Autograph Letter Collection: Militant Suffragettes

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/20
  • Former Reference
      GB 106 M/BEW
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 A box (1 volume)

Scope and Content

The collection contains letters to, from and about women who were in the past traditionally perceived to be 'militant suffragettes' and who were involved in direct action as well as other areas of activity. Including Emmeline Pankhurst (18 letters, 1890-1927), Christabel Pankhurst (17 letters, 1904-1956), Adela Pankhurst (1 letter, 1908), Sylvia Pankhurst (19 letters, 1915-1956), Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (34 letters, 1907-1936), correspondence to, from and related to Myra Sadd-Brown and her imprisonment, including press cuttings, draft letters and propaganda sheet (33 letters, 1911-1927), Charlotte Despard (29 letters, 1907-1928), Teresa Billington Greig (1 letter, 1910), Nina Boyle (1 letter, 1913), MVC Brackenbury(1 letter, 1908), Flora Drummmond (1 letter, 1909), Katherine Gatty (6 letters from prison, 1912), Mary Gawthorpe (2 letters, 1908), Annie Kenney (1 letter, 1907), Jessie Kenney (1 letter, 1961), Nellie Kenney (1 letter, 1908), Eunice Murray (1 summons, 1913), Alison Neilans (3 letters, 1909) and Mary Philips (1 letter, 1968).

Administrative / Biographical History

During the campaigns for women's franchise which had been conducted during the later nineteenth century, the focus of the groups taking part had been on influencing members of parliament and their parties so that reform could be introduced from within Parliament. However, a series of bills to introduce a vote for women had been defeated as members of the Liberal Party, to which so many suffragists were attached, proved hostile to their cause. Additionally, by the turn of the century the media's interest had been diverted to the Boer War, meaning that publicity for the suffrage movement was rare. In this situation, a new organisation was established in 1903. Emmeline Pankhurst had been a supporter of women's suffrage for many years, but resigned from the Manchester branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in this year and formed the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) with her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Initially, the group's purpose was to recruit more working class women to the movement, but by 1905, when the new Liberal government began to withdraw active support for women's suffrage, they began to use different 'militant' methods to gain publicity that were soon adopted as a new campaign strategy and would be reused by others both in and outside of their own group. At a meeting on 13 Oct 1905, at which the government minister Sir Edward Grey spoke, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney disrupted the event by shouting, then refused to leave before becoming involved in a struggle. This resulted in their arrest on the charge of assault, they were fined five shillings each, and were sent to prison for refusing to pay. Their methods were in direct contrast to the constitutional methods of other groups such as the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and attracted a number of early adherents such as Charlotte Despard and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. During 1906, the WSPU also began to increase the level of violence used, breaking the windows of government buildings and attacking Asquith's house with stones on the 30 Jun. However, not all agreed with the escalation of militancy or the Pankhurst style of leadership. A number of members left the group in 1907 with Charlotte Despard, Edith How Martyn, Teresa Billington-Greig, Octavia Lewin, and Caroline Hodgeson, to form another militant, but this time non-violent, organisation: the Women's Freedom League, which engaged in acts of civil disobedience. The impact of WSPU arrests increased when, in Jul 1909, hunger strikes began. The prison authorities feared public opinion would turn against them but were unwilling to release the increasing number of suffragettes who adopted this tactic. Consequently, women on hunger strike were force-fed. The violence escalated even further in 1913 when abortive arson attacks on the homes of two anti-suffrage MPs took place, followed by the burning of a series of other buildings. Some members of the WSPU disagreed with this arson campaign and, like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence in 1912, were expelled or themselves left the group. However, the number of hunger-striking women rose even further and the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act, known as the 'Cat and Mouse Act', by which ill suffragettes were released to be re-arrested on their recovery and sent back to prison to complete their sentence. However, the WSPU's situation changed on 4 Aug 1914 when the First World War broke out. Suffrage organisations across the spectrum of opinion suspended their political activities and transferred their efforts to war work, while the WSPU began negotiating with the government to end their militant activity and begin war work in return for the release of current suffragette prisoners. This occurred and the group began to organise demonstrations in support of the war and encouraging women to replace men in the workplace, bringing the militant stage of the campaign for the vote to an end.

