Dora Montefiore

From a Victorian to a Modern

Holloway Prison

THE next episode in this eventful year of unavoidable publicity in the women’s cause was the occasion in October, 1906, of our meeting as militant suffragists in the Lobby of the Houses of Parliament with the object of asking the Prime Minister to receive a deputation. It was agreed that if this request was refused several of us should get up on seats and make speeches for “Votes for Women.” Our request was refused, and we began to carry out our subsequent programme. Naturally after the first horror-struck moments of surprise at women daring to voice their wrongs in the very sanctuary of male exclusiveness, the uniformed guardians of the shrine rushed forward to cleanse the sacred spot from such pollution. The women speakers were dragged from their extemporised rostrums and were pushed down the galleries leading from the Lobby towards the Abbey entrance, and with little consideration were spurned down the steps on to the pavement. I was one of those thus ejected. My arm was twisted up against my back by a very strong-muscled policeman, and when I was released at the bottom of the steps of Westminster Hall, and had recovered from the pain of the operation, I turned round and watched the unwilling exit of crowds of other women. At a certain moment in the proceedings I saw Mrs. Despard standing at the top of the steps with a policeman just behind her, and fearing that a woman of her age might be injured by the rough-and-tumble methods which the police, under orders, were executing, I called out to some of the Members and onlookers who were mixed with us women at the foot of the stairs: “Can you men stand by and see a venerable woman handled in the way in which we have just been handled?” I was not allowed to say more, for Inspector Jarvis (who, however. I cannot fail to recall was on many occasions an excellent friend of mine, and who I know was in many respects in sympathy with much of our militant action), remarked to two constables standing near: “Take Mrs. Montefiore in; she is one of the ringleaders.” This “taking me in” meant marching me between two stalwart policemen to Cannon Row police station, where I was placed in a fairly large room and was soon joined by groups of excited and dishevelled militants. This was the beginning, in London, of a form of militancy which I always deprecated, the resistance to the police when being arrested, and struggles with police in the streets. I held that our demonstrations were necessary, and of great use in educating an apathetic public, but for women who are physically weaker than men to pit their strength against police who are trained in the use of physical violence, was derogatory to our sex and useless, if not a hindrance; to the cause for which we stood. When, therefore, some of my younger friends and fellow-workers were pushed into the waiting-room at Cannon Row, with their hair down and often with their clothing torn, I did my best to make them once more presentable, so that we should not appear in the streets as a dishevelled and very excited group of women. I held then, and have never ceased to hold the opinion, that even when demonstrating in the streets or when committing unconventional actions such as speaking in the Lobby of the House, we should always be able to control our voices and our actions and behave as ladies, and that we should gain much more support from the general public by carrying out this line of action. I should like to state here that I personally, except during the Lobby incident, never had to complain of the attitude of the police towards myself. In fact, I often found them helpful and sympathetic, as I shall have occasion later to relate.

