Panel 3: Suffragists in Surrey: the Peaceful Protest

Click on the image to see a larger copy of the original exhibition panel.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) advocated change through peaceful methods of protest. Campaigners felt that this more effectively demonstrated their ability to operate in the political sphere and used petitioning, public meetings and lobbying techniques to persuade Members of Parliament to debate the issue.

Helena Auerbach, president of the Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, persistently wrote to the press decrying the violent tactics used by some groups for tarnishing the reputation of other pro-suffrage societies, claiming that ‘aggressive political coercion is as little suited to our sex as the exercise of physical force’.

Mary Watts, painted by George Frederick Watts, 1887 (© Watts Gallery Trust)

In Compton, Mary Watts, founder of the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild and widow of the famous painter G. F. Watts, promoted the cause through her wide circle of friends. She was made president of the Godalming Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1909, after writing a letter expressing her support. Mary not only attended high-profile suffrage meetings but also held them at her Surrey studio-home, where on one occasion she gave an impassioned speech declaring ‘a vote meant a voice’. In 1913 Mary Watts offered her husband’s famous allegorical painting Faith (1896) to be reproduced on the cover of the leading suffragist journal The Common Cause.

Banner worked by Gertrude Jekyll for the Godalming Branch of the NUWSS, nd [c.1913] (Godalming Museum Collection)

Art provided a common bond and was used as a powerful tool of persuasion in the county. Joan Harvey Drew of Blackheath Village was a member of the Artists’ Suffrage League and designed postcards, posters and banners for the NUWSS. Garden designer Gertrude Jekyll designed a banner for the Godalming branch of the NUWSS of which she was a member.

Women’s Freedom League caravan tour in Guildford, with Muriel Matters seated in the window, 1908. (The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref TWL.2002.326)

The Women’s Freedom League (WFL) was formed in 1907 by members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who did not agree with Emmeline Pankhurst’s strategy. Led by Charlotte Despard and Teresa Billington-Greig, the WFL advocated direct action, such as passive resistance to taxation and a boycott of the 1911 census, but they did not condone attacks on property. In 1908 WFL member Muriel Matters led a caravan tour of the south east counties, including Surrey, and Wales to establish new WFL branches.

Panel 1 – The March of the Women: Surrey’s Road to the Vote

Panel 2 – The Growth of the Suffrage Movement in Surrey

Panel 4 – Suffragists in Surrey: The Long Road to the Vote

Panel 5 – Suffragists in Surrey: The Great Pilgrimage

Panel 6 – Leading Suffrage Supporters in Surrey: Peaceful vs Militant

Panel 7 – Suffragettes in Surrey: Early Activism

Panel 8 – Suffragettes in Surrey: Militancy Continues

Panel 9 – Suffragettes in Surrey: the Ultimate Sacrifice

Panel 10 – The Anti-Suffrage Campaign in Surrey

Panel 11 – Anti-Suffragists in Surrey: Active Women in the Community

Panel 12 – The March is Over: Women get the Vote!

Click here to read more about The March of the Women project

Click here to read The March of the Women blog

Explore more about Surrey’s road to votes for women and the county’s role in the national women’s suffrage campaign

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