Myra Eleanor Sadd Brown (1872-1938) was born in Maldon, Essex on 3 Oct 1872. Her parents were John Granger Sadd and Mary Ann Price and she was the tenth of eleven children. The family operated a firm of timber merchants and processors in the hometown of Maldon. Myra Sadd received a private education at a school in Colchester. She met Ernest Brown through her interest in cycling; they were married in 1896. The couple moved to Finsbury Park in London, and then to Hampstead. Myra and Ernest had three daughters and one son. Due to the commercial success of her husband’s business Myra was provided with independent means. Myra was raised within a Congregationalist environment; later becoming a Christian Scientist. She was interested in artistic pursuits and avidly enjoyed Shaw's plays. Myra is particularly renowned for being a feminist. It is believed that prior to her marriage she purchased a small property giving her, as a ratepayer, the right to vote. In Hackney, Myra served as a Poor Law Guardian. Furthermore, she was a committed supporter of the women's suffrage movement; being a member of the Women's Social & Political Union. In 1912, Myra was arrested and imprisoned; she went on hunger strike and endured forcible feeding. Myra wrote a great deal on behalf of the suffrage cause; the 'Christian Commonwealth' being one such periodical which published her letters. Later, she became associated with Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes, inviting East London women, travelling by bus, to visit her home near Maldon. Following WWI, Myra became an active member of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (later known as the International Alliance of Women). She travelled widely throughout Europe attending conferences. This activity allowed her to indulge her interest in other cultures and countries, as did her periods of wintering in Italy and Egypt with her husband Ernest. Although Myra herself did not speak a foreign language, she insisted that her children should study French and German. The emerging Commonwealth became another area of interest to Myra. From 1923 she had been involved in meetings, which culminated in the formation of the British Commonwealth League (later the Commonwealth Countries League) in 1925. It was a feminist organisation devoted to the upholding of women's rights in the Commonwealth of which Myra became its Treasurer. In 1931 Ernest died of rheumatic heart disease. In 1937 Myra visited South-East Asia where she was present for the birth of her second grandchild. She then extended the tour to visit Angkor Wat and the Malaysian islands. Myra continued her journey to Hong Kong, planning to return via the Trans-Siberian railway. However, she suffered a stroke and died in Hong Kong on 13 Apr 1938. The British Commonwealth League established the Sadd Brown Library of material on women in the Commonwealth as a memorial to her. It was placed in the Women's Service Library, now The Women’s Library. Myra’s interest in the Commonwealth Countries League, and the International Alliance of Women, has been continued first by her daughter Myra Stedman, and subsequently by Lady Diana Dollery, her granddaughter, both of whom have been closely involved in the development of the Sadd Brown Library.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954) was the daughter of West Country businessman Henry Pethick. In 1891 she left her home in Weston-super-Mare to become a volunteer with the Sisterhood of the West London Mission and she subsequently went on, with Mary Neal, to undertake a variety of philanthropic activities with working girls in London. In 1901 she married the newspaper publisher Frederick Lawrence. Emmeline became involved with the activities of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, acting as treasurer, and was arrested and imprisoned for the cause. In Oct 1907 the Pethick-Lawrences founded the suffrage paper Votes for Women to which Emmeline was a regular contributor. In 1912, following a rift with the Pankhursts, the Pethick-Lawrences left the WSPU, although they retained control of Votes for Women (which was henceforward published under the auspices of the Votes for Women Fellowship) and Emmeline continued her suffragist activities. Following the outbreak of the First World War Emmeline became involved in peace campaigning, a cause to which she devoted the rest of her campaigning career. In the inter-war period she was also active in the Women’s Freedom League, the Open Door Council and the Six Point Group. She died in 1954.