After we had all been charged, and while stared at by special police, who were called in to identify us in case of future trouble, we were released on the understanding that we were to appear at the Westminster Court on the following morning. There we found that the charge against us was that of using “violent and abusive language.” Of course, every prisoner must be charged for some definite offence, and as the authorities could not discover that we had committed any of the definite offences in the criminal code, but had only begun to make speeches asking for votes for women, they put down the charge at random as that of “using violent and abusive language.” Each of us was asked in turn what we had to say in answer to the charge, and as I had with me the banner that had hung in front of my house during the “income tax siege,” I held it up first to the Magistrate and then for the Court to see. On it was inscribed: “Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay.” A constable snatched the banner from me and the proceedings continued. When the police, being asked for evidence of the breach of the laws which we had committed, were questioned definitely as to what they had heard, they each repeated that we had “asked for votes for women.” Their intellectual equipment was not equal to the task of repeating any of the arguments we had begun to unfold in the Lobby, but “Votes for Women” having by this time become a slogan, they were able to repeat that one sentence, though none of them looked particularly smart or happy as they did so. The proceedings were entirely farcical. The Magistrate consulted with others around him and tried to look very solemn and we were told that we were each to be bound over in the sum of £10 to keep the peace in future. This we all of us refused to do, as we did not consider we had broken the peace, or committed any offence for which we should be bound over. It was then explained to us that the alternative was two months’ imprisonment, and this alternative we accepted. We were once more taken from the Court and shut into a fair-sized room, where we were to be allowed to see friends and relatives, before being taken off to Holloway. As I, with the others, was leaving the Court, I said to the constable who was shepherding us, “I’m sorry to have lost that banner; it hung outside my house during the whole of the Hammersmith siege.” He grinned, but did not appear to be unfriendly, and as we filed into the room within the precincts of the Court, where we had to await “Black Maria,” he pushed the banner into my hands, and said: “It’s all right; here’s your banner.” As my daughter was married and not at the moment in very good health, I did not wish to add to her sufferings on my behalf by sending a summons asking her to come and see me at the Court. My son was working in an engineering business at Rochester and I also wished to save him from more trouble than I realised he was bound to have on my behalf. My brothers and sisters were mostly apathetic about, or hostile to my militant work, so I determined to send for no one of my own relatives, but I was surrounded by many good friends and fellow-workers who had come to give us a word of cheer. Towards evening “Black Maria” arrived at the Court and we were driven off to Holloway. “Black Maria” is a somewhat springless vehicle divided into compartments, so each prisoner is separated, though it is possible to speak to the prisoners immediately around one. It is used for conveying night after night the sweepings of the streets in the shape of drunkards and prostitutes from the Courts where they have been convicted, to Holloway Gaol. It can therefore be understood that it is neither a desirable nor a wholesome vehicle in which to travel. On arrival at Holloway we were each placed in some sort of sentry boxes with seats, and the woman who acted as receiving wardress opened one door after another and took down the details connected with the charge, and the status of the prisoner. She was of decided Irish extraction and the questions she put to us each in succession were to this effect: “Now then, gurrl, stand up! What’s your name, what’s your age, how do you get your livin’?” etc. etc. When all these questions had been answered to the satisfaction of this lady, we were told to leave our compartments and stand in a passage, where we were ordered to strip to our chemises or combinations and then to await further orders. The next scene was taking down our hair and searching rather perfunctorily our heads for possible undesirable inhabitants, after which a prison chemise, made of a sort of sacking, and generously stamped with the broad arrow, was handed to each of us, and I found myself exchanging my warm wool and silk combinations for this decidedly chilly and ungainly garment. The bath ordeal was not serious; we had only to stand in a few inches of doubtful-looking warm water and then put on the various articles of prison clothing provided for us. Each of us had a flannel petticoat made with enormous pleats round the waist, a dress of green serge made on the same ample lines and an apron, a check duster, which we were told was the handkerchief supplied, and a small green cape made with a hood, for out-door exercise, and a white linen cap tied under the chin. Thus arrayed our little party consisting of Mrs. How Martyn, Miss Irene Miller, Miss Billington, Miss Gauthorp, Mrs. Baldock, Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, Miss Annie Kenney, Miss Adela Pankhurst, Mrs. Cobden Saunderson and myself, met in one of the passages where our yellow badges bearing the numbers under which we were each to be known while in prison were handed out to us. We then underwent another and more detailed interrogatory, in which came the question: “What religion?” When I replied “Freethinker,” the wardress remarked “Free-what?” “That is no religion, you will be Protestant as long as you remain here”; and part of my description card fastened outside my cell contained the word “Prot.” We were then shut up in our respective cells with a cup of cocoa and a piece of bread and left for the night.

Much was written at the time about Holloway and the conditions under which prisoners lived during the time they were working out their sentences, and as I believe that something has been done to improve conditions since we militants made our protest by allowing ourselves to be imprisoned there, I want to put on record quite dispassionately and as of historical interest the sort of cells and the sort of surroundings accorded to women prisoners in October, 1906.

The cells had a cement floor, whitewashed walls and a window high up so that one could not see out of it. It was barred outside and the glass was corrugated so that one could not even get a glimpse of the sky; and the only sign of outside life was the occasional flicker of the shadow of a bird as it flew outside across the window. The furnishing of the cell consisted of a wooden plank bed stood up against the wall, a mattress rolled up in one corner, two or three tin vessels, a cloth for cleaning and polishing and some bath brick. On the shelf were a Bible, a wooden spoon, a salt cellar, and one other book whose name I forget, but I remember glancing into it and thinking it would appeal to the intelligence of a child of eight. There was also a stool without a back, and inside the mattress when unrolled for the night and placed on the wooden stretcher were two thin blankets, a pillow and some rather soiled-looking sheets. One tin utensil was for holding water, the second for sanitary purposes, and the third was a small tin mug for holding cocoa. A bell was rung early in the morning for us to get up, when our cell doors were unlocked and were left open while we emptied slops and cleaned out our cells. I may mention in passing that only one cloth was provided for cleaning the sanitary tin pail, the water container and the tin mug, and these all had to be polished with bath-brick, and placed in certain positions in readiness for cell inspection. Breakfast consisted of cocoa and a good-sized hunk of brown bread (excellent in quality), but what was called cocoa turned black in the tin mug and I could not drink it, so I breakfasted every day on brown bread and cold water. After breakfast came cell inspection, attendance at Church, exercise in the prison yard and visits from the schoolmistress, padre or parson. The service in the Protestant Church which I had to attend was rather a pitiful function, for one then could see the faces of the hundreds of derelict women with whom one was hounded. The majority were women who passed more of their life in prison, than outside it; they had evidently lost what little will-power they may once have had, but uncontrolled emotion still remained and when a hymn that appeal to them was sung, their poor faces would twitch spontaneously, the tears would roll down their cheeks and they would rock back and forth in their seats. A few young women were there, looking mostly hard and brazen and one could not help speculating if, under present social conditions, they would not in thirty or forty years’ time become hardened criminals such as the elder women I saw around. In the course of the first morning the door of my cell was flung open by the wardress who announced: “Roman Catholic Chaplain, stand up!” I looked round from my seat to see a pleasant-faced young Catholic priest, who held in his hand some newspaper cuttings. “This is only an informal visit,” he announced with a smile, “I thought you might like to see some of the newspaper cuttings and pictures about yourself, so I am visiting you and your friends to show them and to have a chat. This was the first intimation I had had that anybody in Holloway recognised the particular conditions under which we had been arrested and brought here. We were treated by all the wardresses as if we were ordinary prisoners such as the thieves and prostitutes with whom we were surrounded. But this Roman Catholic Padre had a very human streak in his composition and he not only understood, but he wished us to realise that he understood that we were fighting for an ideal, and that this acceptance of the conditions of ordinary imprisonment was part of the unpleasantness of the fight in which we were engaged. The Protestant parson I found much less understanding, and as he really bored me, I let him understand that his visits were not altogether acceptable. On the second morning of prison life the wardress flung open the door of the cell announcing: “Schoolmistress, stand up!” I never took any notice of this last injunction, but used to peep round the corner to see who was coming in. A pleasant-faced woman appeared who stood in the doorway and asked: “Can you read and write?” A devil of mischief took hold of me and I replied almost shamefacedly and in a low voice: “A little.” “Because if not,” she went on briskly, “you can attend the school classes every day for an hour.” “Oh,” I replied with rather more interest, “should I be allowed to teach in the school? I can do that much better than sewing these sacks which I do not know how to do and which are making my hands quite sore.” “No,” she replied, “during the first month of a prisoner’s time she is not allowed to work outside her cell at anything.” This crushed my hopes in the schoolroom direction and I had to return to the making of mail bags, which I believe are made with jute and are certainly sewn with very large needles and with wax thread. I got through my tasks in this direction very slowly and often had to work at night, when otherwise I might have had a chance of reading.

