Gladys Johnston chaired the April meeting of the Laurencekirk and District Inner Wheel when they met recently at the Panmure Arms Hotel, Edzell.

Retired Royal Marines Major Steve Nicoll, from Brechin presented a very interesting talk entitled Suffragettes with a Scottish Dimension. Steve, who is originally from Dundee retired from the Marines in 2007 after a 35-year career. He has been a child model for Valentines Cards in Dundee and has successfully climbed all the Munroes.

His interest in the Suffragettes began in 2015 when an oak tree planted in Glasgow almost 100 years ago as a tribute to the struggle faced by the city’s suffragettes had been named Scotland’s Tree of the Year.

The Suffragette Oak in Kelvingrove Park won a public vote from six trees that were shortlisted in a competition searching for the one best-loved by the nation.

It was planted on April 20, 1918, by several suffrage organisations to mark women being granted the right to vote earlier that year.

Around the tree was a ribbon in the colours of green, white, and purple. The concept of the Suffragette colours was devised by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, the co-editor of Votes for Women magazine. Purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope.

The Suffragists

In 1866, a group of women organised a petition that demanded that women should have the same political rights as men and gathered over 1500 signatures in support of the cause. The women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill drafted an amendment to the Second Reform Bill that would give women the same political rights as men and presented it to parliament in 1867. The amendment was defeated, however, by 196 votes to 73.

In the wake of this defeat the London Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed and similar women’s suffrage groups were founded all over Britain. In 1897, 17 of these individual groups joined together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett. She believed in peaceful protest. She felt that being aggressive or obstructive would harm their cause as it would persuade men that women were too irresponsible to vote.

The Suffragettes

Fawcett’s campaign was convincing but slow. Most men in Parliament still believed that women would never be able to understand how Parliament worked and so could not be allowed to take part in an election. A new political action group called the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emily Pankhurst in 1903. Its members became known as the suffragettes. They believed the same thing as Millicent Fawcett but they were prepared to take more extreme action to bring about the change.

The Pankhurst family is closely associated with the militant campaign for the vote. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and others, frustrated by the lack of progress, decided more direct action was required and founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with the motto ‘Deeds not words’.

British suffragettes in the early 20th century used spectacle and drama to draw attention to their fight to win women the vote. They delivered public speeches, marched, displayed colourful banners, and got thrown in jail, all to pressure legislators to extend suffrage to women.

One Suffragette Kitty Marion was arrested for arson and sentenced to three years in Holloway prison with hard labour. She went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed twice a day, every day – a staggering 232 times – before she was released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

The most radical act of destruction came in 1913, when militant suffragette Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under King George V’s racehorse at the Epsom Derby. She died of her injuries and became a suffragette martyr.

Scottish Women’s Suffragette Movement

The Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage was a leading group for women’s rights in Scotland. It was one of the first three suffrage societies to be formed in Britain.

Many of the Scottish women were, like their English and Welsh counterparts prepared to use spectacle and drama to highlight their cause.

Elsie Maude Inglis had for some time been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Women’s Suffragette Federation.

An organiser for WSPU in Dundee, Fanny Parker had been imprisoned on several occasions for damaging property. Using the alias Janet Arthur she appeared in Ayr Court 9 July 1914, accused of attempting to blow up Robert Burns’ Cottage in Alloway. She refused to enter the dock or to recognise the court’s jurisdiction and Parker was committed to Ayr Prison pending further inquiry.  She was the niece of Lord Kitchener, and the files show her brother, Captain Parker, contacting and negotiating with the authorities for her release.

Flora McKinnon Drummond-nicknamed ‘The General’ for her habit of leading marches wearing a military style uniform ‘with an officer’s cap and epaulettes and riding on a large horse. Drummond was imprisoned nine times for her activism. She was an accomplished orator and had a reputation for being able to put down hecklers with ease.

Bessie Watson was a Scottish child suffragette and piper. She played the pipes on the platform of Waverley Station as trains departed taking convicted women’s rights campaigners to Holloway Prison, and she piped outside Calton Jail to encourage the Suffragettes imprisoned there.

Marion Wallace Dunlop was a Scottish artist and author. She was the first and one of the most well-known British suffragettes to go on hunger strike.

Alexina Jessie MacGregor was born in India and was the daughter of Major Robert Guthrie MacGregor and inherited Abbethune House, near Inverkeilor. Miss MacGregor gave speeches on the streets of Arbroath in support of women’s suffrage and hosted Dundee hunger strikers after their release from prison. She protested peacefully by refusing to pay her income tax and as a result, her paintings and antique silver were sold in a public auction: only to be bought and returned by her supporters.

Caroline Phillips was a Scottish feminist, suffragette, and journalist. She was honorary secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the WSPU and met and corresponded with many of the leaders of the movement and was also involved in the organisation of militant action in Aberdeen.

1918 Representation of the People Act

The Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification.  The same Act gave the vote to all men over the age of 21.

In thanking Steve Nicoll for his fascinating talk Gladys made reference to the Service Project for Inner wheel – STRONG WOMEN, STRONGER WORLD – where Inner Wheel clubs, districts and countries take part in a wide range of work for charities and causes across the world with the aim of helping women and young girls live better lives.

The club meet again on Tuesday 10th May for their AGM.

Kathleen Murray

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