Suffragette 1912-14

Suffragette 1912 - 1914

The suffragette movement was active in East London at this time and Daisy, encouraged by Minnie Baldock, joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1912 at their headquarters in Poplar. She also joined the Independant Labour Party (ILP) there. Here she met Mary Paterson, secretary of the Poplar Branch of the WSPU.


The WSPU had been founded in Manchester, the home of the Pankhursts, in 1903 and did not open branches in London until 1905. Sylvia Pankhurst made her first contact with the women of East London through Keir Hardie, (Member of Parliament for West Ham (1892-1895)) at this time, including Daisy’s mentor Minnie Baldock from Canning Town. Sylvia and other WSPU members organised marches, spoke in London parks and on street corners, and in October 1906 demonstrated at the opening of parliament. Eleven were arrested including Minnie Baldock. This event caused quite a stir because they were working and middle class women working together. In 1907 Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst moved down from Manchester and took control of the London campaign. Their policy was to cultivate the wealthy middle and upper classes, who could provide them with funds for the Cause, and they had less interest in working class women. Then in November 1912 George Lansbury ILP MP for Bow and Bromley dramatically announced his intention to fight a by election on the mandate of women’s suffrage. Although Lansbury lost the by election, the WSPU became active in East London again, and Sylvia established a new branch at Bow. She used it to promote universal suffrage, which was in direct conflict with Christabel’s ‘no men, no political parties’ rule. From the headquarters at Bow a group of eight branches were established across East London. This was too much for the autocratic Christabel and the inevitable confrontation came in January 1914. Sylvia left the WSPU and continued her campaign with her East London Federation of the Suffragettes.

East London Federation of the Suffragettes

The East London Federation of the Suffragettes was founded on 12th January 1914, and

when the ELFS branch was formed in West Ham, Daisy was its first member and secretary. Their newspaper was called the Woman’s Dreadnought.

The ELFS carried out a series of demonstrations and marches. Their first was a meeting at Trafalgar Square on 8th March 1914. Miss Paterson was arrested and the following describes her case:

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 21st March 1914

On Monday March 9th the ten persons arrested in Trafalgar Square the previous day appeared at Bow Street. Various weapons and life preservers of knotted rope weighted with lead, India rubber tyring and other instruments were shown by the police as having been used by the crowd. …

In the case of Miss Paterson the Poplar organiser of the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, it was stated that she was running down Northumberland Avenue waving a flag and followed by a large crowd, and that on being stopped by the policeman she took a knotted rope from her pocket and struck out right and left.

Miss Paterson asked leave to call Miss Mackay as witness but this the magistrate refused to allow saying in irate tones and pointing to the life preservers ‘what about those things in your possession do you think it is a trifle?’ At this point Mrs Parsons of Canning Town asked to be a witness to the fact that Miss Paterson had been ill-treated by the police, but the magistrate said ’she does not allege it and is none the worse for it’. Fine 40/-. Miss Paterson said ‘I did not allege anything about police treatment simply because it is not what I was here for. I could easily enough had said what they did, and could point out that it took ten men and eight horses to arrest me. But I was not here to make complaints against the police, that is for others. You incite to breach of the peace when you give seven years to Julia Decies and also drag people like Sylvia Pankhurst back again to prison. You have roused a fire in the East End and ten men and eight horses won’t be enough next time!’

Daisy was the ‘other woman’ mentioned here.

The day after this report appeared was Mothering Sunday (22nd March 1914), and the ELFS chose this day to march from East London to Westminster Abbey to pray for Votes for Women and those on hunger strike. The procession formed up at 28 Ford Road, Bow, at 3.45 p.m. and set off at 4.15 p.m.

From the Times 23rd March 1914

Miss S Pankhurst at the Abbey

Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, whose licence under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act expired at midnight on Saturday, was carried to Westminster Abbey on a spinal carriage yesterday evening accompanied by a large contingent of members of the East London Federation of Suffragettes. At the door of the Abbey the party was refused admission, the building being full. They therefore turned into St Margaret’s Street and outside the north door of the Abbey held a service, the Rev. C.A.Wills officiating.

Inside the Abbey the sermon, which was by the Rev. R T Talbot D.D. Canon of Bristol, was twice interrupted by women suffragists, three of whom were ejected.

Suffragists at the Abbey

Danish recruit ‘paid a little bit’

At Bow Street Police Court yesterday Margaret Paterson, 33, and Jenny Petersen, 21, were charged before Mr Hopkins with obstructing the police on Sunday night when a number of women marched from the East End to Westminster Abbey.

Chief Inspector Rolfe stated that after the service held near the House of Commons the two defendants and another woman walked through Downing Street, and when opposite the quadrangle made a rush, but were intercepted. Paterson was flourishing a loaded cane, and she also had in her possession three small pieces of iron and a knotted rope.

Petersen, who is a Danish subject, said in reply to the magistrate that she was sometimes paid ‘a little bit’ by the East end branch of the suffragist movement.

Paterson, who had been previously convicted was fined 40s, Petersen was discharged.

These extracts from the Woman’s Dreadnought illustrate some of their activities;

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 4th April 1914

South West Ham

Hon Sec: Mrs Daisy Parsons

94 Ravencroft Road

Good meetings held at Freemason’s Road and Beckton Road, 21 and 23 Dreadnoughts sold at these meetings. Good attendance at Member’s meeting on Thursday evening. Thanks to members who sell and distribute Dreadnoughts – more still needed. 126 Dreadnoughts sold in the week ending Friday March 20th.

Canning Town : District Leaders: Mrs Millo 1Ravenscroft Road, Miss Tate 17 Tyas Road, Miss Kates 8 Walter Street. Distributors: Mrs Sands, Mrs Roper, Mrs Pountney, Mrs Heacham

Custom House : District Leaders: Mrs Drake 49 Crediton Road, Miss Leggatt 74 Chauntler Road, Distributors: Mrs Ward, Mrs and Miss Laurence

Tidal Basin : District Leader: Miss Penn. Distributors: Miss Greenleaf, Misses A and L Kelsey

Silvertown: District Leader : Miss Grimes 27 Newland Street

From the Woman’s Dreadnought May 1914

South West Ham

Hon Sec: Mrs Daisy Parsons

94 Ravenscroft Road

At the members meeting on Thursday, Miss Grimes was elected as delegate for Committee of ELFS. She was also colour bearer for the procession. It was splendid the way members fought to have their meeting in Victoria Park. We hope all those who received hurts are now better. Thanks to banner bearers and to Miss King, Miss Cohen and Miss Lansbury for coming from Bow to march in procession.

84 Dreadnoughts sold week ending May 22.

Canning Town : District Leaders: Mrs Millo 1Ravenscroft Road, Miss Tate 37 Tyas Road. Distributors: Mrs Little, Mrs Parker

Plaistow : District Leaders: Miss Pett 67 Wigston Road, Mrs Hawkins 29 Beaufoy Road. Distributors: Mrs Ward, Mrs and Miss Laurence

Custom House : District Leader: Miss Daisy Leggatt 74 Chauntler Road. Distributors: Miss A Dunbar, Miss Cox

Tidal Basin : District Leader: Miss Penn 10 Brent Road. Distributors: Misses A and L Keiser, Miss Maud Greenleaf

Silvertown : District Leader: Miss Grace Grimes 27 Newland Street. Distributor: Miss F Nicholas

Petition to the King May 1914

On 21st May 1914 Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst appealed to all women suffragettes to attend a march to Buckingham Palace to petition the King. Many did but were met with force by the police. Daisy Parsons was there and described what she saw.

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 30th May 1914

Deputation to the King

What Mrs Parsons of Canning Town saw

Mrs Parsons entered the park by Admiralty Arch, and made her way to the Victoria Memorial. There she saw a large crowd of people, a large proportion of whom were youths hardly out of their teens, standing with their backs to the memorial, watching the palace. There was a wide vacant space between the people and the palace, and the middle of this space was a line of police, not standing shoulder to shoulder but with a space of some yards between each one.

The palace windows were crowded with people and four of them were open. There were detectives on the palace roof. Everyone seemed to be looking for a procession of women that did not come. Every now and then a woman would dart out from amongst the dense throng of spectators into the space, and the police rushed at her, caught her, and threw her back into the crowd. Then the young men in the crowd would turn on the woman and beat her and tear her clothes and drag down her hair and shout that she out to be burnt. Then the woman would run out again towards the police only to be caught and thrown back again by the police and again beaten by the men. This would be repeated until at last she was hustled away out of sight or placed under arrest. In one case Mrs Parsons saw one woman face this eleven times before arrest. The police never attempted to protect any of the women who were assaulted, and one young woman they lifted right up and threw over the heads of the nearest people.