The prison clothing granted by King Edward VII for the use of prisoners during their sojourn at Holloway was, I found, lacking in half sizes, or perhaps, also in outsizes. The skirt of my dress, though it would be quite fashionable nowadays, was unfashionable in 1906, because it reached barely below my knees, and the stockings provided were of the quality worn by schoolboys and boy scouts, and they reached barely to my knees also. As no garters or suspenders were allowed, the problem I found for me and for other imprisoned suffragists was how to keep these stockings up while we marched in single file round and round the prison yard. I used to make continual vicious grabs at these detestable stockings, but unfortunately these stoppages to give a grab broke up the regularity of the march and the wardress in charge would shout: “Now, then, number .... keep up with the rest.” On a wet morning the yard would have little pools and puddles all over it, and as my stockings slipped down over my ankles they would become wet and muddy and even more difficult to control; so at last I gave the whole matter up as a bad job and marched round the yard “under bare poles.” Irene Miller, who saw and sympathised with my difficulties, whispered to me as we passed in from the prison yard returning to our cells: “Cheer up, I am knitting in my cell and I will knit you a pair of garters.” This she did, and passed them to me the next morning whilst we were cleaning our cells.

On the third morning of our imprisonment Mrs. Pethick Lawrence was missing when we met in the yard for exercise and the news was passed round that she was ill and had left Holloway. On 29th October The Times published a letter from Mrs. Fenwick Miller, Irene’s mother, to the following effect:—


To the Editor of The Times.

I appeal to the men of England, Ireland and Scotland! It is not to the Tsar of Russia, but to the men and the sons of the men who only gained their own political rights by the efforts and sufferings of their fellows the other day, as it were, and to the men and the sons of the men who professed deep indignation at the Italian patriots’ cruel imprisonment at the hands of the Austrian Government officials half a century ago. I appeal to the men to-day who made a war in South Africa, disastrous in its results on our national business affairs and imposing heavy losses in heart sorrow, as well as in taxation and depreciation of means, on the women of this country (for in payment we are on an equality with men), the excuse for all that sacrifice being that a handful of men living under a foreign state were refused the right to vote. I appeal to the men who were only a week or two ago signing a document intended to shame the Tsar of Russia for governing his people without representative Parliamentary institutions.

