Secret Suffragette Stories: The Goat Lady of Ramsden Heath

University of Essex student Ben Davey has been researching the story of Grace Chappelow, known locally in later life as the Goat Lady of Ramsden Heath. As Ben discovered, Grace was an avid campaigner for the vote and an inspiring Essex Woman.

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Grace Chappelow campaigning

 

 

Grace Chappelow, a woman who had been dubbed the ‘goat lady’ to her locals had an unsuspecting past. You, the reader, wouldn’t imagine that this ‘Goat Lady’ had been imprisoned alongside the famous Rock sisters of Essex in 1911, for her involvement with the terrorist organisation the Women’s Social Political Union, or more commonly known, The Suffragettes.

Grace was born in Islington in 1884 and she enjoyed a wealthy upbringing, being able to attend school and growing up with a female role model in her head mistress Dr Sophie Bryant. This is suggested by some to be an early influencer of her interest to female suffrage.

Fast forward to her 20’s, It is agreed that she joined by 1910 after her move to Hatfield Peverell.  This is due to finding of a report in the Essex Weekly News explain her involvement in a planned raid of the Houses of Commons.

 

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Pins like these were presented to suffragettes who had been imprisoned in Holloway.  This one belonged to Grace Chappelow and is now in Chelmsford Museum

But what was she arrested for, and what did she have in common with the Rock sisters? In 1911, Grace was amongst 200 other women who decided to smash the windows of Mansion House. All to aid the effort for women to gain the vote. She along with 4 others, was imprisoned for 4 months in Holloway prison where she also took part in hunger strikes, maintaining her resistance to the patriarchy.

The tenure at Holloway prison was not the only time Grace found herself imprisoned. In 1910 she had disrupted a meeting in Leicester by the home secretary at the time Winston Churchill. During this disruption she exclaimed ‘Why don’t they secure the vote of the women in the country? How dare you stand on a democratic platform?’. She was escorted out and imprisoned for five days. Her story can be found on the ‘Vote for Women’ newspaper article on 25th November 1910

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Presented to Grace Chappelow by the WSPU and signed by Emmeline Pankhurst. Courtesy of Chelmsford Museum.

Grace Chappelow however militant she was in the years of 1910-1912 pursued a quieter role after her time in prison. She sold the ‘Votes for Women’ Newspaper, she still attended suffrage meetings in Chelmsford, she also spoke at one showing her belief in the progress of the movement. But it is apparent that after her time in prison, her radical behaviour had subsided, and she was more active behind the lines.

Her past did not leave her when she left the front lines though. She was arrested once again by Witham police after her dog had attacked a political agent and refused to pay the 5 shillings fine. She was taken to prison for a fortnight. What I think is telling of the context of this arrest is the news report from the Essex Newsman on her arrest. She is constantly related to her involvement with the suffragette movement and there is no dialogue of the actual crime. Therefore, this could have alienated the public away from her and made her look irrational. The Chelmsford Chronicle had also covered this story in a similar light but had not mentioned the actual offence, leaving the crime to the imagination of the audience.

So, what happened to this suffragette? She had purchased a house in Ramsden heath and decided to sell goats milk on a bike. Her house had no telephone or television, but she was an avid nature lover and was pleased to move into a house cut off from the noise of the cities. After doing this for many years she had gained her reputation as the Goat Lady and continued to live in Ramsden Heath until she died in 1971.

This women’s journey through life is one of inspiration. At an early age she felt it upon herself to make a change in the world, to question the inequality that society had set upon her, and to fight for her rights as a citizen of England. Her and many women amongst her took up the militant action to further their cause and in 1918 some women were allowed the vote. Votes for all women were achieved in 1928.

This once ‘Caged’ Goat Lady had lived through the Suffragette movement, witnessed the hunger strikes and imprisonment first hand and outlived the patriarchal society of which she endured. Stories like Graces’ are not often televised or taught in our schools, this must change. The stories of individual women like Grace show the reach and impact that the Suffrage movement had. It also is important, in my opinion, to educating further generations of the importance of equal rights.

 

Bibliography

  • Chelmsford Museum, Suffragettes and Chelmsford, Chelmsford Library (2018)

https://www.chelmsford.gov.uk/museums/news/suffragettes-and-chelmsford/

http://www.essexrecordofficeblog.co.uk/the-smashing-rock-sisters-dorothea-and-madeleine-rock-essex-suffragettes/

  • Gazette News, How Essex Suffragettes fought the ‘freaks and frumps’ jibes in push for the vote, Gazette Newspaper Online (2017)

https://www.gazette-news.co.uk/history/15337301.How_Essex_Suffragettes_fought_the____freaks_and_frumps____jibes_in_push_for_the_vote/

  • Newspaper Articles on Grace Chappelow

Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results?basicsearch=grace%20chappelow&retrievecountrycounts=false

 

 

 

 

 

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‘She lived a woman-centred life’: modern recognition of lesbian and bisexual suffragettes.