Constance Lytton (1869-1923) was born in 1869, the daughter of Robert, the first Earl of Lytton and Viceroy of India, and Edith Villiers. She was educated at home, in India and then in Europe where the family returned in 1880. In the 1890s Constance Lytton's attachment to a young man of a lower social class was ended by her mother while her sister Elizabeth married Gerald Balfour. Balfour and his sisters, Frances and Emily, were deeply involved in the women's suffrage movement, and influenced their new sister-in-law, but it was not until 1909 after Lytton had made contact with Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Annie Kenney that she joined a suffrage group: the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU). The following year, in 1910, Lytton took part in a demonstration at the House of Commons where she was arrested. Her imprisonment was made easier, however, when her identity and her poor health were discovered and she was sent to spend her sentence in the prison infirmary. Consequently, at later demonstrations she took a false name and was arrested as Jane Warton, a London seamstress. She was sentenced to fourteen days, went on hunger strike, and was force fed eight times until her identity was again uncovered and she was immediately released. In 1910 she was appointed a paid WSPU organiser and in 1911 she was arrested once again for breaking a post office window after the failure of the Conciliation Bill, but the trial was delayed when she suffered a heart attack in custody. She was released when the poor state of her health became clear and her fine was paid anonymously. Soon afterward Lytton suffered a stroke which left her partly paralysed. Her activities from now on were concentrated on writing propaganda for the WSPU. She published a series of pamphlets and articles and a book on her experiences and those of fellow inmates with the title, 'Prisons and Prisoners'. After the cessation of militant activity at the outbreak of the First World War, Lytton began to work with Marie Stopes in the campaign to establish birth-control clinics in Britain but spent much of her time as an invalid cared for by her family. She died in 1923.

