For his ambitious health insurance scheme, Lloyd George had to appease two vested interests: the medical profession and the insurance industry, with its army of agents going door-to-door each week collecting pence from working-class homes. The 70,000 insurance collectors even boasted their own National Union. When Lloyd George received their delegation, he found them a formidable lobby. He gave way on government help for widows and orphans. It was upon such family fears that agents’ jobs were based. The WFL kept a keen eye on Lloyd George. It sent a well-publicized letter to the Chancellor, asking about income tax on married women and new taxes on women land-owners. He prevaricated. Meanwhile, the WFL held its historic conference at Caxton Hall, with a briefing paper ‘Suffragist Resistance to the Census’. An impressive range of suffrage organizations sent delegates, including Fawcett's NUWSS and the Women's Co-operative Guild. The Pankhursts’ WSPU, however, was preoccupied elsewhere. Disappointed again by Asquith, it sent a prestigious delegation to the Commons: the police brutality it met dubbed it ‘Black Friday’. NUWSS watched, pessimistic that WSPU militancy would spoil its careful consensus-building. Would there still be wide suffrage support for the WFL's planned census boycott?
Manchester remained ‘suffrage city’, and needed a regional WSPU organizer. Jessie Stephenson, a great admirer of Emmeline Pankhurst, was dispatched north. Her job included looking after the stellar suffrage speakers who arrived in Manchester ~ like Laurence Housman. She also had to persuade one of the city's most influential men, C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, to cover WSPU activities in his newspaper. Not an easy job. Then on 6 February 1911, the King's Speech was read to the House of Commons. Its omission of women's suffrage was the trigger for the WFL to publicize its census boycott plans. Speakers and writers like Laurence Housman were now even more in demand. But the boycott publicity quickly provoked fierce opposition. Professor Michael Sadler of Manchester University lambasted the WFL: ‘to boycott the Census would be a crime against science’ ~ that is, against social science and the accurate collection of data on which to base future reforms. Battle was joined.
On one side of the battleground stood Charlotte Despard's WFL, the Pankhursts’ WSPU, the Tax Resistance League and Laurence Housman. On the other lined up Sadler and Scott, John Burns and the progressive Liberal reformers. Alongside was the giant NUWSS, keenly supporting the new Conciliation Bill yet opposing the boycott as irresponsible & ineffective civil deisobedience. From the suffragette societies (notably WSPU, WFL) fizzed imaginative boycott propaganda: posters, postcards, cartoons. WSPU promised ‘a midnight promenade’ from Trafalgar Square to the Aldwych. Local branches urged members to fill in ‘promises cards’. A census resister's model schedule showed ‘No Vote No Census’ written across. Speakers like Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard and Laurence Housman criss-crossed the country at dizzying speed. However, local suffragettes often encountered fierce opposition. In Halifax, Emmeline was accused by the local Unitarian minister of attempting something ‘grossly immmoral’. In Sheffield, a NUWSS woman doctor crossed swords with Adela Pankhurst, local WSPU organizer. Final boycott plans were laid. In Manchester, Jessie Stephenson rented a suburban mansion for census weekend. Meanwhile, at the Census Office in London, bundles of schedules were piled high, ready for delivery by an army of 35,000 local enumerators.
Emily Wilding Davison, by now a paid WSPU organizer, was already experienced with prison & forcible feeding. And she had already familiarized herself with the nooks and crannies of the Palace of Westminster. Probably on Saturday 1 April, Emily wriggled an entrance into the building, making her way down to the ornately Victorian Crypt Chapel. Here she found an inconspicuous broom cupboard ~ where she hid till Monday morning, so entering the history books. Nearby in central London, Emmeline Pankhurst evaded in her Holborn hotel (though was recorded by the enumerator). Her appearance on the census is an example of where evidence of the time (suffragette press, her autobiography) is now challenged by the newly-released census schedules themselves.
In north London, Hampstead boasted a goodly share of suffrage organizations. Some of the fiercest ‘battle for the census’ arguments were aired here. For the NUWSS, Lady Strachey and her daughter Pippa fiercely opposed the boycott. Hampstead also saw support for broader adult suffrage legislation, from the Women's Labour League and Women's Co-operative Guild. Nearby on Haverstock Hill, Henry and Margaret Nevinson lived together (though not amicably). His daily diary provides hour-by-hour testimony of census weekend. Henry strode uphill to visit the Brailsfords, attended an Actresses’ Franchise League performance, and spoke at the WFL meeting in Trafalgar Square, And he filled in his census schedule, providing information about himself, his son and two domestic servants ~ but of Margaret nothing. Yet it seems clear that she and other women were evading there overnight. Henry provides compelling eye-witness guide to the glittering city-centre entertainments ~ late night at Trafalgar Square (with suffragette Evelyn Sharp), then on to Covent Garden and to the Aldwych roller-skating rink. Here he listened to the WSPU entertainment and at 6 am skated with a suffragette actress, ‘a thing I never dreamt of’. He wrote up his experiences vividly in Votes for Women.