As part of Snapping the Stiletto’ Project Manager, Pippa worked with students at the University of Essex who were taking a module ‘Votes for Women’. As part of this some researched themes and individuals which particularly interested them and wrote these up as blog posts.

As we move from LGBT History Month to Women’s History Month this post from M Borrowdale looking at the role of ‘invisible’ women in the fight for equality which ends with a call for historians to look further into these stories seems particularly apt.

When we read histories of the British women’s suffrage movement, the aims and methods of campaigners are often at the forefront. Images of women chaining themselves to the railings outside Number 10, or Emily Davison’s actions at the Epsom Derby are well-known and written about. However, who were these women? And how did their personal relationships shape their experiences in society and within the movement? Katharine Cockin researched the life of Edith Craig, saying that ‘she lived a woman-centred life’: Craig was a suffragette and theatre director who was in a number of relationships with other women. These woman-centred experiences shaped her perspective on her theatre performances, and on her activism within the suffragette movement.

Minorities in general are not well documented in history, however historians have begun to uncover the often untold experiences of women of colour who fought for the women’s suffrage movement. For instance, Anita Anand researched into Sophia Duleep Singh, an Indian-born British suffragette. In Edwardian British society, women of colour from imperial colonies had different and unique experiences from white women, but still fought for equal suffrage alongside them. Queer women were in a similar position, where their legitimacy within relationships or as individuals was not recognised, and they were expected to be married to men. A popular modern representation of the suffragette movement, the 2015 film ‘Suffragette’, blatantly leaves out the more nuanced stories of women of colour, and of queer women.

It is important to consider the women in the movement whose romantic and personal lives followed a path which was different from the social norms of the time. It is now coming out (pardon the pun) that many suffragette leaders may have entered into romantic and sexual relationships with other women. Hilary McCollom’s 2017 talk for the National Archives discusses the possibility that within the suffragette movement, there were ‘invisible’ women in same-sex relationships, and it is important to recognise the layered element of their fight. If these women were in fact bisexual or lesbians, they were not only facing arrest for resisting the police and the government at protests and during hunger strikes, but they also ran the risk of facing further prosecution and/or social alienation for the nature of their relationships. This social view has been investigated by historians: McCollum argues that there is some evidence that the Women’s Freedom League (a group which broke away from the Women’s Social and Political Union) may have been created because of the perception that some female members had formed strong emotional bonds with each other which were seen as ‘unbalanced, primitive and dangerous to the movement’.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst of the WSPU are widely believed to have had a close relationship with one another, with many other women also writing letters of admiration about both of them. Kenney wrote: “the changed life into which most of us entered was a revolution in itself. No home life, no-one to say what we should do or what we should not do.”

Researching historical personal lives is a difficult task. It often relies on the analysis of private documentation, as same-sex relationships were deemed illegal and socially unacceptable. Such research requires documents of personal admittance, and the historian’s knowledge of specific and often undercover social circles in order to confirm such thoughts and relationships. The National Archives have begun to highlight the importance of researching the history of LGBTQ+ people. In a 2012 speech about researching hidden histories, Jenni Orme likens such ‘non-mainstream histories’ to the exercise of ‘digging for diamonds’. The complication with researching people in same-sex relationships is that much of the written evidence would have been destroyed, or not recorded in the first place. For example, one of Edith Craig’s long-term female partners, Christopher St John, is believed to have ‘destroyed Craig’s papers after her death’. These remaining papers and records are fragmentary, and they display to historians only the information which these women saw as acceptable to leave behind, to represent their lives and relationship. Many other women simply did not keep diaries or personal letters, and therefore much of it is speculative based on the writings of other women in their circles.

Sometimes, proving the personal private thoughts and actions of individuals in history is simply not possible. However, this doesn’t mean that we should disregard the possibility that some women were in sapphic relationships, or the evidence that we have to support this claim. When researching the centenary of the 1918 Act, it is important to acknowledge that women from all walks of life were involved in fighting for their right to a democratic vote – including LGBTQ+ women. Their stories are coming to the forefront as modern society becomes more accepting of these people and their relationships, and it may be time for us as historians to look further into their stories.

Ask her to stand- One hundred years of voting

One hundred years ago today women in the UK voted for the first time in a General Election. Two-thirds of women in the UK (8.5 million) were eligible to vote at this first election. One woman – Constance Markiewicz – was elected to the House of Commons in 1918 although, as a member of Sinn Fein, she didn’t take her seat and it wasn’t until the following year that Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in the House.

In the last election (2017) 208 women were elected as MPs – 32% of the total. Essex roughly follows this pattern with six women and 12 men serving the 18 constituencies.

 

The campaign 50:50 Parliament has been working toward more equal representation

https://5050parliament.co.uk/

50:50 Parliament’s Mission

To achieve an inclusive gender-balanced parliament, that draws upon the widest possible pools of talent, including men and women equally, incorporating their full range of diversity and experience.

