Papers of Rosa May Billinghurst

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of two folders, one oversize album and 2 posters. It comprises maps and publicity materials (1908-1917); in memoriam items regarding Emily Davison (1913); press cuttings (1908, 1928); correspondence (1912-1913); notes for speech at trials (1912-1913) autobiographical manuscript account of prison hunger strike and force feeding (1913); autograph album (1909-1918); collection of papers, letters and newspapers (1890-1938).

Administrative / Biographical History

See the biography for Billinghurst; Rosa May (1875-1953); suffragette

Rosa May Billinghurst (1875-1953) was born in Lewisham in 1875. As a child she suffered total paralysis that left her disabled throughout her adult life. However, this did not prevent her becoming active in social work in a Greenwich workhouse, teaching in a Sunday school and joining the Band of Hope. She was also politically active in the Women's Liberal Association before becoming a member of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1907. She took part in the WSPU's march to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908 and also helped run the group's action in the Haggerston by-election the following month. Two years later, she founded and was the first secretary of the Greenwich branch of the WSPU and that same year she took part in the 'Black Friday' demonstrations where she was thrown out of her adapted tricycle and arrested. She was arrested several more times in the next few years culminating in a sentence of eight months for damage to letterboxes ('pillar box arson') and imprisoned in Holloway Prison. She went on hunger strike and was force-fed with other suffragettes. The experience led her to be released two weeks later on grounds of ill health. She was able to speak at a public meeting in West Hampstead in Mar 1913 and took part in the funeral procession of Emily Wilding Davison two months later. She supported Christabel Pankhurst's campaign to be elected in Smethwick in 1918 and the friendship with the Pankhursts seems to have survived into the 1920s. However, she later joined the Women's Freedom League and became part of the Suffragette Fellowship. She lived for some time with her brother Henry Billinghurst, an artist, and spent the last years of her life in Weybridge, Surrey. She died on the 4 Sep 1953.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The 1970-1971 Fawcett Library annual report notes that Miss MM Nicholson gave [3 folders of] material to The Library related to Miss Billinghurst including documents and photographs. This acquisition can now be found as 7RMB/B and 9/29 At some point the correspondence was removed from 7RMB and placed in the Autograph letter collection as 9/29.

The Billinghurst album (Accession 1986/03) was deposited on loan with the Library in Apr 1986 by Mr Geoffrey Bourne; a teaching colleague gave it to him and he had no knowledge of its previous history. The album was purchased by the Friends of The Fawcett Library and gifted to the Library on 25 Oct 1996. This can now be found as 7RMB/A.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Related Material

Related material at The Women's Library includes letters of Rosa May Billinghurst and Dr Alice Ker in the Autograph Collection (9/29) and suffrage photographs in the Museum Collection donated by Ruth Yates. The Women's Library holds the records of a number of militant, Women's Social & Political Union members, including Emily Wilding Davison (7EWD) and Louisa Garrett Anderson (7LGA). The records of the Women's Social & Political Union are held at The Museum of London. The Women's Library Printed Collections also holds a number of publications by the Women's Social & Political Union.