Marion Wallace Dunlop (1864-1942)
Marion Wallace Dunlop was born on the 22 December 1864 in Croy and Dalcross, Iverness, Scotland, and was baptised at St Mary’s, Oatlands Park, Weybridge, on the 21 February 1865. She was the eldest of five children, with two brothers and two sisters. Marion claimed to be a direct descendent of the mother of William Wallace (the leader of the First War of Scottish Independence, 1296-1328), and her great-grandmother was the patroness of Robert Burns (Scottish poet 1759-1796). Marion studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and illustrated two children’s books, Faries, Elves and Flower Babies and The Magic Fruit Garden in 1899. She exhibited some of her work at the Royal Academy in 1903, 1905 and 1906.
Marion was both a supporter of women’s suffrage and a socialist; she joined the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1900, and the Fabian Women’s Group in 1906. She was an active member of the suffragette movement, joining the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1905, and was close friends with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Marion was the first suffragette to use the hunger strike as a form of protest in prison, in 1909. As an artist she was instrumental in designing and organising processions for the WSPU. She worked with Edith Downing to organise the Women’s Coronation Procession on the 17 June 1911, in which she designed the “We Follow” part of the procession.
Marion was first arrested on 30 June 1908, during a demonstration in Westminster, for obstructiing the police during a suffragette demonstration. That afternoon, there was a WSPU meeting at Claxton Hall headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. It was proposed that a deputation of 13 women, including Marion and Emmeline, would peacefully take a resolution to the House of Commons and to the Prime Minister. The resolution put by Emmeline was as follows:
“This meeting calls upon the Government to extend the Parliamentary franchise to those women who possess the qualifications which now entitle men to vote; And the meeting further demands that this reform be effected by means of a separate and distinct measure to be immediately carries into law.” (Votes for Women, 2 July,1908)
The deputation was escorted to the entrance of the House of Commons, however they were not allowed any further, and were informed at the entrance that the Prime Minister could not see them and instead they should submit what they had to say in writing. The deputation returned to Caxton Hall, and arranged for there to be a demonstration later that evening. In this demonstration, 29 women including Marion were arrested for obstruction of the police, of which 27 were charged; Marion refused a fine of £20 and was sentenced to one month in prison. On her release on the 6 August, she was given a bouquet of purple and white sweet peas and purple heather. Marion later confessed that she had not known what to do to get arrested and was glad when she was.
Marion was arrested again during a demonstration on the 13 October 1908, again for obstruction, and was imprisoned for one month. On her release on the 21 November, she was the first of the suffragettes to give a speech, recounting her experience as a prisoner and the protest she and others had made during her sentence of the treatment of a fellow suffragette, Mrs Leigh, by the wardress. Marion refused to return to her cell until she met with the Governor. She was then taken before a magistrate, the Governor, the matron and seven wardresses, only one of which told the true story. The Governor gave her five days of solitary confinement and the women who supported her protest were each given three days of solitary confinement. Marion claimed sole responsibility for the protest and stated “when we seek justice outside of prison, we are sent to prison; when we seek it inside we are punished. It is a little difficult to know what to do.” She ended her speech by stating: “I have come out determined to work more militantly than ever, and if it is necessary I am ready to go back to Holloway.” (Votes for Women, 26 November 1908).
In 1909, Marion was arrested for stencilling a passage of the Bill of Rights onto the wall of the House of Commons. The stamp was 12×6 inches and read “Women’s Deputation, June 29”, followed by the passage from the 1689 Bill of Rights “It is the Right of the subjects to petition the King and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal”. On the 22 of June, Marion went to the House of Commons and stamped this above the wall of St Stephen’s, where she hasd been sitting. The police officer on duty confiscated her stamp, took down her name and she was ejected from the building. When Marion asked the police officer if the inscription was legible, the policeman responded that it was a smudge. Two days later, Marion returned, accompanied by Victor Duval, with a larger stamp bearing the same inscription. She was allowed back into the House of Commons reportedly because she was not recognised – Police Inspector Scantlebury said in his report that she was “very much disguised from what she was on the 22”. She stamped this message on the same wall in permanent purple ink and was arrested soon after, along with Mr Duval.
