On census night, 2 April 1911, Asquith's Liberal government, which still denied women the vote, ordered every household to comply with its census requirements. So suffragette organizations urged women, all still unenfranchised, to boycott this census. Many did. Some inscribed their census schedules with the words ‘No Vote, No Census’. Others evaded the enumerator by sheltering in darkened houses ~ or, in the case of Emily Wilding Davison, by hiding inside a cupboard within the Houses of Parliament. Yet many decided against boycotting. Even some suffragettes, who might have been expected to rebel, decided to comply with the census ~ and handed over a perfectly accurate schedule. Why? The book investigates the ‘battle for the census’ arguments that raged across Edwardian England in spring 1911. It explores why many committed campaigners decided this act of civil disobedience would be highly effective propaganda; and why many others decided to prioritize providing the government with accurate census data for its health and welfare reforms, rather than ‘Votes for Women’. This book is based upon a wealth of brand new documentary sources, which can be read in the participants’ own hand. Interrogating this dramatic new evidence, the book sheds crucial new light on the turbulent world of Edwardian politics. It includes a substantial Gazetteer of 500 campaigners’ census schedules, compiled jointly with Elizabeth Crawford.
"Female Fortune is the book which inspired Sally Wainwright to write Gentleman Jack, now a major drama series for the BBC and HBO. Lesbian landowner Anne Lister inherited Shibden Hall in 1826. She was an impressive scholar, fearless traveller and successful businesswoman, even developing her own coalmines. Her extraordinary diaries, running to 4–5 million words, were partly written in her own secret code and recorded her love affairs with startling candour. The diaries were included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011. Jill Liddington’s classic edition of the diaries tells the story of how Anne Lister wooed and seduced neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, who moved in to live with Anne and her family in 1834. Politically active, Anne Lister door-stepped her tenants at the 1835 Election to vote Tory. And socially very ambitious, she employed architects to redesign both the Hall and the estate. Yet Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of local relatives, suspicious of exactly how Anne Lister could pay for all her grand improvements. Tensions grew to a melodramatic crescendo when news reached Shibden of the pair being burnt in effigy. This 2022 edition includes a fascinating Afterword on the recent discovery of Ann Walker’s own diary. Female Fortune is essential reading for those who watched Gentleman Jack and want to know more about the extraordinary woman that was Anne Lister.
Battersea in south London was an impoverished neighbourhood, shared by Charlotte Despard and John Burns. Holding strong political views that would inevitably conflict, both played a crucial role in the 1911 census and plots to boycott it. A well-to-do eccentric widow, Charlotte Despard chose to leave her spacious Surrey home for Battersea's cramped and noisy streets down by the Thames wharves. One-time socialist, from 1906 she shifted whole-heartedly to women's suffrage and the Pankhursts’ WSPU. Indeed, she was among the rebels who soon broke away from the WSPU and formed the Women's Freedom League, becoming its president. By contrast, John Burns, one of eighteen children, grew up in cellar-dwelling poverty nearby. A powerful orator, he became MP for Battersea. From 1905-6, Burns joined the Cabinet, its first working-class member. Appointed President of the Local Government Board (LGB), he would be responsible for administering the coming census.
When Asquith became Prime Minister in April 1908, the chances of enfranchisement took a nose-dive. Instinctively hostile to giving women the vote, he told a suffrage deputation that first they had to convince ‘the great mass of women’ and then ‘the great mass of men’. How were suffrage organization to persuade the public? As well as the great suffrage processions, campaigners initiated daring caravan propaganda tours. The first was the Women's Freedom League van which set out in May 1908 from Charlotte Despard's country cottage to tour Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Among these intrepid vanners was flamboyant actress Muriel Matters, newly arrived from South Australia. She enjoyed going ‘a-gypsying’ ~ but others joining the caravan tour remembered the hostility of anti-suffrage crowds. Margaret Nevinson from Hampstead joined the tour in Kent and recalled the van being surrounded as ‘the mob howled like wild beasts’. A second 1908 caravan tour was that of suffragists (NUWSS) which travelled down from Scotland to Oxford. Meanwhile, in October Muriel Matters and other suffragettes padlocked themselves to the iron grille of the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons. Would all these imaginative propaganda tactics help persuade Asquith?