Was this, all of it, sheer hypocrisy? If not, if there is a shred of real love of freedom, of belief in a representative system of government, and of hatred of personal cruelty as a means of suppressing a demand for political reform—then I appeal to men with confidence as well as urgency. Surely amongst you there are enough right-thinking and feeling to effectually tell your so-called Liberal Ministry that its women political prisoners, if not released, shall, at any rate, not be treated as common felons? These dear public-spirited women are as much martyrs as ever any persons have been who were imprisoned for attempting to incite revolt against existing wrongs and bring about political reforms. Where are the men who a few weeks ago were congratulating the. Russian people on their partial success in demanding representation by the aid of bombs and murderous knives—where are the men who cursed Kruger and killed his people because a handful of British residents in a foreign land were refused the vote?—while eleven of the noblest and best of their own countrywomen at this very moment are being treated with all the painful devices that are applied to the vilest of the criminal classes in an attempt to deter those women from calling for representation? They are treated as felons because more than half the men now in the House of Commons having actually promised to pass a measure giving votes to women and not fulfilling their pledge, these women insist upon calling on them to keep their word. Surely there must be thousands of men who will be ashamed to nestle into their comfortable beds to-night, after their good evening meal, knowing that for this cause eleven noble women are sleeping on straw in solitary dark cells, fed on the harsh food that you offer men of the criminal classes as a deterrent from further crimes, and rising to-morrow to put on coarse and disfiguring clothing that is defiled by having previously wrapped round the bodies of prostitutes and thieves. Are there not enough of you men who are voters, and women who are always being prated to with fulsome foolish compliments about your influence being sufficient to render your voting needless, to effectively tell your Home Secretary (who bears the name of Gladstone!) that these English women political prisoners, if not released at once, must be imprisoned in the comparative decency appropriate for purely political offences?

Who are these women? But understand rue first--I should say just the same if they came from those poor and uneducated ranks from which came Socrates and Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ, and His Apostles themselves. But it so happens that you have hauled to gaol educated, cultured, refined (and, in parenthesis, I may add beautiful-looking) ladies. You have taken, and are treating as a felon, a daughter of the great Cobden, the man who gave you the cheap loaf. Sweet, gentle, and vet courageous, like himself, all his daughters have been steadfastly working for good causes all their lives.

You have in captivity for the same offence Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, a charming young lady, who spent her time and her money for several years, prior to her marriage, in maintaining and working in a club to brighten and help the life of the poorest class of working girls in a West London slum district.

Then you have a woman who holds the extremely high degree of a Bachelor of Science of London University, Mrs. How-Martyn.

You have also two cultivated women, one a trained and certificated school teacher and the other a writer, in Miss Billington and Mrs. Moritefiore. You had captured Mrs. Despard, sister of General Sir John French, but she is a philanthropist so well known in South London that the Home Secretary was afraid to put her to wear a prison dress and sleep in a stone-wailed cell on straw.

But you have Mrs. Baldock, a member of a board of guardians and honoured and beloved by thousands of the poor for whom she cares.

Then you have got in prison two of the daughters of the late Dr. Pankhurst, a gold medallist of his University and standing counsel for the city of Manchester, and of Mrs. Pankhurst, who has served her town for years as a member of the board of guardians, and in other offices. Both the parents of Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst have rendered untiring and ever faithful service to human progress; you repay them by putting to sleep on a straw bed, and clothing in vile raiment, their two clever and devoted young daughters.

Then you have got my girl, Irene. I gave a large share of nine of the best years of my life, young men of London, on your School Board, to help to secure you the good education and the sanitary buildings that are now taken as a matter of course, but that in those days needed to be gained for you; and now, when my daughter asks your representatives to redeem their pledges to pass a Women’s Suffrage Bill, you pay me for my service in your cause by ill-using my child.

My heart is too full for vanity, but with pride I say, through my tears, that Mrs. Pankhurst and I have now good cause to claim that once for all the imputation that women working in public affairs will not be good mothers is refuted by the unreserved, the intense devotion of our children to our cause. Emmeline Pankhurst and I have both been workers for women’s suffrage and other public reforms since our teens, and we have a right to be, and we are, proud and thankful that the girls who know us as their mothers are willing to give their youth, their rare talents, their prospects, without reserve to the cause to which those girls have always seen us, their mothers, devoted. I remember Maeterlinck’s saying: “The greatest advantage of love is that it gives us occasion to see and admire in one person, sole and unique, what we should have had neither knowledge nor strength to admire in the many.”

Our girls have this advantage with us. It is not so hard to be a martyr oneself—I have often had to try it in a quiet way—but it is cruel to be the mother of a martyr. My child is the sweetest and gentlest, and one of the quietest and calmest of beings. The stories about hysteria and screams are, I know, fabrications of the enemy. I want this dear child near me, as every loving mother wants a devoted daughter, but if martyrdom is needed for our cause, I am cheerfully willing that you should deprive us of each other’s society for two months, and leave her active mind unfed by new ideas, and deprive her fine physique of the gymnastics that she needs for health; but I am outraged, my mother’s heart bleeds, my belief in the freedom-loving and fair playing of my countrymen is destroyed when she and those other women political rebels are refused the decencies that all but the very worst Governments have yielded to purely political prisoners.

Charles Stewart Parnell, Charles Bradlaugh, Leigh Hunt, Edmund Yates, and other men in like case—that is, who were not criminals, though imprisoned under the law—were treated differently. They had books and the use of writing materials, they lived in decent rooms, and were allowed to receive letters and occasional callers. But your women political prisoners are being treated like the commonest of criminals, merely for protesting in the hearing of your legislators against the inequality of men and women under our Constitution.

