smith (organising the pilgrimage from Sheffield to Huntingdon), and Mrs W.E.Dowson of Nottingham.

Miss Garlick, like the other speakers, placed the Suffragist arguments very eloquently. Some facts revealed concerning their Union included the information that it has a membership of 47,000, fresh adherents having been obtained at the rate of a thousand a month for some time past; that their methods are perfectly peaceful and law-abiding; that they are no way associated with the militant section, and that there express purpose is not only to assure the people of the country, but once again to assure the Prime Minister and all Members of Parliament that women do want the vote, notwithstanding the fact that on the way there that evening they notice a few tired-looking gentlemen carrying placards bearing the strange device, “Women Don’t Want the Vote.” She made it clear that the Union to which she belonged did not favour the militant methods.

Miss Beaver spoke well, but was soon interrupted, and her mention of Mrs Pankhurst’s name was an error. It raised a storm of disapproval, and the hubbub after this was on the increase. The speaker urged that if women were not deemed intelligent enough to have votes, then some men who now possessed them scarcely knew how to use them. This remark did not mend matters and the interruptions continued at intervals. However, Miss Beaver managed to make some excellent points.

Miss Meikle had not the best of attention and at the outset of her remarks, when interrupted, wrote notes on a tablet until the noise ceased.

Towards the close of the meeting turf was thrown, and the addresses, which lasted for about an hour and a quarter ended amid much animation.

The descent of the speakers from the trollies was the signal for a determined attempt to rush them, but the police succeeded in forming a strong bodyguard. As the ladies approached the bridge a desire was somewhat apparent to push them, along with the police, into the Welland. A number of townsmen however, went to the assistance of the officers and the ladies were got safely across the bridge, the entrance to which was then barricaded by the majority of the police while the suffragists made their way to the different residences which were affording them hospitality for the night.

The following Wednesday afternoon (July 16th 1913) there was another suffrage meeting in the town. This one was organised by the Stamford branch of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association. This was held in the Bede House garden, Broad Street, which was addressed by the Countess of Selborne, President of the Association. This meeting being held in the week was a much more refined occasion, with tea and cake, and no need of police protection. The meeting was as political and the Guardian was there to report on the speeches.

The Rev. J.R.H.Duke, rector of Thornhaugh presided over a good attendance, and was supported on the terrace by Lady Selborne, Misses M.Evans (Hon. Secretary of the local branch, D.Evans, Young, Hart, M.Kellett, Sunderland-Taylor, Williams, and Duncombe (Honorary Secretary of the Oakham Branch), along with Mr T.Sandall and a number of local clergy.

The chairman, in a brief series of remarks, said that by all rules of ordinary logic women should have votes upon the same terms as men. At present they had municipal votes and could fill the office of Town Councillor, Guardian, and even Mayor. There was no reason why they should not take an equal interest in the greater affairs of the empire. Municipal questions largely concerned building, drainage, and roads, which was not really women’s business, so that the Parliamentary vote would enable them to deal with questions with which they would be more at home. As to property and taxation, it had been well said that representation and taxation should go hand-in-hand; there should be no objection against the contention that if women had to pay their share towards the upkeep of the country they should be given the chance of helping to decide how it should be expended (hear, hear). Besides, women were more economical than men, whilst they were quite as intelligent, if not more so in many cases. Women were conservative in the ordinary sense and would do more than men in the assistance of art, and the preservation of the memorials of the past. They would, as voters, strengthen the Conservative and Unionist side of the House of Commons, and might be reckoned on to protect the Church from attack, particularly the Welsh portion. To say, as some did, that if women had votes they would be under the influence of the parish priest was ridiculous. As to the militant methods of some women, there was no reason why so many others who favoured peaceful advocacy should be deprived of the privilege they claimed. He regarded the “cat and mouse” Act as a bad piece of legislation. The government had practically invited outrage, and one prominent supporter told those who asked for women’s suffrage that they would not get it until they made themselves a nuisance. Could it be wondered at that some took his words seriously? In conclusion, Mr Duke asked the Countess to address them. Her ladyship, he said, bore an honoured name, one which was respected all over the county. She was the daughter of a great statesman, and sister to Lord Roberts and Lord Hugh Cecil, who were staunch supporters of the Church.

