Papers of Mary Leigh Browne

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of legal papers, correspondence, diaries, press cuttings and photographs about her suffragette activities as well as her daily life. Much of the material within this collection dates between 1950-1960 and reflects her pride in her actions as a member of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) and her continued interest in politics.

As at May 2010 the press cuttings awaited sorting and preservation work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Leigh [née Brown] (1885-fl.1978) was born in Manchester in 1885 to a working class family. She had some experience of sweated labour before becoming a teacher, a position that she upheld until her marriage to Mr Leigh. She worked as an organiser for the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in Lancashire from 1907 and was one of the members of the organisation to take part in violent protest. With Edith New she smashed windows at Downing Street as a form of protest against the treatment of protestors and was subsequently one of the first to be force-fed in prison in 1909. Her graphic account of the ordeal she was subjected to was published whilst she was still in Birmingham Gaol. In Sep 1909 she was also arrested for throwing slates onto the roof of the Bingley Hall where Asquith was addressing a meeting. In the wake of the imprisonment that followed one such episode, she tried, unsuccessfully, to sue both Holloway Prison and the Home Secretary for assault. In 1910 she continued her work at by-elections in Wales and was hurt during the events of 'Black Friday' when a protest march was broken up by police. By the end of 1912 she had been imprisoned several times. However, in Jul 1912 she was arrested in Dublin for arson at the Theatre Royal and throwing a hatchet into Lord Asquith's carriage that resulted in the injuring of John Redmond M.P. During the trial in Aug 1912, she conducted her own defence and the speech she made to the judge was reported as the focal point of the proceedings. Still she was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison, alongside Gladys Evans and Jennie Baines. She was released after six weeks having gone on hunger strike once more. She was brought before a magistrate in Feb 1913 for breaking the terms of her licence but no charges were brought on this occasion. Subsequently, Leigh became involved with the East London Federation of the WSPU under Sylvia Pankhurst and continued with it after its official break with the main group in Feb 1914 and through the First World War when it adopted an anti-war stance. She did, however, attempt to take part in war work but was rejected until she adopted her maiden name, whereupon she trained as an ambulance driver with the RAC. Mary Leigh was also a drum major in the Women's Social & Political Union drum and fife band, which often accompanied processions and demonstrations. In the post-war period she lived and worked in Sudbury-Upon-Thames before moving to Ealing in London, remaining a member of the Labour party and committed socialist who attended the first Aldermaston rally against nuclear arms. In addition to this every year, until her death, some time after 1978, she made the pilgrimage to Morpeth, Northumberland, to tend the grave of her friend and comrade, Emily Wilding Davison.

Arrangement

No original order - all the material was loose and without arrangement. Imposed order by type and subject of material.

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

Deposited in the 1970/1971

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library catalogue

Appraisal Information

According to the Women's Library Annual Report of 1970-1971 'the Library agreed to accept the papers and belongings of the suffragette, Mary Leigh with the right to dispose of them as appropriate', consequently due to the muddled nature of the collection sympathetic sorting has been carried out during the cataloguing process and about a box of material of duplicates and material that does not have a direct reference to the life of Mary Leigh Browne has been dealt with accordingly. Further appraisal of the newspaper cuttings and manuscript notes may need to be done once further investigation of their significance has been established.