Yours faithfully,


This letter, I learnt afterwards, caused a very great sensation, and in many cases a swing round of public opinion and sympathy in our direction; but we who sat behind prison walls knew nothing of what was going on outside, or of what our friends were doing on our behalf. On the fourth day a wardress appeared in my cell in the evening and told me to follow her. I was ushered into a room where I found, to my intense pleasure, my daughter awaiting me. She told me how, thanks to Sir William Bull, our Member at Hammersmith, she had obtained an introduction to Mr. Herbert Gladstone, who was then at the Home Office. Armed with her letter she started off with her maid to try and get an interview with Mr. Gladstone. She had spent the greater part of the day at the Home Office, being sent from one Head of Department to another, but as Sir William Bull had enjoined upon her not to be satisfied with anything short of seeing Mr. Gladstone, she persisted in her demand that she must “see the Chief.” She was far from strong and she was an expectant mother with her first child, but she persisted till at last her patience and endurance were rewarded and she found herself face to face with Mr. Gladstone. Her request to him was an order to go and visit her mother at Holloway. Mr. Gladstone raised his eyebrows and remarked: “I have had husbands asking for orders to visit their wives and mothers asking for orders to visit daughters, but this is the first time that a daughter has come asking for an order to visit her mother”; but he finally gave an order and my daughter set off triumphantly for Holloway. Our meeting was, of course, bitter as well as very sweet; I could not bear that she should see me, her mother, in prison dress, and yet I rejoiced that she had overcome all her difficulties and that we had at last met, even if behind prison walls. A wardress was present during the whole time of our interview and when she considered that the time had arrived for it to close, she got up and told me I must follow her back to my cell. Part of our conversation that day was about affairs in connection with my son, who still was entirely dependent upon me financially whilst continuing his studies of work as an engineer. The end of the month was approaching, and I had had one or two sleepless nights in prison wondering how I should send him his allowance which was due at the end of the month, and wishing at the same time I might be able to send him a message of love and of sorrow for the trouble I knew I was causing him by the publicity of my actions. Few people realise what the sons and daughters of some of us militants suffered because of the publicity and downright obloquy which was attached to our actions. Only those who knew us intimately knew we could not be capable of some of the conduct and words ascribed to us in the Press; and young people are extremely sensitive where the reputations of their parents are concerned.

I asked my wardress if I should be allowed to write a cheque on a piece of blank paper and send it out of prison. She replied that she did not know, but that in the course of the week a visiting committee would visit each prisoner in her cell and would ask if there were any complaints or requests to be made. I could then ask for permission to draw and send out a cheque. When the time came for this commission to arrive, the door of my cell was, as usual, flung open and the wardress shouted inside, “The gentlemen of the Visiting Committee. Stand up!” I remained seated, but turned to look at the four or five old gentlemen who were staring at me in my cell. “Gentlemen, I wish to make a request. I have a son who is still continuing his studies and who is still dependent upon me for his monthly allowance. I wish to be provided with a piece of paper, a stamp and pen and ink, so that I can write an Order to my Bank to pay him his usual allowance, and I wish then to be able to send this order to my daughter so that she may deal with the matter. Can this request be granted?” The old gentlemen whispered together, wagged their heads, and after a time replied that they thought it could be done if I had any money with me. I told them that my purse had been taken away from me with my other belongings when I came to Holloway, but if the wardress would take the necessary money out of my purse, she could do so. This was finally arranged, and the money was eventually sent. Meanwhile my daughter had been communicating with friends in attempts to get someone to come to Holloway and sign the undertaking in my name, that I would not commit any further breach of the peace. I had been unwell, and had been taken for one night to a hospital cell, and the effect of the close imprisonment and the evil psychological atmosphere with which I was surrounded had begun to tell seriously upon my health. One night a woman was brought in suffering evidently from the effects of a long drinking bout. She was in a cell not far from me, and for hours she kept everyone around awake while she uttered the most frightful yells and screams, and used the most abominable language that it is possible to imagine. I put the blanket round my head and tried to keep out the sounds, but they rose higher and higher in hysterical, almost maniacal yells, and the morning found me exhausted, shrinking, and absolutely unstrung. I could not get the unfortunate creature’s screams and complaints out of my head. When the doctor saw me, he said, “Why don’t you send for a friend to take you out. You are not fit to be in here any longer ”; and a message was sent to my friend, Mr. J.M. Robertson, whom my daughter had been seeing, asking him to come and sign the necessary form and take me out of Holloway, so that I could be nursed back to health by my friends. This was done, and on the afternoon of my seventh day in Holloway, Mr. Robertson very kindly came and took me to my flat in Westminster, where I had been living during the time that I was doing daily work at the Houses of Parliament or in the neighbourhood. There Miss James, an Irish friend, came and stayed with me, and after a few days I was well enough to go down and pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Robertson at their home at Westerham, where the atmosphere of old friendship and of intellectual companionship helped to restore normal health to mind and body. At the end of the year I took my daughter abroad to Alassio, where we spent the winter; and in the early spring she returned home, while I went to Holland to begin a speaking tour, which had been arranged for me by Continental suffrage friends, through that country.