Marion was charged with the offence of wilful damage, and Victor was charged with aiding and abetting. At her hearing at Bow Street magistrates, Marion stated that her actions had a political motive and that she did not consider her actions to have caused damage to the House of Commons. She stated, “I wrote those words as they were in danger of being forgotten by our legislators, and because I intended that they should be indelible.” (Votes for Women, 9 July 1909)
Marion was convicted of wilful damage and given a fine of £5 in addition to the cost to repair the damage. After refusing to pay the fine, she was sentenced to one month in Holloway Prison, on 2 July 1909. It was during this prison sentence that Marion would use the hunger strike as a form of protest against being placed in the Second Division despite considering herself a political prisoner (political prisoners were placed in the First Division, which allowed prisoners different rights to those in other divisions. Suffragettes were not placed in the First Division despite being political prisoners). She was inspired by reading about Tsarist prisoners in Russia using this tactic, and on the 5 of July she petitioned the Governor of Holloway Prison; “I claim the right to be recognised by all civilised nations that a person imprisoned for a political offence should have first division treatment; and as a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me, I am now refusing food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction.” (Spartacus Educational).
After being denied First Division treatment, Marion, then in her mid-40s, went on hunger strike. When encouraged not to by Governor of Holloway Prison, Marion replied that if she died as a result, it would be “a great thing for the cause, as all England would rise if a Suffragette died in Holloway Prison”(Letter from 1914 FMP Suffragette Collection). The Governor and Prison Commissioner were afraid that Marion would die and become a martyr and genuinely believed that her idea would help the cause. Forcible feeding was not used on Marion due to her health, and she was discharged on the 8 of July 1909, after 91 hours of fasting.
This tactic was soon taken up by all suffragettes in prison. The government was unwilling to release all hunger striking suffragettes, so forcible feeding was introduced. This was protested due the torturous nature and health risks associated with it. Suffragettes, including Marion Wallace Dunlop, asked high ranking Church of England clergy to help stop the practice of forcible feeding, with many Bishops holding influential positions in the House of Lords, however they refused.
Marion and Mary Richardson, went to the Bishop of London’s house on 10 February 1914 to protest at his ‘misleading’ report of an interview with Miss Phyllis Brady and Miss Kitty Marion, regarding the effects of forcible feeding. Although they were refused admission at first, Marion and Mary were both interviewed by the Bishop of London later that evening and the Bishop promised to send a memorandum on the question of force feeding to the Home Secretary.
In June 1910, Marion was invited to Eagle House, home to Colonel Linley Blathwayt, whose wife and daughter were suffragettes. Eagle House was known at the time as the “Suffragette’s Rest”, and between 1909 and 1911, trees were planted on the grounds to commemorate individual suffragettes. During her visit, a Tsuga Mertensiana (an evergreen mountain hemlock) was planted in Marion’s honour.
In 1911, Marion moved to Peaslake, in the Surrey Hills, to a cottage on Mackie’s Hill. During the First World War, she adopted a young girl called Dawn. Marion was a pallbearer at Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral in 1928, and took care of her adopted daugher, Flora Mary Gordon, for a short time after her death. In the 1939 register, there Aylingh Milne, born on 21 August 1916, was living with Marion, and her occupation listed as ‘unpaid domestic duties’. Harry Daley of Dorking (1901-1971), then a delivery boy for Kingham’s Grovers in Dorking, recalls seeing Marion at her home: “Miss Wallace Dunlop, the suffragette, impressive in tweeds and a no-nonsense manner, with her pretty niece and comparatively dim companion, all painting on their easels at the edge of the sunlit common outside their cottage, became a well-known sight and a vivid memory”. (From Harry Daley’s memoirs, ‘Dorking 1916-1925’, p.11, SHC ref 7832/3).
Marion died on the 12 September 1942, at Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Guilford.
Contributed by Katie Kerr, ‘The March of the Women’ project volunteer.
British Newspaper Archive
Votes for Women, 2 July 1908, The Militant Demonstrations
Votes for Women, 6 August 1908
Votes for Women, 26 November 1908
Votes for Women, 2 July 1909
Votes for Women, 9 July 1909, “The Writing on the Wall”
Votes for Women, 10 June 1910
Votes for Women, 24 June 1910
The Suffragette, 14 February 1913
The Suffragette, 13 February 1914
The Suffragette, 20 March 1914
The Dundee Courier, 1 July 1908
The Sheffield Independent, 23 November 1908
Purvis, June (2017). Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography. Routledge.
Overton, Jenny Margaret Mary and Mant, Joan (1998). Suffragette Nest: Peaslake, 1910 and After. Hazeltree Publishing.