At last the mounted police came up at a gallop and drove everyone away. Mrs Parsons was driven off in the crowd down Birdcage Walk. She saw a young woman dressed in pink with a jeering crowd behind her. The young woman stopped and stood with her back against the wall. A sentry walked up to her and pushed her. She said ‘How dare you’ , and he struck her in the face with his fist.

Now there were mounted police coming in both directions and there was no way for the people to disperse. Two mounted men drew their horses across the path so that their horse’s heads touched each other. Mrs Parsons and some of the others managed to squeeze through behind the horses. Afterwards Mrs Parsons went to Cannon Row and saw a number of stretchers being carried in.

An East London man reported; What we have to fear is the toffs in silk hats not the poor people.

Marching in a suffragette procession or taking part in a demonstration was a risky business and in addition to her sash in the suffragette colours of purple white and green, she also carried, hidden in her sleeve a ‘Saturday Nights’ or life preserver. This was a length of hemp rope, knotted at one end, which could be used as a cosh if necessary. She told her son Stanley that she never had needed to use it.

Sylvia then requested that Prime Minister Asquith receive a deputation of working women, and threatened to fast to death at the Strangers’ Entrance to the House of Commons if he refused.

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 13th June 1914

South West Ham

Members are asked to turn up at member’s meeting every Thursday. Splendid meeting was held at the Public Hall on Friday June 5th. Mr and Mrs Drake and Mrs Parsons were chosen for deputation. All members grieved at Miss Paterson’s departure and are grateful for splendid work she has done here. More members needed for Dreadnought distribution.

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 20th June 1914

South West Ham

Members are thanked for going poster parading and picketing outside Holloway prison. We urge men and women to write to their Member of Parliament, and to ask them to get Mr Asquith to receive deputation as Sylvia’s life is at stake. A good indoor meeting was held on Thursday when Miss Wright gave an interesting speech. A huge crowd was at Beckton corner on Friday, and many questions were put to Miss Paterson who very ably answered them. Miss Greenleaf thanked for helping secretary by taking papers to members

Deputation to Asquith June 1914

On June 12th Asquith relented and on Saturday June 20th , six East End women waited on Prime Minister Asquith to ask for the vote. They were;

Mrs Hughes, a brushmaker

Mrs Bird, mother of six young children

Mrs Ford, a widow with three children

Mrs Payne, a shoemaker from Bow

Daisy Parsons represented West Ham

Julia Scurr led the deputation.

Daisy Parsons is on the far right of this photograph.

Sylvia was unable to attend. From January to June 1914 she had been arrested and sentenced nine times and had undertaken several food, drink and sleep fasts in that time

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 27th June 1914

Mrs Scurr:

Sir, - We are members of the East London Federation of the Suffragettes an organisation which has sprung up in East London during the last two years, but we represent more than this organisation. We represent the general popular movement for Votes for Women in East London, which is of tremendous numerical strength and enthusiasm, and consists of both men and women. We are part of a deputation which was elected at three great crowded demonstrations held in Poplar, Canning Town and Bow and Bromley. …

We ask you first to consider the position of women wage earners. …

We ask you next to consider especially the question of married women. … Parliament is constantly dealing with questions affecting the education and care of our children, with the houses in which we live and more and more with every item of our daily lives. … Our husbands die on the average at a much earlier age than do the men of other classes. Modern industrialism kills them off rapidly, both by accident and overwork. …

We can here speak with much feeling on these matters for we know by bitter experience the terrible struggle with absolute want that our widowed sisters have to face from no fault of their own. …

We feel most earnestly and emphatically that it is gravely unjust to pass legislation in matters of this kind without consulting the women of this country. …

We would further point out that whilst women are taxed on exactly the same basis as men, and like men are obliged to obey the laws, they are allowed no voice in these questions. …

Mrs Parsons Speech

Mrs Scurr; The next speaker will be Mrs Parsons of Canning Town, who went to work when she was twelve years of age.

