Deeds not words

The many and varied women who fought for suffrage, the suffragists and suffragettes, did not limit themselves to simply arguing for the vote. They were social reformers in many areas, and their wide ranging and enormous influence is still with us today. 

The church did not always have an easy relationship with women's suffrage, and some churches actually became a target for radical suffragette action. 

Today, however, many are rightly proud of their links to the women who have made such a difference to our society.


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a physician and suffragist, the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. She founded the first hospital staffed by women and was the first woman in Britain to be dean of a medical school and elected to a school board. As Mayor of Aldeburgh she was the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain. Elizabeth introduced Millicent Fawcett, her sister, to women’s suffrage and in 1866 she joined the first British Women's Suffrage Committee. She died in 1917 and is buried in the churchyard at St Peter & St Paul, Aldeburgh.


Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett was an intellectual, a feminist, a political essayist and a union leader, but she wasn’t a suffragette, she was a suffragist. She believed strongly in suffrage, but wasn’t willing to condone militancy to get it. Fawcett was the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1897 to 1919, fighting tirelessly and lawfully for women’s right to vote. Westminster Abbey contains a memorial to Millicent, and she is the first woman to have a statue in Parliament Square.


Emily & Isabella Ford

Whilst Isabella has undoubtedly enjoyed the greater historical reputation as a social reformer and suffragist, they cofounded the Leeds Suffrage Society. Emily Ford, an artist and campaigner for women's rights, was born into a Quaker family in Leeds. Her work was influenced by the pre Raphaelite movement and she exhibited at the Royal Academy. After converting to Anglicanism and being baptised at All Souls in 1890, she gave the church a tall font canopy with eight panels she painted herself.


Lady Frances Balfour

Lady Frances Balfour was one of the highest ranking members of the British aristocracy to assume a leadership role in the women's suffrage movement. As a nonviolent suffragist, she was opposed to the militant actions of the Women's Social and Political Union, the suffragettes. She was president of the National Society for Women's Suffrage from 1896 to 1914. Frances was strongly committed to Crown Court and instrumental in raising the funds necessary to build the Crown Court Church in Covent Garden.


Dorothy Thewlis

Dora was baptised in St Bartholomew, Meltham in 1897. In 1907, she travelled with Yorkshire and Lancashire women to take part in a planned protest at the Houses of Parliament. The police forcibly blocked entry and a photographer caught the moment Dora was frogmarched away by two policemen, with her hair and clothes in disarray. She was the youngest of the women, earning her the nickname of the 'baby suffragette'. Despite not having been being found guilty of any offence she was kept in solitary confinement at Holloway Prison.


Claude Hinscliffe

In 1909 Claude Hinscliffe (who had previously been curate at St George in the East, Shadwell) and his wife Gertrude founded the Church League for Women's Suffrage. It became the largest of several church based groups campaigning for votes for women and several branches had fine banners, some of which are now in museums. After the First World War CLWS was retitled the ‘League of the Church Militant’ and enlarged its horizons to include work for the ordination of women.


Emily Wilding Davison

Emily was particularly committed to deeds not words. She hid in a cupboard in the chapel on the night of the 1911 census, in order to list the House of Commons as her address on her return. She was imprisoned eight times. Her final and most notable act was to step out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. She died soon afterwards of her injuries. There is a statue to her in Victoria Gardens, close to parliament, and a plaque on the inside of the cupboard door in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Houses of Parliament.


Lilian Lenton

In early 1913 Lilian began a series of arson attacks and was arrested. In Holloway Prison she, like many arrested suffragettes, held a hunger strike before being forcibly fed. Arson was a common tool of the suffragettes, and although no conclusive evidence was ever found they were blamed for a devastating fire at St Mary, Wargrave in 1914. Postcards bearing suffragette messages were found in the churchyard. The damage was substantial and it was not until 1916 that the church was restored ready for use again.


Elsie Bowerman

Nestled in a picturesque village, the funeral of Elsie Bowerman was held at St Mary the Virgin, Warbleton. She was rescued from the Titanic, caught up in the Russian Revolution, demonstrated with the suffragettes, drove ambulances during WWI, became the first woman barrister ever to speak at the Old Bailey, and almost in passing, founded the WVS. In 1914 she toured the nation with WSPU leaders Flora Drummond and Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and in 1918 Elsie became one of the first women Election Agents.


Edith Cavell

The argument for suffrage required women to show they could master their emotions and make rational political decisions. Edith Cavell was one of the first British women to be celebrated for her stiff upper lip. Instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers, she also helped smuggle them home. After her undercover resistance work was discovered by the German secret police, Cavell was tried for treason, found guilty, and shot at dawn by a firing squad in Brussels on October 12 1915. She is buried in Norwich Cathedral.


Emmeline & Sylvia Pankhurst

St Luke, Weaste is where Emmeline Goulden married Richard Marsden Pankhurst in December 1879. In 1903, five years after her husband died, Emmeline founded the Women's Social and Political Union, an all women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to deeds, not words. She was widely criticised for her militant tactics, and her daughter Sylvia was even more radical, but her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain.