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1909: Cuckfield addresses suffragette national meeting

Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested at Buckingham Palace 21 May 1914 (more below)

The Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society (CWSS) was cofounded by Edith Bevan and held its first meeting in the spring of 1909 at her father’s home, Horsgate House off Hanlye Lane.

Edith was the youngest child of Richard Bevan, a leading member of a banking family whose fortunes were linked to the Barclays empire. We will publish an article on Edith shortly.

The most exciting and important discussion of the Women’s Liberal Federation Conference last week was that which took place on the resolution moved by the Cuckfield Women's Liberal Association. This resolution raised the question of the attitude to be adopted by Liberal women towards the

present Government. It read as follows:

“That in the opinion of this Council, unless the enfranchisement of of women be included in an Electoral Reform Act, or, should no such Act be passed, unless the Liberal Party when they appeal to the country make Women's Suffrage a plank in their platform, the time will have arrived for a definite refusal on the part of Liberal women to work at Parliamentary elections.”

This led to a scene of great excitement. Mrs Strickland explained [who proposed the motion - see her details below] that in the true interests of womanhood there might come a time when it was their duty to abstain temporarily from working for that great party they loved so well. She doubted the value of Mr Asquith’s promise. Liberal women were between the devil and the deep sea.

Mrs Jane Strickland JP

They felt that if a private member tried to help them he had very little chance - while a responsible Government had not yet said it would help them. The Liberal Party was losing one election after another partly because the Suffragists were opposing the Liberal candidates. They must get a distinct declaration from the Government that they would not only allow an amendment to come into their Reform Bill (but that they themselves would incorporate it in that Bill.

Miss Margaret Ashton supported this, giving the Government a solemn warning that one after another of the Liberal women’s organisations was weakening and slackening, and it was impossible to get workers now because women doubted the intentions of the Liberal Party. There was a loyalty far higher than party loyalty, and that was loyalty to suffering women. It grieved her to see the Liberal Party throwing away its chances, and the way to make it do right was not to support it in doing wrong.

Another speaker said that young women Liberals were all going over to the suffrage movement. Various opinions were expressed, and a hint of future tactics was given by Miss Florence Balgarnie that, if at 'the time of the general election' women had not got the franchise, they would organise a giant meeting and lay down their ultimatum.

Dora (Mrs Bertrand) Russell 12 years later

Mrs Bertrand Russell said that the resolution was not a threat. She fully believed in Mr Asquith; she believed he would do more for them, and that the resolution would strengthen his hands. It was only fair he should know of the increasing discontent.

Lady Grove said they had not a sufficient guarantee that Woman Suffrage would not be shelved, and she was perfectly convinced that the Federation would act up to this resolution if the necessity, etc, etc.

You can read what Christabel Pankhurst's view of Cuckfield's proposal was in a future posting and the outcome of the Cuckfield proposal. It's interesting to learn just how influential and proactive the Cuckfield women were in the Suffragette movement.


Sources and two well known local Suffragettes

Votes For Women May 21 1909 part of Part of Suffrage Journals which can be found at

Herbert Henry Asquith served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.

Dora, Countess Russell (1894-1986) was a British author, a feminist and socialist campaigner, and the second wife of the philosopher Bertrand Russell. She was a campaigner for contraception and peace. She worked for the UK-government-funded Moscow newspaper British Ally and in 1958 she led the "Women's Peace Caravan" across Europe during the Cold War.

Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, is arrested outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914.

Public domain image.

Jane Strickland JP

The spokesperson on behalf of the Cuckfield branch - Mrs Strickand - will have been Jane E Strickland the Chairman for the Free Church League for Women's Suffrage. She was 58 in 1909, and married to Francis Strickland a corn merchant living at the time at 'Halsteads' in Hastings. There was a very active branch of The Women's Social and Political Union in the town. The local societies each held weekly meetings plus ad hoc talks and lectures. Plays, films and church services were attended and sometimes interrupted.

A woman of fine character, Mrs Strickland was admired and respected by all who knew her. She was appointed magistrate in 1929 and sat regularly on the Hastings Bench. Although one of first women JP's the first was Ada Jane Summers MBE JP who achieved that on 31 December 1919, one week after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force.

Education was Jane's life study and she was elected to the Hastings School Board and in 1901 she became one of the first members of the Hastings Education Committee. She was on the board of management of several schools.

The girls of the Hastings Central School, where she was also a manager, regarded her as one of their greatest friends and named one their houses after her. The schools for domestic training also received her close attention and interest. As vice-chairman the Children's Care Committee she was present at the opening the Prince of Wales of a new wing at the Chailey Heritage Craft School in July. She was a member of the Mental Deficiency Committee and was one of the chief movers for the foundation of the St. Leonards School for Delicate Children at Hollington.

A full biography of Jane Strickland:

More about the Hastings suffragettes:

The March to London 1913

On July 21 1913, Edith Bevan the founder of Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society (CWSS) with fellow members joined 50,000 women from all over Britain who marched to London where they converged on Hyde Park, to demonstrate for the right to vote.

The first womens' vote 1918

The Representation of the People Act, giving some women the vote, was passed on 6 February 1918, with 8.5 million doing so during the General Election of December 14.

Horrible histories

Click on this ltihnakt to hear a song from Horrible Histories that neatly sums up the chain of events leading to women's emancipation. A great way to introduce children to this important subject.

Main photograph

Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden; 15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to 'deeds, not words'. Pankhurst was arrested for the first time in February 1908, when she tried to enter Parliament to deliver a protest resolution to Prime Minister Asquith. She was charged with obstruction and sentenced to six weeks in prison.

Pankhurst saw imprisonment as a means to publicise the urgency of women's suffrage; in June 1909 she struck a police officer twice in the face to ensure she would be arrested. Pankhurst was arrested seven times before women's suffrage was approved. The photograph shows her being arrested outside Buckingham Palace on 21 May 1914 while while trying to present a petition to the King. Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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