Mrs Parsons; I left school at 12 years of age and had a delicate father, and a mother who had to work hard at washing and charring. I had very often to help the neighbours do their work for which I was paid sixpence a day and the little food they could give which was not very much, because people in the East End do not have much food to give away. On the other spare days I used to help at home with the younger brothers while mother was at work. Then after a little while I went to work in a factory in Aldgate and there I was a cigarette packer. We used to pack a thousand cigarettes for 3d and in the morning when we were quite fresh we could pack 2000 cigarettes, but as we got tired after dinner we could only pack a thousand and a half. There you see that the wages some days that we earned were less than a shilling a day. In that factory the men were allowed time for lunch simply because they were men, but the women and girls, if we were fortunate enough to have lunch and could take bread and butter with us, had not a place to eat our lunch and were forced to take it into the lavatory and we know that is not altogether the thing. The men could quite openly come along with cans and eat whatever they liked to send out for and sit and eat it at their leisure. We know that if the men were working under these conditions, through their trade unions, and through their votes they would say they would not tolerate that sort of thing.

The Prime Minister; Does that go on now?

Mrs Parsons; I believe so at the same factory, and yet although the factory is sweating their girls and women workers, they are able to pay dividends and bonuses, and present the buyers of their cigarettes with prizes for the coupons that are packed in with the cigarettes. There are two coupons with the cigarettes for which they pay the paltry price of 3d.

The Prime Minister; Will you let me know the name of the factory afterwards?

Mrs Parsons; Yes.

Now as a young mother I have three little girls to bring up, two of my own children and another a little niece who has neither father nor mother. I feel if we women are able to perform the high duty of motherhood – and after all there are mothers who have brought statesmen into the world, because they have all had mothers, and we bring sailors, policemen and everybody into the world – we should at least have a say as to how those children should be brought up.

When I had the first little girl, I had a conscientious objection to vaccination and I went to the local magistrates for an exemption order. I thought I would save time by filling the form in and I presented it to him. The magistrate laughed and said you cannot do anything with this, you are not the parent. But, I said, I am the mother, surely I know what is good for my own child. But he said that in the eyes of the law you are not the parent of your own child. We feel that it is an insult to us. When we bring children into the world we should at least be able to say what is good for them. We mothers are with the children more than the fathers are, and in the event of a Dock strike, or any other strike for that matter, it is the mother who has to do the ferreting and has the work to do and perform her household duties as well.

With regard to Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, we are not asking to have the men arrested, but we do ask for her unconditional release. We feel that Sir Edward Carson has not only made inciting speeches, but he has said that the Irish streets would be flowing with blood or some such statement. I am lost for the exact words. We feel that his incitement has been greater than hers and he should now be in prison. We feel that the vote must be won shortly. We must have the vote. We are here today to demand a vote for every woman over the age of 21 years and Miss Pankhurst is giving her life for the purpose of fighting for this vote.

We do protest when we go along in processions that suddenly without a word of warning we are pounced upon by detectives and bludgeoned and women are called names by cowardly detectives, when nobody is about. There was one old lady of 70 who was with us the other day, who was knocked to the ground and kicked. She is a shirtmaker and is forced to work on a machine and she has been in the most awful agony. These men are not fit to help rule the country while we have no say in the matter.

We also ask for the release of Mrs Walker, who is a docker’s wife and a woman of my class, and we feel that she should not be in Holloway at this time for what the journalists like to call an inciting speech

Asquith gave a conciliatory reply to the deputation and indicated to them that their delegation was more representative than others he had met. He declared ‘if the change [women’s suffrage] has got to come we must face it boldly and make it thoroughly democratic in its basis.’ It appeared that Asquith had finally recognised that he could not maintain his resistance to women’s suffrage much longer, and that his position now – equal suffrage for men and women - was closer to that of Sylvia and the ELFS than that of Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst and the WSPU.

In the light of Asquith’s capitulation, the ELFS planned more processions and peaceful demonstrations in order to press their advantage.

From the Woman’s Dreadnought 4th July 1914

South West Ham

Splendid meeting held outside ‘Peacock’ when Mr and Mrs Laski and Mr Smith of Oxford spoke. Audience also pleased at the result of deputation, through Miss Pankhurst’s determination. Good meetings on Thursday and members set to work giving in names for lobbying MPs, banner carrying and paper selling. Still more wanted for Dreadnought distribution. Many members turned up and walked to Trafalgar Square.


last update: 1st May 2007