50:50 Parliament drives this mission by encouraging, inspiring and supporting political engagement, particularly from women. In addition, 50:50 Parliament lobbies Parliament and the political parties to be more inclusive of women.’

Do you know someone who would be a great MP? Has a friend always said she’d love to be involved but doesn’t know where to start? 50:50 Parliament has a campaign #askhertostand looking for women who may be interested in standing and working with them to support and mentor them. If we want to be represented then some of us need to take a deep breath and think ‘I’ll give it a go!’

If you need inspiration just think of all the amazing Essex women who campaigned for us to get the vote- today we say thank you to them all!

Rosina Sky protesting ‘No Vote, No tax’ after her goods were seized.

Grace Chappelow campaigning

Focus on… Southend Museums

Votes for WomenSouthend Museums consists of four unique venues spread across the town:

  • Southend Central Museum and Planetarium
  • Beecroft Art Gallery
  • Southchurch Hall
  • Prittlewell Priory

 

The museum has been working very closely with Snapping the Stiletto volunteers to research women at the start of our hundred year period. In addition to trying to discover the identity of this mystery suffragette, stories being researched include that of Adelaide Hawken, who set up Southend’s first mother and baby clinic and Rosina Sky, a suffrage leader who ran a tobacconist shop in the town who refused to pay her business rates as she couldn’t vote on how they were spent.

 

Click here to find out how to get involved in this and other opportunities across the county.

 

We are particularly keen to highlight our events team, who will be helping to share stories like these at a range of displays and celebratory events over the coming year and a half. Monday 4th June is our first training day for events volunteers, although others will be scheduled soon if you can’t make it (including at least one on a weekend). For more information, click here.

 

Uncovering the Past at Essex Record Office

One of our key partners in this project is the Essex Record Office who are helping us with advice, research and training.

The ERO holds archives that take up nearly eight miles of shelves and the items they care for include parish registers, diaries, letters, court records, wartime records, manorial records and school records. It’s also home to the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

To mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act the ERO blog has celebrated Essex women such as suffrage campaigners, WWI Nurse Kate Luard  and Matron of Black Notley Hospital Mary Ellen Ruck.

Josephine Culling

Several of our volunteer challenges suggest that you could visit the ERO to look for more information about a particular person such as Katherine Mina Courtuald and Josephine Culling.

Other challenges ask people to look for stories of women working in engineering at different companies such as Ford, Paxman, Bentalls and Marconi and the ERO holds many different company newsletters which could be a great starting point for this.

 

 

If you have never visited a Record Office before it may feel a bit daunting but staff are there to help and you can find a useful guide here.

The Record Office looks after unique, irreplaceable historic material so there are a few key things to remember as these are all to minimise the risk of damage.

It is worth being aware before you visit that they ask-

  • Please bring as little as possible into the Searchroom
  • store your bags in the locker room (free to use and located next to the Searchroom)
  • Please use a pencil rather than a pen
  • You can use laptops and tablets, but cases must be left in the locker room
  • They provide transparent wallets for holding notes and small items

It’s a good idea to bring a warm layer to wear as the searchroom is kept cool (22°C) to help preserve documents (a good place to visit in a heatwave!)

If you’d like a tour of the searchroom there is one coming up on May 30th and you can book here

Just be warned- Record Offices are full of fascinating documents- I’ve lost hours in them!

Who is The Mystery Suffragette?

Guest post by Iona Farrell, Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museums.

At Southend Museums we are uncovering the hidden histories of campaigning Southend women. Through a team of fantastic volunteers we are discovering more about two inspiring women- Rosina Sky and Councillor Adelaide Hawken- who both campaigned for better lives for women within the town.

Rosina Sky fought for the enfranchisement of women alongside being an independent businesswoman whilst Councillor Hawken’s tireless efforts led to the founding of the first mother and baby clinic within the town.

We’ve found images relating to these women and other campaigners in the town but we want your help in finding out more.

Can you help us uncover more stories?

Who is this unknown Suffragette?

 

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This photograph shows a Suffragette believed to be taken in Southend yet we know little of who this woman is.

Can you help us discover her story? Can you help us give her a voice?

 

The women at the Westcliff Institute

ww1 baby clinic 2These images depict a mother and baby clinic believed to be located at the Westcliff Institute, now the Trinity Family Centre. Following research uncovered by Snapping the Stiletto volunteers this was the site of the clinic founded by Councillor Adelaide Hawken in 1915. It provided much needed support and advice for mothers and aimed to reduce infant mortality rates.

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We believe these photographs are of the Clinic, can you help us identify the women and children involved?

Can you help us learn more about these photos and the Westcliff Institute?

We want to hear your stories.

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If you can help identify any of the women in these photographs or can share stories of the clinic, pleased contact  Southend Museums by emailing ionafarrell@southend.gov.uk

 

Want to become a volunteer?

If you want to help uncover more hidden histories, sign up as a Snapping the Stiletto volunteer