Christabel Harriette Pankhurst (1880-1958) was the eldest child of Richard Marsden Pankhurst and Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden). She was educated at home and then at Southport and Manchester High Schools for Girls, before being sent to finishing school abroad. Her father's death in 1898 brought her back to England early. Christabel had always been exposed to the idea of women's suffrage, her father having been a supporter of the cause, and very shortly after her return she became involved in suffrage activities, addressing meetings and writing pamphlets and articles. She became an active member of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage, and first came to general public notice in Feb 1904, when she interrupted a Liberal meeting in Manchester at which Winston Churchill was guest speaker. The following year she and Annie Kenney used the same tactic at another Liberal meeting, and having created a considerable disturbance, succeeded in getting themselves arrested. Their refusal to pay a fine ensured maximum media attention and widespread publicity for their sentence of 7 days' in prison. During the general election of 1906 Christabel organised the Women's Social and Political Union's (WSPU) campaign from Manchester, where she remained in order to complete her law studies, graduating in Jul 1906 with a first class degree in law. After graduation she moved to London to become the WSPU's chief organiser. She was arrested for a second time in Feb 1907 for creating a disturbance, for which she served 14 days in Holloway Prison, and again in Oct 1908, when with her mother and Flora Drummond she received a custodial sentence of 10 weeks for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. On each occasion, Christabel used her appearance in court to gain maximum publicity for the women's cause, conducting her own defence. After release from Holloway she continued the WSPU's campaign of anti-government tactics, writing weekly articles for 'Votes for Women', and encouraging the WSPU members to 'militancy' without defining what that should be. After the mass window-smashing episodes of early Mar 1912 a warrant was issued for the arrest of the Pankhursts, but Christabel managed to escape to Paris, where she remained until after the outbreak of war in 1914, continuing to dictate WSPU strategy at a distance. She made at least one trip to London from Paris, in disguise, in order to dismiss fellow suffragettes Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence from the WSPU. The next two years saw many formerly loyal WSPU supporters leave the organisation in protest at her autocratic methods and the more dramatic stunts of the militants. The WSPU suspended its suffrage campaign in Sep 1914 in order to concentrate on its patriotic duty and contribute to the war effort, but in 1917 Christabel relaunched the organisation as the Women's Party. She stood in the general election of Dec 1918 as the Women's Party candidate for Smethwick, losing narrowly. After this she left politics and spent most of the rest of her life in America. In 1936 she was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her work for women's suffrage.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was a social campaigner and suffragist leader. She was the eldest girl in a family of ten children born to middle class parents with a keen interest in radical politics. Her parents were both supporters of the women's suffrage movement, and encouraged their daughter's involvement in social issues; she attended her first suffrage meeting when she was only 14. After finishing school Emmeline worked for the suffrage movement in Manchester, where she met Dr Richard Marsden Pankhurst (1858-1928), a prominent local lawyer who had campaigned for a number of radical issues including the Married Women's Property Act, abolition of the House of Lords, and women's suffrage. Their marriage in 1879 was followed by the birth of their children Christabel, Sylvia, Francis and Adela. Despite having a young family Emmeline continued her suffrage work, and joined the Executive Committee of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1880. Richard Pankhurst had ambitions to enter Parliament, but after he had twice failed to get elected the family moved to London. Frank died from diphtheria in 1888 and a fifth child (Henry) was born the following year. Emmeline became a founder member of the Women's Franchise League and joined the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. In 1893 the Pankhursts returned to Manchester, where Emmeline was elected Independent Labour Party (ILP) candidate for the Board of Guardians of a local workhouse. The unexpected death of her husband in 1898 left her in financial difficulties, so she took the salaried post of Registrar of Births and Deaths. Her experience as Registrar and on the Board of Guardians gave her a deep understanding of the plight of working class women, particularly single mothers, and she became a confident public speaker on women's issues. In 1903, dissatisfied with the progress being made by the cautious National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), she formed the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU), its initial aim being to get the ILP to introduce a Bill for women's suffrage. In 1905 however the arrest of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney for disrupting a political meeting produced a huge amount of publicity for the cause, and the WSPU campaign became increasingly visible. Mrs Pankhurst was arrested twice in 1908 and imprisoned. She went on a fund-raising tour of North America in Oct 1909, and in Jan shortly after her return was devastated by the death of her son Harry. Emmeline threw herself and her organisation into opposing the Liberals in the general elections of 1910 and 1911, calling a halt to militant action, but when the newly elected Government failed to support women's suffrage wholeheartedly, the militant campaign resumed at the beginning of 1912. After the window-smashing events of Mar 1912 Emmeline was charged with conspiring to incite the militants, and was sent to Holloway, where she began a hunger strike in protest at the lack of political status for suffragette prisoners. The medical staff were unwilling to try forcible feeding in her case, and she was released on medical grounds. The WSPU's actions became more and more flamboyant, particularly after Asquith abandoned any attempt at suffrage reform in early 1913. Emmeline was arrested for inciting arson in Feb 1913, for which she received 3 years penal servitude. She spent the next 18 months hunger-striking, being released on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act, and being rearrested, with the result that by Jun 1914 she had served only about 16 days of the sentence. While out of prison she managed to address meetings, join her daughter Christabel in Paris, and go on a fund-raising tour to America. On the outbreak of war Emmeline announced the end of the militant campaign, and channelled her energies into patriotic causes. She interested herself in 'war babies', adopted four girls herself, and founded a home for orphans with residual WSPU funds. After the war she went again to North America to lecture, and settled in Toronto. In 1924 her health began to fail and she left Canada, eventually returning to Europe. She died on 14 Jun 1928, just before the second Representation of the People Act, giving all women over 21 the vote, became law.