Lady Selborne, who was warmly received, said she was very pleased to visit Stamford, which was the only place represented by her father, the late Marquis of Salisbury, in the House of Commons, up to the time he went to the House of Lords. When she was asked to come and speak here, she felt that she would like to do so, for his sake (applause). He was always a supporter of the principle of giving votes to women and furthered the cause when County Councils were instituted and women were granted the power to vote in those elections. Thus, she felt that the work of their Association would have had his approval. Women had just as great an interest in all public questions as men possessed, and it was the theory of democracy that those that contributed to the State should have a voice in the choice of legislation and in the selection of the government responsible for the public business of the country. If women were granted the vote it was not likely that the powers of government would ever be put into their hands, and they would always be content to leave it to men to deal with, even if they ever possessed the right to become Members of Parliament. It was the business of women to choose and not to govern. Women had great influence in politics, and any Bill which had their support always made its way to the front. The speaker dealt with the great influence exercised by women, and its power of good or evil. Women with votes would know that with political power they would also have responsibility and they would therefore deal with any question with more care and thought than was the case at present. If women had the vote they would not be so likely to rush into politics in an emotional way just when some question cropped up that specially interested them. It would be far better to have voting women than influencing women. The passing of a reasonable measure entitling women to vote would prevent much of the present evil of militancy, which was depriving the cause of a great deal of sympathy. In several of our colonies, America and Norway, women had been granted the vote, and the system was a success. In Sweden and Denmark the granting of the vote was being favourable considered. It was somewhat remarkable that in no other country but ours had the agitation for votes for women resulted in militant methods. But any violence was due to Ministers saying one thing and meaning another. They should have said “No” at the outset, instead of making promises and not fulfilling them. In the House of Commons Women’s Franchise Bills had passed their second reading, and it was generally understood that when this was the case the principle of a measure was approved. But despite this women had not yet been granted a vote. The speaker considered that the Prime Minister, had he taken more care, could have drawn up the Franchise Bill so as to admit an amendment. This would have saved a great deal of bitterness and controversy. But the militant outrages formed no reason why the female sex generally should not be granted votes, for the women who had resorted to extreme measures did not number more than about 50, and it was unfair to keep a million and a half women disfranchised because of the faults of a few. Women had as great an interest in the affairs of the country as men, and what was sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander (applause). The best argument of all in support of votes for women was that it was a success, whether in County Councils or other departments of public life. Her ladyship, in conclusion, urged the members of the branch to continue the good work they had undertaken, and go forward with all possible activity. They should read up the subject, for it was only by being themselves convinced that they could convince others. Let them persuade their friends to join the Association, and thus strengthened, go on until their aim was accomplished.

In proposing a vote of thanks to the Countess for her address and to the chairman, Miss Evans said that Stamford had a special claim upon her ladyship’s kindness, for she did not come among them as a stranger but as the daughter of the late Lord Salisbury, who in bygone years ably represented Stamford in Parliament. Her visit would rouse this branch to do even more for the cause of women’s liberty. Some said it was unwomanly to work for that cause, but how could it be when there were so many women who could not protect themselves, and who were working under labour conditions that urgently called for reform (applause). Other people said that a vote was no protection, but is this were the case why was there so much battling concerning the proposal to abolish plural votes?

Miss Evans was congratulated on an able speech. Once the meeting finished those present were entertained at tea. How different to the earlier meeting held on the Meadows? 

In the same week that the Stamford and Rutland Guardian reported on the Suffragists meeting on Stamford Meadows and the meeting of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association there appeared in the same paper the following poem entitled:-



We collected in our thousands,
By the Welland’s flowing stream,
To beguile the evening hours,
Listening to the suffrage scheme.

