Featured ArticlesA Selection of Articles From the Archive That We Thought Most Newsworthy

Why did women need the vote? Fight for emancipation

1856 – Eliza Honey, a widow aged 25 and with a 5-month old baby, took on the running of ‘The Bideford Weekly Gazette and Devon and Cornwall Advertiser’.

1859 – 1st female doctor is registered

When parliamentary reform was being debated in 1867, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment that would have given the vote to women on the same terms as men but it was rejected by 194 votes to 73.

1869 – women who pay property tax can vote in some elections
1878 – London University allows women to graduate
1881/82 – Married women can keep inherited property and wages
1885 – Age of consent raised to 16
1895 – 1st female dentist qualifies in Scotland
1910 - Committee to discuss female suffrage formed by sympathetic male Members of Parliament; their failure to make progress leads to violent protests

Women cannot vote in general elections
Women cannot graduate from Oxford or Cambridge
Women cannot be police officers, lawyers, jurors
Men can divorce wives for adultery
Women must prove adultery and cruelty to get a divorce
Rape in marriage is not a crime

1915 - Evelina Haverfield volunteered to join the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Serbia as a nurse, and after the war, worked in a Serbian orphanage.

Helen Charlotte Isabella Gwynne-Vaughan - in 1917 she was appointed Controller of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in France, an organization she helped create. She became the first woman to receive a military Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1918. She served as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) from September 1918 until December 1919. For her wartime achievements she was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE).
The 1918 Act abolished almost all property qualifications for men over the age of 21 and gave the vote to women over 30 – but only if they met minimum property qualifications or were married to a man who did. The age differential was to ensure that, following the loss of men in the war, women did not become the majority voters. After the act was passed, women made up 43 per cent of the electorate.

In 1918, Constance Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the Commons – but, in protest, she didn’t take her seat.

1919 – Viscountess Nancy Astor becomes first female Member of Parliament – Sutton Plymouth seat

In 1921, Marie Stopes opened the UK’s first birth control clinic.

In 1922, Carrie Morrison became the first female solicitor in the UK.

2 July 1928 - the Second Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed into law and women over the age of twenty-one get the vote. In a cruel twist of fate, Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the militant WSPU, died on 14 June 1928, some 18 days before equal suffrage rights were granted.

1929 - the first general election in which women are allowed to vote occurs. The election is sometimes referred to as the ‘Flapper Election’ due to the thousands of women turning out to vote. (www.bbc.co.uk) Women become ‘persons’ in their own right, by order of the Privy Council.

The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed in 1938. Its initial plan was to recruit 25,000 female volunteers for driving, clerical and general duties. In 1939, however, it was in action in France with the British Expeditionary Force.

In 1961 the contraceptive pill became available through the NHS – but only to married women.

In 1962, Elizabeth Lane was appointed the first female judge in a County Court and was the first female High Court judge in 1965. Rose Heilbron was the first female judge to sit at the Old Bailey in 1972.

In 1977, Karen Harrison became Britain’s first female train driver.

1979 - Margaret Thatcher becomes first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

In 1982, Josephine Reynolds became the UK’s first female firefighter.

In 1991, Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut and Stella Rimington became the first female director of MI5.

In 1992, Betty Boothroyd became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons – a position she held for eight years.

In 2013, before the birth of Prince George, the royal succession law was changed to state that the first born would succeed to the throne, be they a boy or a girl.

In 2015, Queen Elizabeth became the UK’s longest-reigning monarch after 65 years on the throne.

In 2017, Cressida Dick was appointed as the first female Met Police Commissioner.

In 2017, it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would be Dr Who, making her the first female Dr Who.

In 2017, the Right Reverend Sarah Mullally was named as the first female Bishop of London.

In 2017, BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie resigned from her post citing a pay discrimination over gender for the BBC’s international editors.

Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers, is Britain’s first female self-made billionaire. J.K Rowling is the first-ever billion-dollar author.



The Clovelly Incident - 1909

The Liberal leader and Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, opposed votes for women and was well known as adversarial throughout his time as prime minister (7 April 1908-5 December 1916).

