Here are some more remarkable women who star in the Magna Carta Women collage to commemorate 800 years of democracy and illustrate the history of women’s rights.
It has been difficult deciding who makes it to the list. So far we have looked at some of the key women from the medieval times, 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th century including Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the ladies of Llangollen and Mary Astell. This time we look at some of the women who have made some giant steps towards women’s rights.
Ada Nield Chew
Ada was an influential figure for working class women. She joined the Independent Labour Party and National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She was aware of the differences in education and upbringing between middle class and working class women.
However she fought against this, speaking out about injustices and refused to be silenced by the better educated. This was reflected in the lively correspondence with Christabel Pankhurst in the magazine The Clarion during 1914. Ada argued that the WSPU policy was for “the entire class of wealthy women be(ing) enfranchised, (while) the great body of working women, married or single would be voteless still, and that to give wealthy women a vote would mean that they (would) vot(e) naturally in their own interests…”
She was also an active member of the Fabian Women’s Group and wrote for various journals including The Common Cause, The Freewoman and The Englishwoman’s Review.
Marriage in the 19th century was thought to protect women, give them increased respectability, social standing and security however many more women were aware of the constraints of marriage. The alternative was to cohabit or live with a man out of wedlock, which was considered to be extremely sinful.
Edith Lanchester was a socialist and feminist from a prosperous family. She caused a storm by telling her family that, owing to the anti-woman marriage laws, she was going to cohabit with her lover James Sullivan. Her argument was the wife’s vow to obey the husband was oppressive and she didn’t want to lose her independence.
Her family tried to dissuade her but she would not marry. Her outraged father had her forcibly examined by a doctor who was mental specialist. After signing emergency commitment papers under the 1890 Lunacy Act, the doctor had Edith imprisoned. Her brothers and father, who bound her arms and legs with rope, forced her into a carriage sending her to a lunatic asylum. The psychiatrist said that the step she was going to take meant utter ruin, that she was committing social suicide and was unfit to take care of herself.
After four days of lobbying to get her released, with the help of her local MP, she was proclaimed sane though foolish. In the aftermath the case was discussed with strong views for and against. Even the Marquess of Queensbury offered Edith £50 if only she would get married, but she refused and happily cohabited with Sullivan for fifty years.
Emily Wilding Davison 1872-1913
This lady has links to Royal Holloway University of London and of course after receiving funding towards the Magna Carta Women project, I had to ensure she was included in the collage!
Emily studied at the university as well as Oxford University but because she was a woman she wasn’t allowed to take a degree. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union and became a militant suffragette.
Once she hid in a cupboard in the chapel of the Palace of Westminster on the night of the 1911 census so that it was noted that her place of residence that night was the House of Commons. She was also arrested for various violent acts and spent a number of short periods in jail as well as going on hunger strikes. She objected to being forced-fed by throwing herself down a 10-metre iron staircase but luckily survived. Unfortunately she died the following year when she ran out in front of the king’s horse at Epsom Derby and died a few days later from her injuries. It is unsure whether she was planning to throw a Votes for Women sash around the neck of the king’s horse or deliberately throw herself under the horse. A 2013 investigation concluded that she intended to gain publicity for her cause by attaching the sash.
Lilian was the first woman in the world to design, build and fly an aircraft. Her love of aircrafts started when she received a postcard from her uncle, of a Bleriot monoplane from Paris. She rolled up her sleeves and built her own aircraft, overcoming technical challenges and created Mayfly.
Her family were concerned about her unsafe career which was deemed unseemly for a woman and her father persuaded her to give up the Mayfly in exchange for buying her a car. By April 1911 she was running a car dealership in Belfast.
Lilian was unconventional for Edwardian society, wearing beeches and smoking cigarettes. A remarkable individual who was also a sports journalist, photographer, expert markswoman and martial arts practitioner.
What do you think? Do you agree that these women had an impact on British women’s rights? Have I missed out any other late 19th Century women?
Keep an eye out for the next list of which are this time notable men from the 19th century who championed women’s rights.
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