• March of the Women

Bertha Marion Broadwood (1846–1935)

Anti Suffrage postcard 'I want my vote', c.1908, sent to Bertha Broadwood's nephew, Capt Evelyn Broadwood, by his relative, Hilda Fairbairn (SHC ref 2185/262/5)

Anti Suffrage postcard ‘I want my vote’, c.1908, sent to Bertha Broadwood’s nephew, Capt Evelyn Broadwood, by his relative, Hilda Fairbairn (SHC ref 2185/262/5).

Bertha was the fourth of eleven children born to parents Henry Fowler Broadwood and Juliana Maria Birch of the prestigious Surrey-based piano manufacturers John Broadwood and Sons. The family lived at the Lyne estate, in the parishes of Capel and Rusper.

From a young age the vigorous Bertha stood out, known for being “the very ditto of her father” and her older sister Katherine commented how she was “born a young woman and not a man for some inscrutable reason” (Atherton, op. cit. p.102).

Bertha had a wide-ranging interest in political theory and politics from an early age. Atherton references her as a young woman in the 1870s attending Parliamentary debates with her pro-suffragist friend Margaret Pennington of Broome Hall, when they would have been required to sit in the Ladies’ Gallery, known as The Cage, which looked out on the members from behind thick metal grates and did not allow members to a view of the women for fears they would be distracted. She first considered the issue of women’s suffrage when the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill was debated in Parliament (1872-1876). The Bill was limited: it intended to give the vote to unmarried women only, recognising that in supporting themselves independently, they were much as men. Bertha reached 30 in 1876 and was unmarried, as it turned out she would remain, but despite her personal circumstances and her evident engagement as a woman with the politics of the day, she decisively chose to oppose the Bill. Her principal reason seems to have been and continued to be, a loathing of universal suffrage, which she closely associated with ‘radicalism’ or ‘socialism’, since the Bill would have given the vote to ‘a very large number of uneducated women of the class of small shop keepers, milliners, lodging house keepers and their lodgers’ (SHC ref 2185/BMB/8/10/2).

Image of Bertha Broadwood c.1903. Broadwood family album, SHC ref 2185/PA/26

Bertha Broadwood c.1903.
(Broadwood family album, SHC ref 2185/PA/26)

Bertha strongly believed that women of her class had a crucial role to play with regard to local and social issues. Her attempt to sit on Capel Parish Council was defeated on receiving no votes in the election of 1909 – whether due to misogyny or the dislike of her powerful personality will never be known. But she also held that the franchise would place too great a burden of responsibility on those women who already performed their duty in the public sphere (see SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/14 and elsewhere). She argued that women’s influence gained significance through their distinct knowledge and abilities, and that in bidding for the same rights as men, ‘women … would lose their power if they did not take care’ (Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 20 Feb 1909). However, on her own part, she also found time to be a very active member of the local Women’s Liberal Unionist Association, campaigning on the national political issue of the proposed dissolution of the union with Ireland.

Image of a group of anti suffrage documents among the papers of Bertha Broadwood<br/>(SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/-)

Group of anti suffrage documents among the papers of Bertha Broadwood (SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1).

Image of a National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage (NLOWS) Dorking branch poster, 1912 (SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/-)

NLOWS Dorking branch poster, 1912
(SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1).

The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League had been founded in 1908 (joining the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage two years later to become the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage (NLOWS). Bertha, now in her sixties, became a member. She was evidently regarded as a person of prominence and influence, as she was in March 1910 invited by the Leith Hill and District Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to debate with Millicent Fawcett: although her notes apparently made for the purpose of this event survive, as it turned out she did not attend (SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/32-33). The NLOWS wore badges to meetings in an attempt to avoid suffragette or suffragist supporters joining them. On one occasion a Miss Drew, who was pro suffrage, asked if men should legislate on things within the women’s sphere such as milk supply, cradles and fire guards, to which Bertha replied that women could reform society in other ways, such as presenting at Parliament committee without needing the vote (Atherton, p.105). By 1914 the NLOWS had 42,000 paid-up members and thousands more non-paying supporters. Its members had collected over half a million signatures for petitions against votes for women and its leaders were confidently demanding a national referendum on the issue. Anti-suffragists could not match the fervour of their opponents, but they were clearly a force to be reckoned with rather than merely a target for suffragist ridicule (see British Library blog in ‘Sources’ section).