Between the period of my leaving Holloway and going abroad with my daughter on 9th January, 1907, I broke off all my working relations with the Women’s Social and Political Union, as there were more points than one on which Mrs. Pankhurst and I found ourselves in disagreement. I could not reconcile myself to seeing the young girls resisting, with physical force, the police. As we demonstrated in the streets and formed processions in parts of London, where we knew such demonstrations were forbidden, and we therefore also knew that we were liable to arrest, what was the use, I argued, of resisting the police? We knew they were stronger than we were, and that we should have in the end to allow ourselves to be arrested, why, therefore, this painful physical resistance, resulting in torn clothes, dishevelled hair, and a loss of personal dignity? Then I was being constantly asked by reporters and others if we were not being financed by Tories in order to help discredit the Liberal Government. This suggestion always indignantly repudiated, and then told my questioners that we women were making personal sacrifices and collecting large funds from other women who were sympathetic, but who could not do the militant work that we were doing. At the same time I told Mrs. Pankhurst about the questions that were being asked, and suggested that accounts of our funds received and outgoing expenditures should be published, so as to put a stop to such idle rumours. I was very much surprised when she told me that I had nothing to do with the question of finances, and should refer any such questions to her as President of the W.S.P.U. This seemed to me all the more strange, because during the period of the siege of my house, whenever the W.S.P.U. held demonstrations there, and the members spoke from the terrace in front of the house, they always appealed for collections for the funds of the W.S.P.U., and the reply to the appeal was a shower of coppers and silver thrown over the garden wall on to the terrace. One of the newspapers had for its headline, “Coppers for Mrs. Montefiore,” and this headline infuriated more than one of my relatives, who wrote and told me that if this statement was incorrect, as they felt sure it must be, I must immediately write to these papers and refute the statement. Needless to say, I might have been writing to the Press all day long, if all the silly stories made up by newspaper correspondents were to be refuted. But I have reason to know that in the minds of persons who, if they see a statement in print think there must be some truth in it, I suffered somewhat in my reputation from that headline, as I suppose it was meant I should do. At the time of the siege, neither Mrs. Pankhurst nor Christabel was in London, and I still think I was only right, seeing that my action had for several weeks helped to contribute to the funds of the Union, that I, as a member of the Executive, should be allowed to make a suggestion as to the publishing of accounts. Branches of the W.S.P.U. were being formed in different parts, and as I was working a great deal in Westminster, I, with some friends in that part of the world, formed a Westminster branch, and did a great deal of active work.

One of my best meetings was close to the statue of Boadicea in a prohibited part of London, as no meetings are allowed to be held so close to the Houses of Parliament. It had long been my wish to hold a meeting there, as Boadicea in her chariot always appeared to me to be advancing threateningly on the Houses of Parliament, and she was therefore a symbol of the attitude towards Parliament of us militant women. Towards the end of 1906 tramlines were being laid just at that part of the embankment, and traffic was obstructed by piles of wood blocks, and these I saw would make a most capital rostrum from which to speak; while we could not be charged with obstructing the traffic, which was already obstructed. For our evening meetings we used to have a large lantern inscribed with “Votes for Women,” and with Jessie Kenney (Annie’s sister) carrying this lantern, still unlit, we one evening made tracks for the pile of wood blocks, climbed up to the very top, lit our lantern and began our speeches. In a few minutes we had a good and a growing audience, for no one coming over the bridge could fail to see us, neither could those coming from Westminster, or along the embankment. Of course, it was not long before the police were at work moving on the crowd, but we could see that as fast as the crowd was moved on, the greater number of them made a circle and came back to their original stand, as they wanted to hear our case for “Votes for Women,” or to stare stolidly up, and wonder what we were talking about. Meanwhile, Old Scotland Yard, being within a stone’s throw, the police there were communicated with and came out like ants from a nest. Among them my friend. Inspector Jarvis, who, though looking on me as a stormy petrel, recognised that I always played fair, and was glad I was opposed to the young girls struggling with the police, as the police, he said, were only doing their duty, and it upset many of them very much having to use violence towards women. Jarvis came to the foot of the rostrum and tried persuasion: “Come down, Mrs. Montefiore, come down.” But I told him the stand was too good; we should never have such a chance again, and went on with my speech. Again the crowd was moved on; this time more effectively, as there was a much larger force of police; and again the crowd returned, and my speech went on. Finally, when Jessie Kenney and I had held the position for an hour and a half, and had put our case before a constantly moving audience, and an enormous police force, we clambered down from our wood blocks rostrum, to be received by Inspector Jarvis with an almost indulgent smile, as he acknowledged we had for once outwitted his very effective organisation. This is one only of the little episodes in the suffrae fight that helped to add to the gaiety of nations. Another one occurred when another militant who had hired at some country station a dilapidated fly to take her to the place of meeting, was stopped by the driver, after she had paid him, and was finding her way to the hall, by his standing in front of her and asking, “Are you one of the ladies who are out for getting the voate, then?” My friend pleaded guilty, and he continued in broad Yorkshire. “Well ma Moather never had the voate, and ma Grandmoather never had the voate; and I’m danged if ma old Sarah is ever going to have the voate.” My friend, nothing daunted by the prophecy, only remarked quietly, “Oh well, that settles it,” and passed on through a slightly gin-laden atmosphere to the hall, where a large audience was impatiently waiting for her.