In early June 1909 the Asquith family holidayed at Clovelly Court which was owned by Asquith’s grandson, the Hamlyn-Fane/Rous family. He was forced to drive from Exeter by car as it was known suffragettes – Elsie Honey, Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney - were waiting for him at Bideford train station. Instead, they followed him to the village Parish church, dressed in the colours of the Suffragette movement and Asquith was warned of their presence by his wife who passed him a note, and he left by a side door. The three ladies also followed him to Clovelly Court but had the door slammed in their faces by Lord Hugh Cecil.

Elsie, Vera and Jessie were staying in lodgings of Mrs Jones in the Village and on Whit Monday, they paid to enter Clovelly Court. Mr Asquith and Lord Northcote had already proceeded to play on the private golf course, accompanied by a police sergeant and constable. Despite this security, one of the ladies approached Mr Asquith and accused him of bring a beast and a coward. The Prime Minister pleaded “Relieve me, please” and the police, who praised the ladies’ fleetness of foot, took their names. Mrs Jones, up until then ignorant of their identity, said she did not desire their company any longer.

They were driven to Bideford by Mr Eli Braund. However, this was not the end of scheme and the trio walked to Clovelly at night time to steal into the grounds. When the occupants of Clovelly Court woke on the Tuesday, their view of the gardens were obscured by Suffragette placards, badges and literature. The ladies returned to Bideford and caught the 7.56am train.

In the Gazette edition dated 15 June 1909, Jessie Kenney wrote to the Editor and contradicted the 9 June 1909 article about the Suffragettes at Clovelly. She said that they never called Mr Asquith a ‘beast’ but said ‘Receive our deputation on June 29th: don’t be a coward.’ She also said that the landlady, Mrs Jones, had made no remarks about their departure beyond asking them to sign the visitor’s book.

Olive Wharry

Hundreds of suffragettes were held in prison in the early 20th century and many went on hunger strike. Nearly 1,000 suffragettes were imprisoned until the First World War.

To stop the women becoming martyrs, prison guards would force-feed them to keep them alive – strapping them down and ramming tubes up their noses, causing long term physical and mental damage. The authorities passed the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ in 1913 which allowed hunger striking suffragettes to be freed and then re-arrested when they had eaten a morsel of food.

Olive Wharry was born into a middle-class family in London, the daughter of Clara (1855-1910, née Vickers) and Robert Wharry (1853-1935), a doctor; she was the only child of her father's first marriage. Wharry had three much younger half-brothers and a half-sister from his second marriage. She grew up in London, then the family moved to Devon when her father retired from medicine. On leaving school Wharry became an art student at the School of Art in Exeter, and in 1906 she travelled around the world with her father and mother. She became active in the Women's Social and Political Union in November 1910. She was also a member of the Church League for Women's Suffrage.

On 7 March 1913, aged 27, she and Lilian Lenton were sent to Holloway Prison for setting fire to the tea pavilion at Kew Gardens, causing £900 worth of damage. The pavilion's owners had only insured it for £500. During her trial at the Old Bailey, Wharry was charged under the assumed name "Joyce Locke" and regarded the proceedings as a "good joke". She stated that she and Lenton had checked that the tea pavilion was empty before setting fire to it. She added that she had believed that the pavilion belonged to the Crown, and that she wished for the two women who actually owned it to understand that she was fighting a war, and that in a war even men combatants had to suffer. When Wharry was sentenced to eighteen months with costs, refusing to pay she cried out "I will refuse to do so. You can send me to prison, but I will never pay the costs". She was sentenced to 18 months and was released on 8 April 1913 after being on hunger strike for 32 days. Her weight plummeted from 7st 11lbs to 5st 9lbs without the prison authorities noticing.

Wharry was arrested and imprisoned eight times between 1910 and 1914 for her part in various WSPU window-smashing campaigns, sometimes under the name "Phyllis North", sometimes as "Joyce Locke". Each of her prison sentences were characterised by her going on hunger strike, being force-fed and then released under the Cat and Mouse Act.

Olive Wharry died at Heath Court Nursing Home in Torquay in 1947 at the age of 61. She never married.


Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett – 11 June 1847-5 August 1929

Millicent Garrett was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, the eighth of 10 children. Aged 12 she went to a private boarding school in London and was taken by her sister to listen to the sermons of Frederick Denison Maurice, who was a less than traditional Church of England minister. She also listened to a speech by John Stuart Mill MP who was an early advocate of universal women’s suffrage, and she was actively involved with his campaign. Along with 10 other young women, Millicent worked to form the Kensington Society which was a discussion group centred around English women’s suffrage from 1865. Aged 19, she became secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.

