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

Guest Blog: Microfiche Training

pexels-photo-891059.jpegToday’s blog post is by project volunteer Emily Leonard.

I recently signed up as a volunteer for the, “Snapping the Stiletto” project and attended a session at Southend Library to learn more about the project, and how to use the available research tools. The training session was run by The Forum USO team and Iona Farrell (the Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museum). I, along with other volunteers learnt how to use the microfiche and microfilm scanners and the local history section of the library.

This enabled the group to help Iona research two pioneering Essex women, Rosina Sky and Councillor Adelaide Hawken.

We were shown how to use the library facilities which also included a comprehensive selection of PDFs of the “Southend and Westcliff Graphic”, an illustrated paper that gave a lot of interesting insights into the local area and attitudes in the early 20th Century.

Thanks to this training session and the background information supplied by Iona and Southend Museums I now feel prepared to delve into researching these two interesting figures further.

To find out more about our volunteering opportunities, click here.

Women’s History Month – Essex Campaigners

Every day during Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a different inspirational Essex woman from the last 100 years. For the first week, we have focused on great campaigners.

 

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Muriel Lester was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

We started the month with Muriel Lester. Born in Leyston, she was a pacifist who created a holiday home for poor children and toured with Mahatma Gandhi. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Grace Chappelow was a Suffragette and lived in Hatfield Peverel. She was arrested more than once for her activities while protesting. A volunteer at Chelmsford Museum recently wrote a Wikipedia article about her.

Another Suffragette was Ethel Haslam from Ilford. She was secretary of the local branch of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and a teacher. Ethel was dismayed to find her pay as a teacher was cut after she married.

Many of the iconic posters used by the Suffrage movement were designed by Catherine Courtauld, who was based in Braintree.

 

From Southend, we highlighted several “campaigning women”. Rosina Sky was a single parent who ran a tobacconist shop while also being an active Suffragette. Councillor A H Hawken, who founded the first child welfare clinic in Southend in 1925. That year, she also became one of the first female Justices of the Peace. We also looked at Lady Gwendolen Guinness, who was elected as Southend’s first female MP in 1927.

Southend Museums are really keen to know more about these women, so please do get in touch if you’re able to help with the research.

 

Another MP was Leah Manning. She was elected MP for Epping in 1945, was a campaigner for education reform and rescued Basque women and children from Spanish Civil War

Ada Cole was born in Norfolk, but was instrumental in setting up a charity to care for animals in Roydon. She was upset by the state of horses returning from WWI and campaigned for animal welfare.

Joyce Baldwin who was born in Essex, but later moved to Nottingham. She was a biblical scholar and early campaigner for women’s ministry. She worked as a missionary in China during the 1940s and went on to become Principal of Dalton House Theological College.

 

Don’t forget, there are lots of ways to get involved with helping us celebrate Strong Essex Women. Find out more on our Volunteering page.

Hidden stories of Essex Women

One hundred years ago some women got the right to vote. How has life changed for women since this landmark change?

Snapping the Stiletto is working with museums, community groups and volunteers to uncover new stories taking the ‘Representation of the People Act’ (1918) as a starting point to explore 100 years of strong Essex Women.

The project is in its early days and Pippa (the Project Manager) is working with community groups and museums to look for these stories and to work out how to follow them up by exploring the various collections held in museums and the Essex Record Office. We’ll be inviting volunteers to help with this research and you’ll be able to find various ways to volunteer over the next couple of months as the project progresses.

So what stories are out there? What stories would people like us to tell? Who were the strong Essex women of the past 100 years who have contributed to this diverse county?

So far we are looking at telling the stories of little known suffragettes such as Grace Chappelow who lived in Hatfield Peverel and the key role of some of the women of the Courtauld family, with links to Braintree, in the campaign. The Combined Military Services Museum has some amazing stories of the undercover roles women have played in wartime. Elsewhere in the county groups have told us that they are interested in finding out more about ‘campaigning women’ such as Ada Cole, who founded ‘World Horse Welfare’ and Leah Manning, the MP for Epping in the 1940s who organised the evacuation of orphaned children during the Spanish civil war. A group in Harlow have told us of a National Front March that was turned away by a group of women and they’d like to find out more about this.

The Essex Police Museum and the Essex Fire Museum both have stories to uncover about the role women have played in these key services. Other stories that are emerging involve women in industry such as Marconi in Chelmsford and EKCO in Southend.

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A worker at the EKCO factory in Southend. Image courtesy of Southend Museums

Community groups have suggested other leads we could follow and are interested in women who were invited to move to Essex to support the NHS and the key role women have played in forging new communities and integrating new cultures into the life of the county.

We’d like to know what potential stories interest you? What do you think museums might have in their collections (objects, documents, photographs) that could tell some new stories about strong Essex women over the past 100 years? We can’t promise that every story can be told- it will depend on what we can find in museum collections- but it would be great to know what you’d like the project to look at to help steer our research.

pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk

Votes for Women- working with students from Essex University

 

Early on in the project Pippa and Eleanor Root (who was then the Essex MDO Maternity cover) worked with students from Essex University who were taking a ‘Votes for Women’ module.

To start the session we had asked the students to bring along an object which meant something to them and which they felt told a story about women – this got the students thinking about objects and threw up some fascinating stories including one which told of forced marriage only three generations ago.

Eleanor then explored how museums catalogue items with the groups and we looked together at some classification systems to see where objects associated with women would be found- overwhelmingly we decided that these objects would be classified as ’;domestic’ or possibly be found in the costume section. A search of various museum websites confirmed this.

We then looked at how museums think of their audiences and talked through how many divide their visitors into groups and what this might mean to exhibition and event planners

Pippa then took the students through the various ways museums are managed across the country and we looked at who was represented at a high level in national and regional museums and the make-up of some Boards of Trustees. We did find some senior women which was encouraging but decided that women were generally under-represented at a senior level across the board.

The session introduced one of the key themes of Snapping the Stiletto- that women’s’ history is held in museums but that the way objects have been collected and catalogued over the last 100 years has hidden these stories away. We hope that the project will support museums to uncover these stories and think about future collections

The students were great to work with – we were just a little disappointed that there were no male students as part of the group!

Students taking the Votes for Women module- notice anything?