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) was the second daughter of Richard Marsden Pankhurst (1835-1898) and Emmeline Pankhurst née Goulden (1858-1928). She was educated at Southport High School for Girls and Manchester High School for Girls and trained as an artist at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. Sylvia, along with the rest of her family, was socially and politically active. Initially she became involved in the Independent Labour Party and in the militant activities of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU), which had been founded by her mother and her sister, Christabel. In 1912/1913 she founded the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (from 1916 The Workers Suffrage Federation and from 1918 the Workers Socialist Federation) and also became increasingly involved with social welfare work in the East End of London. As a pacifist, during the First World War Sylvia became a member of the Executive Committee of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. During and after the War she became progressively more occupied with revolutionary left-wing activities, briefly joined the Communist Party, and in 1921 formed the Communist Workers Party. Throughout this period she participated in international socialist networks and her political writings were published widely, including in leading foreign socialist journals. In 1924 she left the East End and moved to Woodford Green. In the inter-war period she also became involved in assisting Italian and Jewish refugees and in supporting the republican cause in Spain. In the 1930s Sylvia continued to write extensively and also became involved in anti-fascist campaigns, organising the Women’s International Matteotti Committee. In the 1930s she also became interested in Ethiopia and took up the cause of Haile Selassie, founding the New Times and Ethiopia News in 1936. In 1939 she supported the Second World War on anti-fascist grounds. In 1956 Sylvia moved to Addis Ababa and continued to write and publish. She died in Sep 1960.

The Women's Freedom League (WFL) (1907-1961) was formed in Nov 1907 by dissenting members of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU). The cause was the WSPU's lack of constitutional democracy, an issue that came to a head on the 10 Sep 1907. Mrs Pankhurst announced the cancellation of the annual conference due on the 12 Oct 1907 and the future governance of the party by a central committee appointed by herself, effectively overturning its original constitution. Several members, including Charlotte Despard, Edith How Martyn, Teresa Billington-Greig, Octavia Lewin, Anna Munro, Alice Schofield and Caroline Hodgeson, broke away and continued with the conference. Here, the new constitution was written which encoded a system of party democracy. Its first committee consisted of Despard as president and honorary treasurer, Billington-Greig as honorary organising secretary, honorary secretary Mrs How Martyn, and Mrs Coates Hanson, Miss Hodgeson, Irene Miller, Miss Fitzherbert, Mrs Drysdale, Miss Abadam, Mrs Winton-Evans, Mrs Dick, Mrs Cobden Sanderson, Mrs Bell, Mrs Holmes and Miss Mansell as members. The following month, They renamed themselves the WFL, having used the title of the WSPU until that time: this had prompted Mrs Pankhurst to add `National' to the name of her own organisation for this brief spell. They classed themselves as a militant organisation, but refused to attack persons or property other than ballot papers, unlike the WSPU. Their actions included protests in and around the House of Commons and other acts of passive civil disobedience. Their activities in 1908 included attempts to present petitions to the king and have deputations received by cabinet ministers while further protests were held in the House of Commons such as Muriel Matters, Violet Tillard and Helen Fox chaining themselves to the grille in the Ladies gallery. That same year, they were the only militant group to be invited by the National Union of Women's suffrage Societies to take part in the Hyde Park procession on 13 Jun 1908. Despard was the first woman to refuse to pay taxes as a protest, an action which quickly inspired others to form the Women's Tax Resistance League. These activities were expanded upon in Apr 1911 when women householders either spoilt or failed to complete their census forms. This escalation of action did not prevent them joining a Conciliation Bill committee with other suffrage groups in 1910 in response to Prime Minister Asquith's offer on a free vote on extensions to the franchise. A truce was called with the government until the failure of such a bill for the third time, but by 1912 the organisation had already announced that it would support Labour Party candidates against any of the government's Liberal candidates at elections. This practice of working with other groups was one which the WFL supported, having ongoing links with the International Women's Franchise Club, the International Women Suffrage Alliance and the Suffrage Atelier. During the early part of the First World War, like most of the other suffrage organisations, the League suspended its practical militant political action and began voluntary work, though not the `war work' of the type advocated by other suffrage groups. The group formed a number of women's police services and a Woman Suffrage National Aid Corps that provided some help to women in financial difficulties and limited day care for children. Furthermore, in 1915, the WFL founded a National Service Organisation to place women in jobs. However, the following year, political activity began again when they joined the WSPU in a picket of the Electoral Reform Conference. When women were granted suffrage after the war, they continued their activities with a change of emphasis. The organisation now called for equality of suffrage between the sexes, women as commissioners of prisons, the opening of all professions to women, equal pay, right of a woman to retain her own nationality on marriage, equal moral standards and representation of female peers in the House of Lords and they continued with this programme of social equality until the dissolution of the group in 1961.

Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) (1903-c.1919) was the prime mover of suffrage militancy. In Oct 1903 the WSPU was founded in Manchester at Emmeline Pankhurst's home in Nelson Street. Members include: Emmeline, Adela and Christabel Pankhrst, Teresa Billington-Greig, Annie Kenney and Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy. Several had been members of the NUWSS and had links with the Independent Labour Party, but were frustrated with progress, reflected in the WSPU motto 'Deeds, not Words'. An initial aim of WSPU was to recruit more working class women into the struggle for the vote. In late 1905 the WSPU began militant action with the consequent imprisonment of their members. The first incident was on 13 Oct 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney attended a meeting in London where they heckled the speaker Sir Edward Grey, a minister in the British government. Pankhurst and Kenney were arrested, charged with assault upon a police officer and fined five shillings each. They refused to pay the fine and were sent to prison. In 1906 the WSPU moved to London and continued militant action - with the 'Daily Mail' calling the activists 'suffragettes' an unfavourable term adopted by the group. Between 1906-1908 there were several constitutional disagreements with the Women's Freedom League being founded in Nov 1907 by the 'Charlotte Despard faction'. From 1908 the WSPU tactics of disturbing meetings developed to breaking the windows of government buildings. This increased the number of women imprisoned. In Jul 1909 Marion Dunlop was the first imprisoned suffragette to go on hunger strike, many suffragettes followed her example and force-feeding was introduced. Between 1910-1911 the Conciliation Bills were presented to Parliament and militant activity ceased, but when Parliament sidelined these Bills the WSPU re-introduced their active protests.

Between 1912-1914 there was an escalation of WSPU violence - damage to property and arson and bombing attacks became common tactics. Targets included government and public buildings, politicians' homes, cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses. Some members of the WSPU such as the Pethick-Lawrences, disagreed with this arson campaign and were expelled. Other members showed their disapproval by leaving the WSPU. The Pethick-Lawrences took with them the journal 'Votes for Women', hence the new journal of the WSPU the 'Suffragette' launched in Oct 1912. In 1913 in response to the escalation of violence, imprisonment and hunger strikes the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act (popularly known as the 'Cat and Mouse Act'). Suffragettes who went on hunger strike were released from prison as soon as they became ill and when recovered they were re-imprisoned.

Discord within the WSPU continued - In Jan 1914 Sylvia Pankhurst's 'East London Federation of the WSPU' was expelled from the WSPU and became an independent suffrage organisation. On 4 Aug 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. In return for the release of all suffragettes from prison the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities. The WSPU organised a major rally attended by 30,000 people in London to emphasise the change of direction. In Oct 1915, The WSPU changed its newspaper's name from 'The Suffragette' to 'Britannia'. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: 'For King, For Country, for Freedom'. the paper was 'conservative' in tone and attacked campaigners, politicians, military leaders and pacifists for not furthering the war effort. Not all members supported the WSPU war policy and several independent groups were set up as members left the WSPU. In 1917 the WSPU became known as the 'Women's Party and in Dec 1918 fielded candidates at the general election (including Christabel Pankhurst). However they were not successful and the organisation does not appear to have survived beyond 1919.