During March 1911, Laurence wrote furiously and travelled fast: he spoke in London, Manchester, York, Sheffield, Scotland, Birmingham, Bristol, Harrow, Chelsea, Ipswich, and finally Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile Clemence had set off for Swanage and her inconspicuous house, prepared to defy the enumerator. Luckily, her letters home to her beloved brother Laurence capture the poignantly experiences of an isolated evader: visited by the enumerator, then by the registrar. ‘He said he had to carry out his duty, and I said ditto ditto’. Back in Kensington, Laurence hospitably offered his home to local evaders ~ and completed his schedule giving information about himself but not for any of the women sheltering overnight. Elsewhere in his part of Kensington the picture was mixed, some suffragettes deciding to comply. And one married suffragette, Eleanor Maund, determined to evade ~ but was seemingly prevented from doing so by her blustering businessman husband.
Bristol was the city where regional WSPU organizer Annie Kenney was based; further out, the elegant spa towns of Baths and Cheltenham were suffrage strongholds. And just outside Bath in imposing Eagle House lived suffragette Mary Blathwayt and her parents. All three Blathwayts wrote daily diaries, offering a rare foot-soldiers’ view of census weekend. Mary herself joined the mass evasion at Lansdown Crescent in Bath, organized by the WSPU. Back at Eagle House, her parents complied with the census ~ and her mother's diary is a rare account of a woman complier. The most daring evader in the Bristol region was Lillian Dove-Willcox, who headed south-west into rural Wiltshire. She spent the night in a caravan somewhere near Salisbury Plain. Her evasion went up from the local enumerator, to the registrar and right up to the top Whitehall civil servant. Meanwhile in Bristol itself, Annie Kenney talked up the census boycott to the local press. She even boated of a caravan, turned into an ‘ark of refuge from the flood of census questions’, driving over Clifton Suspension Bridge. But what does the evidence of the Bristol census schedules tell us now about the real extent of the boycott across the city?
Manchester remained the suffrage city. All the main suffrage organizations ~ NUWSS, WSPU, WFL and Men's League ~ were well represented. Luckily Jessie Stephenson's typescript autobiography offers a vivid portrait of the local WSPU census weekend. And her south Manchester ‘Census Lodge’ was also captured on camera by a professional photographer. Altogether, there were 208 evaders clustered together overnight, with an additional 88 people accommodated round the corner. This made central Manchester undoubtedly the largest mass evasion outside London. Meanwhile, the WFL organized smaller imaginative evasions out in their suburban strongholds - like Sale in north Cheshire. But, as Hannah Mitchell's autobiography The Hard Way Up testifies, some WFL members decided to comply. Hannah's own schedule, seemingly a mix of handwriting, is scarcely straightforward. Why exactly did Hannah, a working-class suffragette, decide not to boycott?
Middlesbrough, just beyond the North Yorkshire Moors, had a lively WFL branch and active plans for the boycott. But come census night, only two households ~ both prosperous business families ~ did not comply. Why? Further south, WSPU organizer in Bradford co-ordinated an impressive mass evasion. In Huddersfield, with a one-time very active WSPU branch, no suffragette apparently evaded locally. While in Sheffield, Adela Pankhurst hosted a mass evasion in the home she shared with another suffragette. This mixed pattern is echoed on the journey south ~ Nottingham, Ipswich and Portsmouth. Finally, this English journey meanders back down the Thames ~ past the riverside homes of individual census resisters, and a group of darkened evaders’ caravans parked on Wimbledon Common. At last the journey returns to central London and Battersea. Here Charlotte Despard naturally refused to provide any information. And nearby Muriel Matters inscribed her schedule defiantly ‘No Vote No Census’.
Tabloid newspapers now splashed photographs of census evaders over their front pages. Tuesday's Daily Sketch even depicted slumbering bodies inside Manchester's ‘Census Lodge’. The broadsheets looked soberly at the broader picture. Tuesday's Times editorialized: ‘The Census: Failure of Suffragist Efforts at Evasion’. Thus two census narratives began to emerge, each claiming victory. John Burns stood up in the Commons on Wednesday and unperturbedly claimed that the number of census evaders ‘is altogether negligible’. At which the MPs cheered. Elsewhere, the WSPU and WFL waited anxiously for court summons and arrests. None came. The suffragettes celebrated their victory. The summer was indeed a time of suffrage optimism. In June, 40,000 women marched together in procession, constitutionalists and militants alike. Tax resisters seized propaganda opportunities. The highest-profile resister was modest but well-connected Clemence Housman. Imprisoned in Holloway, her case went right up to Asquith's office. Suddenly Clem was released early. However, in November Asquith unexpectedly announced a manhood suffrage measure ~ leaving women out once again. Suffrage organizations reacted furiously, the WSPU with window-smashing, and later arson attacks on empty buildings. The story of these last 2½ years of peace is told elsewhere.