A new propaganda culture now sprang from London's premier bohemian boroughs: Kensington, Chelsea and Hampstead. An Artists’ Suffrage League was formed in 1907, led by legendary banner-maker Mary Lowndes. A Women Writers’ Suffrage League followed in 1908, with authors Cicely Hamilton and Margaret Nevinson. An Actresses’ Franchise League gave theatrical pizzazz to suffrage arguments; while a Men's League for Women's Suffrage drew together influential male supporters. Notable among these were accomplished journalists Henry Nevinson (Margaret's husband) and Henry Brailsford, both living in Hampstead. At the heart of all this suffrage creativity were brother and sister Laurence and Clemence Housman. Their home in Kensington soon became a key site of suffragette cultural production, headquarters of the Suffrage Atelier. Laurence was not only a magnificent speaker and writer, but also designed the memorable ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ banner, carried proudly aloft in suffragette processions. Clemence, banner-maker to the movement, quietly joined the new Women's Tax Resistance League. Its slogan was ‘No Vote, No Tax’. Confrontation loomed.
During summer 1909, the confrontation sharpened between the government's welfare reform agenda and the demand for women's full citizenship. Key political figure was Lloyd George, promoting his ambitious National Insurance scheme. His ‘People's Budget’ of April 1909 would help pay for this, and thrust taxation centre-stage. Yet women tax-payers remained voteless. So by summer 1909, two concepts of citizenship increasingly clashed. On one hand, Lloyd George urged welfare reforms: democracy for people. On the other, suffragettes demanded a say in policy that affected them, like taxation: democracy by people. This confrontation was played out against an increasingly forbidding backdrop: prison, hunger-striking and shortly afterwards, forcible feeding. This chapter tells the story through the experience of Helen Watts, Nottingham suffragette. In February 1909, Helen attended the WSPU's Women's Parliament in Caxton Hall, joining the deputation carrying the resolution to ‘Runaway Asquith’. Arrest and imprisonment followed, to the concern of her family. For the other Nottingham suffragettes, Helen returned home from prison a heroine. In September, Helen joined a hunger-strike in Leicester prison. But when in the autumn forcible feeding was initiated in Birmingham's forbidding Winson Green gaol, Helen Watts pondered ~ about what was now being demanded of suffragettes.
In October 1909, the first Census Committee meeting was held, to lay careful plans over the coming 18 months. It was attended by the four professional civil servants, answerable to John Burns, President of the Local Government Board (LGB). Just two days later, the Women's Tax Resistance League held its inaugural meeting. It drew together pioneer women doctors, Margaret Nevinson, writer Cicely Hamilton, and Clemence Housman of the Suffrage Atelier. But how could quiet Clemence resist paying tax? She took a daring step, renting a modest house of her own in Swanage on the Dorset coast, so making her liable for Inhabited House Duty. The Tax Resistance League staged resisters’ ‘spectacles’ around the London area, turning local auction rooms into political theatre. Meanwhile, the Census Committee continued its discreet planning, and Lloyd George's budget triggered a General Election, set for January 1910.
In the coming General Election, John Burns had the misfortune to be the only minister defending a central London seat. Both the Pankhursts’ WSPU and the Women's Freedom League (WFL) homed in on his Battersea fiefdom. Indeed, as this was Charlotte Despard's own backyard and Burns appeared to want to prohibit married women's employment, it was little surprise that the WFL produced a special leaflet: ‘Turn Mr Burns out!’ On polling day, Burns was hissed by women in the gallery ~ but was re-elected, as was Lloyd George. Asquith's Liberal government was returned to power, but without its earlier huge majority. Suffrage organizations however remained cautiously optimistic. Brailsford and Nevinson consulted Mrs Fawcett's NUWSS over what compromise suffrage measure might now be possible. It had to be a sufficiently narrow property-based franchise to retain Conservative support, yet broad enough to appease Liberal and Labour. A cross-party Conciliation Committee of MPs was formed and, after much behind-the-scenes lobbying, a Conciliation Bill eventually emerged. It was narrow and would only enfranchise one million women with property. But it would at least establish the principle of equal voting rights for men and women. This was their hope.
The Census Committee civil servants polished the questions that would be asked of households, to give the information that welfare reformers needed. The census would now ask for each married woman: how many children born alive to the current marriage, how many still living and how many had died. The census schedule would be completed and signed by ‘the Head of Family’, usually the husband. So women, till then merely deprived of a vote, were now deprived of a voice: their husband held the pen to record their experienced of childbirth and child deaths. Insult was thus added to injury. Although unaware of the devil in the census detail, the WFL was alert to the coming census. In summer 1910 it planned a census conference, inviting the many suffrage organizations. Meanwhile, in July Asquith's cabinet shelved the Conciliation Bill ~ where it joined the cobwebs among previous such suffrage bills. ‘So another hope is killed’, lamented Henry Nevinson sadly in his diary. Was this one more reason to boycott the coming census?