The Tax Resistance League (1909-1918) was established in 1909 with the aim of organising female resistance to taxation levied without any correspondent representation through voting rights. The organisation carried on a form of protest that dated back to 1870 when the Priestman sisters refused to pay income tax. The foundation occurred at a meeting held by Louisa Garrett Anderson that was attended by supporters of the Women's Freedom League including Cicely Hamilton and Dr Kate Aslam. By Jul 1910 the League had 104 members. Those who followed its principles, and whose actions extended to refusing to pay for certain types of licences, Inhabited House Duty, dog licenses, servants licences, etc were liable to have goods seized or be put in prison. House clearances by bailiffs were used as an opportunity to hold open-air suffrage meetings and the group was also involved in resistance to the census in 1911. The League held meetings in the premises of both the National Union for Women's Suffrage Societies and the Women's Social & Political Union, but overtures to many local organisations were refused due to opposition to the illegality of their actions. It held conferences in 1911 and 1912 and became part of the Federated Council of Women's Suffrage in 1912. At the outbreak of the First World War, an urgency committee ordered that the League's activities be suspended and a subsequent meeting of members confirmed this resolution, though the resolution was only passed by one vote. No more meetings were held until 1916 when they took part in the Consultative Committee of Constitutional Women's Suffrage Societies established by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in response to the government proposed changes to the national electoral register at the end of the war. A final meeting was held in 1918 after the vote was granted to women in order to officially wind up the organisation and dispose of its assets.


Arranged in chronological order.

Access Information

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

Other Finding Aids

Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.

The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.

Related Material

All collections within The Women's Library Strand 2 relate to women’s suffrage. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/01 Women's Suffrage, 9/02 General Women’s Movement, 9/03 Emancipation of Women, 9/09 Suffrage and Women in Industry. The Women's Library also holds papers of the Women's Freedom League (2WFL), the Women's Tax Resistance League (2WTR), Charlotte Despard (7CFD), Edith How-Martyn (7EHM), Mrs Billington-Greig (7TBG), Vida Goldstein (7VDG), Millicent Garrett Fawcett (7MGF) and Jessie Kenney (7JKE). The papers of other members of the Women's Social and Political Union can also be found at the Women's Library: these include Emily Wilding Davison (7EWD), Kitty Marion (7KMA), Rita May Billinghurst (7RMB), Elsie Duval (7HFD) and Annie Lacon (7LAC). The Museum of London holds the minutes (1906-7) for the Canning Town branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (Ref. 50.82/1183) and the papers of the Suffragette Fellowship. Christabel Pankhurst's correspondence with FW Pethick-Lawrence (1881-1958) is held at Cambridge University's Trinity College Library while that with Arthur James Balfour (1907-11) is in the British Library, Manuscript Collections (refer. ADD MSS 49793 Passim). Papers and letters of Emmeline Pankhurst (1885-1902) are held at the International Institute of Social History (as are the papers of her daughter Estelle Sylvia) while her correspondence with the Independent Labour Party (1898-1912) are in the London University's British Library of Political and Economic Science (ref. BLPES/ILP/Section 4 passim); her letters to Adelaide Johnson are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Manchester University's John Rylands Library holds a particularly rich collection of Pankhurst papers; letters from Christabel (13) and Emmeline (13) to CP Scott (1909-11) are held in the Guardian archives. Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst's correspondence with William Gillies (1935-37) is held by Manchester University's Labour History Archive and Study Centre (ref. WG/ITA 170-81, 239-41, 257, 409-10). Correspondence and papers of Frederick William Pethick-Lawrence can be found in Cambridge University: Trinity College Library (ref. Pethick-Lawrence MSS). His letters to the Independent Labour Party (1906-28) are in London University's British Library of Political and Economic Science (ref. BLPES/ILP/Section 4 passim) and those to Sylvia Pankhurst (c1929-49) are in the International Institute of Social History (ref. 11). His correspondence with Marie Stopes (ref. Add MS 58555) and with the Society of Authors (ref. Add MS 56777) are both in the British Library, Manuscript Collections. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence's correspondence with her husband is held with her husband's papers at Cambridge University Trinity College Library and her letters to Sylvia Pankhurst (c1929-49) are in the International Institute of Social History (ref. 11). Papers of Charlotte Despard (1913-35) are also held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (ref. D2479).