The Anti-Suffragists’ reluctance to enter public forums of discussion was a source of frustration for local Suffragists, for which Bertha was then and has subsequently been blamed (SHC ref 2185/BMB/4/17/62; Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 16 Apr 1910). Isobel Hecht complained that ‘A well-known Anti-Suffragist has written to say that there is a great deal behind the feminist movement which cannot be discussed in public and proceeds to affirm that we are trying to get into Parliament in order to teach mischievous and immoral doctrines’. It is not clear how far Bertha believed that the issue should not be discussed: the controversy continued after she appears to have ceased playing an active role.

Bertha’s public expression of her views were perhaps considerably more limited than the material we find in her surviving manuscript papers, although it is hard to determine for sure as it appears that if she did publish, it was anonymously, as ‘A Woman’ (for example see SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/14). However, her scathing comments on Suffragist supporters certainly make unpleasant reading, such as her poem ‘To Suffragettes and Suffragists!’ (SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/3), possibly written in 1912, the first verse of which reads:

“Unwinsome Widows!
Maidens whom none will wed!
Feel unimportant.
And would be wooed instead
For votes:… by Men!!!”

The violence of militant Suffragettes further embittered her stance in the early 1910s, as it seemed to affirm her belief that the movement was ‘engineered by socialists’ (Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 27 May 1911), who were seeking to disrupt the very basis of society. Her genuinely held fears for the inviolability of parliamentary government were stated in typically hostile and belittling language: ‘female faddists’ who ‘kick and scream and chain themselves to railings’ were a menace ‘either inside or outside of P[arliament]’: with these women as an example of political activity, the majority do not want ‘the vote to use, when their flighty sisters might abuse’ (SHC ref 2185/BMB/7/1/28).

Bertha’s role in the Anti-Suffrage campaign is not recorded after early 1912, although she continued her involvement in Liberal Unionist politics after this date. In lamenting the Suffragists’ campaign, ‘All this fatigue, excitement and struggling worrying after the vote and vast expenditure of something like £15000 in 3 years seems such pitiful waste of energy and money when help and workers so sorely needed for Hospitals, Waifs and Strays’ (SHC ref 2185/BMB/1/1158), perhaps she had decided to devote her own energies elsewhere.

Bertha is listed on electoral registers from 1910 onwards (since some women were entitled to vote in local elections). In March 1912 she attended an anti-suffrage deputation to the Reigate MP, Colonel Rawson. It was reported in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser on the 16 March 1912 that the Reigate and Redhill branches of NLOWS “expressed their regret at Col. Rawson’s voting for the conciliation bill… [and asked him] to reconsider his position especially in view of the recent violence of extreme suffragists.” (Atherton, p.6). After the 1918 Act allowing some women the right to vote, Bertha’s name continues to appear in the electoral registers, although it is not known if she exercised her right to vote nationally, or simply continued to vote locally.

Bertha died in March 1935 at the age of 85, at her home in Surrey.

Contributed by Isabel Sullivan, cataloguing archivist for the Bertha Broadwood papers (SHC ref 2185/BMB/-), and Holly Parsons, The March of the Women Project Officer.

Sources:

Papers of Bertha Marion Broadwood relating to her anti-suffrage interests have been re-catalogued as part of ‘The March of the Women’ project, Surrey History Centre records 2185/BMB/-
Bertha Marion Broadwood
John Broadwood Piano Manufacturers
British Newspaper Archive
Ancestry
Vote 100
Atherton, Kathy (2017). Suffragettes, Suffragists & Antis- The fight for the Vote in the Surrey Hills. The Cockerel Press.
Wainwright, David (1982). Broadwood By Appointment, A History. Quiller Press.
British Library blog, ‘The anti suffrage movement’ https://www.bl.uk/votes-for-women/articles/the-anti-suffrage-movement

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