I am not disposed to offer,
Views upon the female vote,
But I wish to tell the scoffer,
Things I would have him note.

When he cast his senile “booing”,
In a helpless woman’s face,
He was eloquently showing,
Much degeneracy of race.

Pity him his lack of reason,
Scorn for those who urge him on,
This is Stamford’s senseless season,
Chivalry is past and gone.

Is there one who this attended?
Could have faced, on yonder dray,
With a courage, cool, and splendid,
Asses with so loud a bray?                (by) CYNICUS


As to the Stamford Guardian’s editorial comment. It stated:-

All things considered, the Suffragist’s meeting at Stamford, on Saturday passed off remarkably well. For the credit of the great majority it must be made clear that those who disturbed the meeting and initiated the horseplay were simply out for a lark and cared nothing for common sense or argument. There was a chance of a Saturday night spree and that was all they wanted. Some, it was obvious, had had recourse to something stronger than water and so their share of the clamour need not be taken much notice of. Several of the interjections during the speeches were by no means devoid of wit and had the interruptions been simply verbal the meeting would have been quite enjoyable. But the foolish josting and turf-throwing was quite another story, and proved the caddish propensities of a certain section of the crowd. The speakers were ladies of education and should have been treated as such. However, as we have said, no great harm was done, and perhaps the occasional disorder was but the vent for those of vinous tastes.

The Stamford and District News also reported on the event and although their report is similar there are a number of incidents reported that did not appear in the Stamford Guardian.

As they passed the Post office there was a slight attempt to “boo” them, but this soon subsided, and escorted by members of the Police Force the ladies were escorted down St John’s Street and Castle Hill to the meadows.

Two trolleys belonging to Mr B.W.Aldwinckle were standing one on each side of the footpath between the two bridges, and speeches were delivered simultaneous from the two vehicles, to an assembly of between 2,000 and 3,000 persons.

During part of the rally. At one time the crushing was so bad that numbers of little children near (one of) the wagon were escorted by the police out of the crowd into places of safety. 

Several of the men possessing a greater sense of justice and fair play than some of the others appealed to the disorderly ones to be quiet, but this had no effect, and the disorder continued, during which there was singing (including a verse of a hymn) and shouting, while a few piece of turf were thrown at the ladies.

As to the scenes on the Meadows, the disturbances led to an appearance of two of the agitators at the Magistrates Court under the news banner, Disorderly Scenes at a Suffragette Meeting. Stamford Men Summoned. Amusing Evidence. Clearly the editor, or the compositor, or the reporter should have picked up that the Meeting had been held by Suffragists and not Suffragettes. The whole report mentioning Suffragettes.

Two men were ordered to appear before the Magistrates on Saturday (July 19th 1913) on charges of improper conduct on the occasion of the Suffragettes meeting in the Meadows last week. They were Robert Stafford, 3 East-street, who was summoned for using indecent language, and Naaman Briggs, of 1 Zebra Cottages, against whom there was a charge of being drunk and disorderly.

With regard to Stafford, P.c. Holgate stated that the man was very much under the influence of drink, and was creating annoyance by swearing and shouting. One man went to him and asked him to be quiet, whereupon defendant said words telling him in effect, to get out of the way. The defendant pushed about, and a man of about 50 years of age was knocked down. If the crowd had come that way, the constable feared the man would doubtless have been seriously injured.

Supt. Theaker informed the Court that Stafford had been before the Magistrates seven times previously, and said he desired to press the case, as the language used by the defendant could only be described as vile.

A fine of 10 shillings, with 7 shillings costs was imposed.

The man Briggs created some amusement by a quaint saying. Asked whether he was guilty of being drunk and disorderly on the occasion referred to, he said, “I reckon I had a drop of beer, but I was not disorderly.”

After P.c. Pacey had been sworn, Briggs said “Now, what did I say?” but he was told to be quiet.