As a suffragist – not a suffragette – she worked on the struggle to improve higher education for women and in 1875 she co-founded the women-only Newnham College, a constituent of the University of Cambridge. Clare Balding, Jane Goodall, Germaine Greer, Emma Thompson, Diane Abbott, Mary Beard, Joan Bakewell are among some who have attended this College.

Millicent married Henry Fawcett in 1867, he was a Liberal Member of Parliament who had been blinded in a shooting accident, and she acted as his secretary. They had one daughter, Philippa (who attended Newnham College).

In 1897 Millicent became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and held this position until 1919. She is considered instrumental in peacefully gaining the vote for 6 million British women (over the age of 30) in 1918 and ‘citizenship for women’.

She was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in the 1925 New Year Honours. Millicent died at home and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, a statue – the first of a woman - of Millicent Fawcett was erected in Parliament Square on 24 April 2018.

1.7.1913 riding

Eliza Honey and the Bideford Gazette

The first issue of the Gazette appeared in Bideford on 1 January 1856 under the title ‘The Devon and East Cornwall Gazette and Commercial Advertiser’. The first publisher/printer/editor was Thomas Honey, a 26 year old bookseller, based in Grenville Street (then known as Market Hill), Bideford, and who had been working on his own behalf for about 3 years.

The first Gazettes consisted of a large double sheet folded in two to make four pages – only the front page carried local news and adverts. Thomas may have relied on friends sending him information. By June 1956, the name of the paper had changed to ‘The Bideford Weekly Gazette and Devon and Cornwall Advertiser’ and remained this until 1909.

Thomas and his wife, Eliza, must have been proud to insert the birth notice of their daughter, Mary Grace, in the 19 June issue. However, sometime in 1856, Thomas fell ill and in issue no. 48 dated 26 November, his death notice was printed. Eliza was aged just 25 and had a 5-month old baby. However, she was made of stern stuff and decided to carry on the publication, a decision she announced in the edition that appeared on 16 December. A week later, the Gazette carried a small advertisement, ‘Wanted, a respectable FEMALE SERVANT, one who can undertake the charge of a Baby – Apply at the Office of the Paper. A Wesleyan preferred’.

The Gazette went from strength to strength and Eliza found time to carry on the bookselling side of the business as well as handling one-off printing jobs. In 1857 she advertised for a book binder, and in 1858 she printed a book of poems by a local Wesleyan minister. An apprentice’s position was advertised in 1858, 1862 and 1863. Over the first decade of the Gazette’s existence, Eliza advertised regularly on her own behalf. She sold patent medicines and umbrellas along with stationary goods, musical instruments, shop soiled books, Valentines, and in 1863 she was selling the Daily Telegraph on the day after its publication.

In 1862 she tried to sell her building in Grenville Street. In the same year, she advertised for a ‘Strong active man’ to work for her for 2-3 hours a week in the newspaper office. A court case from May 1867 doesn’t show her in a favourable light – her apprentice Abraham Kingdon took her to court alleging ‘he had not been taught the arts of printing and bookbinding according to the terms of his indenture’. The case was adjourned for 2 weeks but it never returned to court – possibly, Eliza settled with her aggrieved employee out of court.

In September 1875, after 19 years, Eliza retired and handed over the business to her relative, William Honey, who was 39.

Eliza Honey’s death was announced in the Gazette on 30 September 1913 ‘Honey – September 25th, at 242 High-street, Harlesden, Eliza, widow of the late Thomas Honey (one of the early proprietors of the ‘Bideford Gazette’), aged 82.  

Ever watched the film Mary Poppins?

In the film, Winifred Banks sings the song as she comes home from a suffragette meeting. She enlists the two servants, Mrs Brill and Ellen.

We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for women's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid
Cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus

Well done, Sister Suffragette

From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cries
From every corner of the land womankind arise
Political equality
And equal rights with men
Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again

No more the meek and mild subservient we
We're fighting for our rights militantly
Never you fear

So cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
Well done
Well done
Well done, Sister Suffragette


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