A friend of mine, Mrs. J.M. Robertson, was secretary of our Westminster branch of the W.S.P.U., and as her husband was at that time a prominent member in the House in the ranks of the Liberal Party, Mrs. Pankhurst objected to Mrs. Robertson filling this position, and said that the branch had been formed. without due consultation with the Executive. This was not the case, but by that time autocratic rulings had become the order of the day, and the Executive, being composed almost entirely of paid organisers and speakers, was, in effect, a negligible quantity. On 6th December, 1906, Mrs. J. M. Robertson received the following letter:—






Since receiving a letter from your Treasurer, an Executive Meeting of the W.S.P.U. has been held.

They have received the report of the lady deputed by that Committee to interview your Treasurer, and they have come to the decision that they cannot regard the Westminster Society, of which you are the Hon. Sec., as a branch of the W.S.P.U.

Yours faithfully,
Hon. Secs., pro tem.


Neither of these names was signed, but just typed by the typist, and poor Mrs. Despard, who was used as a stalking horse on this occasion, was the next to find herself “not wanted,” as money and work had been promised in other quarters. Mrs. Despard, on leaving the W.S.P.U., founded, as is well known, the Women’s Freedom League, which is still in existence, and still working to get Votes for Women. I, with a group of my friends, joined the Hammersmith Suffrage Society, which worked on steadily for some years, holding outdoor and indoor meetings, and it was under the auspices of this Society that I gave in the Hammersmith Town Hall a lantern lecture (at which Mr. Stead took the chair) on the history of Finland, and on recent political events there. The Hammersmith Society for Women’s Suffrage had been founded in December, 1905, and its hon. secretary, who gave devoted work to the cause, was Mrs. Rowe, of Hammersmith Terrace. Lieut.-Col. Davies was the chairman, and I became the treasurer. Miss Keith was also one of the active workers and speakers. A good number of Mrs. Robertson’s and of my friends, when they heard how the Westminster branch had been treated, left the W.S.P.U. I will quote two letters.


42, Parkhill Road,
Hampstead, N.W.
30th January, 1907.

I am sorry not to have replied to your letter before, but I have been very much pressed with work. Mrs. Montefiore discussed the action taken by the Central body of the W.S.P.U. with me, so that I was already in possession of the details, and I wrote a very strong letter to Mrs. Martyn, stating that I was grieved to see a society whose watchword was “Justice” treating one of its most able and disinterested members unjustly and unfairly, and that, as a protest against the treatment of Mrs. Montefiore, I desired to retire from membership. I shall be glad if Mrs. Montefiore will retain my 5/- subscription and use it for the Women’s Franchise cause in any way she may think proper.

Yours sincerely,


23, Pandora Road,
West Hampstead.
28th January, 1907.

I am exceedingly sorry to hear of the action of the Central Committee of the W.S.P.U., as I much fear that such conduct may do considerable harm to our cause. I shall retire from the W.S.P.U., as a protest against the manner in which you and Mrs. Montefiore have been treated. I leave my small subscription in your hands.



I also give here two letters from two very old friends and fellow-workers in the woman’s cause. The work of Mrs. Elmy has never been sufficiently recognised, because she was frowned upon by the official suffragists, though she had quite the most able political mind and memory of any nineteenth century woman. Stead recognised this, and he was her loyal and helpful friend throughout his life.


25th February, 1906.

I fear my darling husband cannot be much longer with us, nor, indeed, would anyone desire him to remain in his present state of suffering and extreme weakness. How I wish he could have seen the enfranchisement of women, his heart’s desire. But I begin to fear neither he nor I will see it. A House of Commons which can only greet with laughter Mr. Keir Hardie’s appeal in his speech on Monday night last, 19th inst.; and in which, out of 115 members of the last House, now sitting in the new, professed suffragists, only seven, thought worth while to attend the W.S. Conference—the other 42 being new men—and a Cabinet containing many bitter foes, and not one real friend, do not promise much.

My only hope is in the insurgent women, and in the Scottish women graduates, whose case comes on in the Court of Sessions next month—a case they are determined to carry through, even to the House of Lords. I have had a most interesting letter from Mrs. Sine, which I will send on to you as soon as Stead, who I want to work up the case, returns it.

Tender thanks for all your loving sympathy.

Ever lovingly yours,
(Signed) E. C. W. ELMY.


32, Drummond Place.
22nd December, 1905.