The officer told the Bench that the defendant, who was very drunk, was shouting and pushing about among the crowd. He called out “Mrs Pankhurst , ***** her.” Someone near asked him to be quiet, whereupon he expressed the hope that the suffragists would be in a much warmer place than the defendant, said the constable, continued this sort of thing for something like twenty minutes, pushing both women and men about, and although witness spoke to him he took no notice whatever.

Defendant: What did you say when you brought me the summons? Didn’t you say go straight home when you spoke to me?
The Constable: I never said anything of the sort.
Defendant: None of your “guyfly.”(Laughter) I did nothing but shout Mrs Pankhurst!
The Clerk: You can only ask the witness a question.
Defendant: Was I drunk?
The Constable: Certainly.
Defendant: Then why didn’t you lock me up?
The Constable: I gave you a chance to get home.
Defendant: If I was drunk I couldn’t have got home.

Briggs added that he went out shopping before he went home at half-past nine. Turning to P.c. Pacey, he said “Tell a straight tale.” Supt. Theaker, who was also present at the Meeting, supported the evidence of the constable, and said, that the man was frequently asked to go home by several in the crowd.
Defendant: That was Daddy Hopkins. (Laughter).
The Inspector: continuing said the defendant’s conduct was very bad indeed. There were several there who were rather disorderly, but he didn’t take much notice of that; in a case of this kind, however, where very bad language was used he considered it his duty to bring it before the notice of the Bench.
The Chairman (to the Defendant): Have you anything to say?
Defendant I expect I have got to pay, but I don’t want to pay much. (Laughter). I ain’t ??? a deal. (Laughter). This is the first time I’ve been here, and it would take a different suffragette meeting from that to get me here again. (Laughter).
Defendant added: I saved the women. They were pelting at me instead of the women. (Laughter).

While the Magistrates were considering the verdict the defendant caused further amusement by asking, “Have they done with me now, here?

The Justices imposed a fine of 5 shillings, including costs, and the Mayor expressed the hope that this case would be a warning to him in the future remarking that if he kept from the drink he would be all right.

Defendant: But I started young sir. (Laughter).
Supt. Theaker: Are you going to pay?
Defendant: No; shall you trust me?
He was allowed a week.

The Great Pilgrimage was a protest march in favour of votes for women and against militancy and was arguably the single most influential non-violent event in the fight for votes. It created an environment across the country, especially where meetings were held, of open debate of the subject rather than the newsworthy reports of broken windows, arson and hunger strikes. Previously it was as if any disaster could be blamed on the Suffragettes. Stamford was no different. Back on Thursday May 22nd 1913 two separate fires one at the Wesleyan Chapel on Barn Hill and another in the stables behind the Stamford Hotel created rumours in the town that those ‘damn suffragettes’ were involved. Suddenly in the minds of some, a woman should not be allowed out with a box of matches. Stamford had a population of around 9.500 people in 1913, between 2,000 and 3,000 attended the meeting on the Meadows that Saturday evening. Let us hope that the majority supported female suffrage.


Stamford Guardian ‘By the Way’ Comment    Stamford Guardian July 19th 1913 p7/c1
Suffragettes Poem                                          Stamford Guardian July 19th 1913 p7/c2
Unionist Women Franchise Meeting               Stamford Guardian July 19th 1913 p8/c1&2
Suffragists Visit To Stamford                           Stamford Guardian July 19th 1913 p8/c4&5

Women Suffragists in Stamford                      Stamford & District News July 16th 1913 p5/c2
Stamford Men Summoned                             Stamford & District News July 23rd 1913 p5/c1
Suffragettes On Tour                                      Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury July 18th 1913 p4/c4


Note below     Stamford & District News published on Wednesdays
                       Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury on Friday
 Stamford Guardian published on Saturdays


Note Below     The first names/initials of the women at the Conservative and Unionist meeting were added from the Stamford & District News of July 23rd 1913 p7/c1.


For more background information on this topic the recently published book by Jane Robinson; Hearts And Minds. The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote, is a MUST read.