The fight for the vote for women in Wales

Probably the first public meeting in Wales to discuss women’s suffrage was held in June 1870 by Rose Crawshay at her home. Following this she was accused by local papers for leading Wales’ women astray and disturbing the peace.

The first branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in Wales was formed in 1907. It was formed during a meeting at Llandudno where Mrs Walton-Evans became the president of the branch. Other Welsh branches soon formed in Cardiff, Rhyl, Conwy and Bangor.

The Woman’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was more militant and only had 5 branches in Wales in 1913 whilst the NUWSS had 26. In the years before the war the NUWSS organised educational and propaganda campaigns in North Wales.

Despite claiming to be pro-women’s suffrage, David Lloyd George was believed to be anti-suffragist secretly and was often a target of suffragette activity.

1912 saw an increase in militant action in Wales. The WSPU disrupted a speech in Caernarfon, the protesters, male and female, were treated harshly with their hair being ripped out, clothes torn and being beaten by sticks and umbrellas. Lloyd George was also heckled by suffragettes whilst speaking at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham the same year. One of the most notorious events in Welsh Suffrage history also happened that year took place in Lloyd George’s home town, Llanystumdwy. He was heckled whilst he was there to open the village hall. The hecklers were brutally assaulted be the crowd with one almost thrown of a bridge on to the rocks.

Extra insurance was taken out for the Abergavenny Eisteddfod in 1913 and guards were posted following fears that the WSPU would attempt to burn down the pavilion. Lloyd George continued to be at the receiving end of suffragette activism in 1913 with the WSPU firebombing a house that was being built for him. Bombs were also set off at Cardiff and Abergavenny and telegraph wires were cut at Llantarnam. One of Wales’ most prominent suffragettes, Margaret Haig Thomas, was arrested in 1913 after being convicted of setting fire to a post box in Newport. She was released from prison after she went on a hunger strike.

Many Welsh women went on a Suffrage Pilgrimage to London in the summer of 1913. 28 members from the Welsh NUWSS branches left from Bangor on the second of July and a further branch left Cardiff on the 7th of July.

Women from several locations in South Wales gathered in Cardiff near the City Hall and the Law Courts which was a reflection of their place in public life. Several also wore gowns to show that they were graduates or students as well as others wearing nursing uniforms to show that what they had achieved in their own lives should be reflected in their place in public life. They then marched to Newport, holding meetings along the way before joining women coming from Bristol, Devon and Cornwall.

The pilgrims started earlier from North Wales due to the increased distance from London, women gathered in Bangor for the big send-off. A detailed account of this event is documented and are believed to be the words of Charlotte Price White, one of the leading figures in the movement in Bangor and had been a student at the training college in Bangor. She talked about how their meetings along the North Wales coast attracted local supporters to their marches, and that whilst speaking she forgot about her self-conscious and only remembered that there was a greater message of sharing a higher purpose and freedom to deliver.

The women from North Wales joined women from Carlisle and Liverpool in Stafford and then went on to march together. They and the South Wales marchers often had their meetings disrupted by authorities despite being peaceful. After reaching London a demonstration took place in Hyde Park where they were joined by others who supported the movement. It is estimated that 50,000 people were present, including many men.

A summer school was set up by the NUWSS in the Conwy Valley which benefitted their members with training in public speaking training and working class involvement increased with a branch being set up in Ton Pentre in the Rhondda in 1914 which was ran by Elizabeth Andrews.

Winning the vote

Despite the activities by the suffrage movements votes for women still failed to be a priority for the government before the war. But it was impossible to deny women the vote after their contribution to the war effort - in 1918 the workforce of Newport Shell Factory was 83% women.

The Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918. To console the opponents of women’s votes, only women over 30 that were householders or married to householders were allowed to vote, which meant that men remained the majority of the electorate. In Wales the electorate rose from 430,000 to 1,172,000.

Welsh Suffragists

Margaret Mackworth is probably the most well-known Welsh suffragette, the daughter of Sybil Thomas who were well connected. Millicent Mackenzie and Amy Dillwyn were also important Welsh activists for the cause. Alice Abadam, a renowned speaker and activist, was the daughter of the High Sherriff of Carmarthenshire. She later became the chairperson of the Federated Council of Suffrage Movements. Rachel Barrett, a science teacher from south Wales, rose to prominence within the WSPU and was chosen by Annie Kenney to assist in running the WSPU national campaign from 1912. She was also assistant editor of The Suffragette.

Trade unionists Vernon Hartshorn and George Barker were vocal supporters of the suffrage movement, while James Grant a socialist propagandist and keen seller of The Suffragette was imprisoned for five days after being arrested for obstruction while lecturing in Treorchy Square. Mary Keating Hill, a forty-year old wife of a Cardiff insurance manager, spent three weeks in jail for resisting the police and disorderly conduct. She had been given a similar conviction days prior but her brother paid the fine; but she was determined to be imprisoned.

 

Women in Caernarfon marching for their right to vote

Sources: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/welsh-women-who-took-long-12577954 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_Wales