Warm greetings to you, and many thanks. I am scarcely able with my poor eyes to read or write in these dark days, but I am well and cheerful, and going to-morrow to Professor Purdie’s, 14, South Street, St. Andrew’s, for a fortnight’s holiday and rest after the bustle of getting back to the old home, which is much too large for us—we hope to sell it by and by. I am full of interest in public events, and admiration and love for those who, like you, give time and strength to work in public service.

Your loving old friend,
(Signed) JANE H.C.


Jane Hume Clapperton, the writer of this letter was among the very remarkable women of the Victorian age. When still young, she wrote a book, “Scientific Meliorism,” dealing with all the deepest and most urgent problems of social life, and to this book she brought what was best in heart and in brain to their solving. For a Victorian book it was wildly unconventional, and many of her nearest relatives “cut” her for having written it; but time went on, the worst and most stupid parts of Victorianism passed away, and Jane Hume Clapperton came into her own, at least among thinkers. But she remained always in outward appearance the old-fashioned spinster lady wearing the early Victorian cap that all women of that period seemed, when over thirty, to wear, and speaking with a delightful cultured Scotch accent. The life work of Jane Hume Clapperton was the giving of her best in thought and in the written word to men, women and children, yet no title of “Dame,” or of O.B.E. was offered her, neither did she pay to have herself placed among the wax-works of Madame Tussauds. She would have looked upon such tokens of fame as empty honours.

This chapter will conclude with two letters from Miss Pankhurst, and part of one (throwing light on why we decided at long last on Militancy) from Mrs. Pankhurst.


62, Nelson Street,
22nd March, 1906.

I am very glad to have your letter. Many thanks for it. Miss Kenney was away for a week, you know, resting. She returned on Monday last. Mother thought her run-down and overstrained, so Stead lent her his cottage, or whatever it is.

I think we must be on our guard against the men’s latest dodge about a dissolution after W.S. being necessary. In the first place, why should we care if they dissolved to-morrow? But if they can’t bear the idea of doing so, that is no reason why we should be kept in uncertainty. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and if we once get the vote, even though we had to wait several years before exercising it for the first time, it would be very much better than being without it. I fancy the Libs. will promise to give us the vote before they next go to the country, in the hope of getting out of doing it in the end. I imagine them situated as Balfour was before the election. He asserted that he would go through another session before the election, but he didn’t. So, in the same way C.B. might say to us that he would remain in office for another session, during which session he would grant W.S., and then he could, during the vacation, have Parliament dissolved. Then would come the election, and a new Government, which would have the same old excuse that they could not, until the end of their term give us the vote—and so on ad infinitam.

These men are as wily as serpents, and we must be wilier. It appears that in S. Australia the women had the vote for two years before they had an opportunity of using it. That would do for us, or we would put up with a longer interval still, if we had to. When we get the vote we can call out for a dissolution, but we need not say that yet, but let the men think we would be good and quiet.

Ever yours,
(Signed) C. H. PANKIIURST.


62, Nelson Street,
Oxford Road,
19th February, 1905.

I got home last night very tired, to find my younger girl in bed with a slight attack of pleurisy. Fortunately, she is getting better.

Would you believe it, that with the exception of Miss Ford, none of the W.S. women came to help either on Wednesday night or on Thursday. The result of the ballot was known at noon on Thursday, when we found that Mr. Bamford Slack, who had promised 1st or 2nd place had come out 14. He was not in the House. Mr. Keir Hardie at once wired for him, and Miss Ford and I set off in a hansom to look for him.

Fortunately he arrived in the nick of time, otherwise there would have been no Bill again this session. The official Suffragists never made a sign. Miss Pallisser was brought in by Miss Ford, who went to the office for her in the course of the afternoon, when the work was practically done, the backers for the Bill secured, etc.

All this makes me feel that years have been lost. If women had worked in the House as the trade unionists do, we should have had Members battling for us session after session. This time we owe it all to Keir Hardie, but we have no right to expect M.P.’s to do more for us than they do for others. The people who secured good places for their measures have done so because they have lobbied incessantly for years. Of course, it is horrid work, but it has to be done, if we are to succeed. Mr. Hardie told Miss Pailisser that more energy was needed.

Now we must get to work to get pressure brought to bear on Members by petitions, deputations, lobbying. etc., in support of the Bill. Is it possible to form a Women’s Parliamentary Committee in London to do this lobbying work? The old-fashioned and official gang will never do it. I have no confidence in them. I can’t help feeling that they will snub ....

Unfortunately the end of Mrs. Pankhurst’s letter has been lost.


I leave to-morrow morning, so if you are not at the Court I shall not see you again for a little while.

Will you write the article the Daily Despatch wants? Do they really mean Finland, do you think?

Yours ever,
(Signed) C. H. PANKHURST.


The above was written on the back of a letter from the Manchester Daily Despatch, asking Mrs. Montefiore to write an article “contrasting the position of women in England with that of the women in Russia, where she has been lately.”

Next: Chapter IX. Work for Adult Suffrage and Visit to United States