Norah Dacre Fox (1878-1961)
Suffragette, Fascist, Anti-Vivisectionist and Independent Parliamentary candidate for Richmond in the 1918 General Election.
Norah Dacre Fox, later Elam (née Doherty) was born in Dublin in 1878. She had two older step-sisters and six younger brothers and moved to Fairfax Road, Teddington, with her parents in 1888. Her father, John Doherty was a master printer and was a member of the National Liberal Club, he subsequently became chairman of Teddington District Council and a Justice of the Peace. Norah would have heard political discussions around the family table from an early age. Norah married Charles Richard Dacre Fox (1876-1942) on 8 May 1909 at Hampton, Middlesex.
The couple then established their home in Claygate, Surrey and the 1911 Census records the couple living at 3 The Parade, Claygate. Charles, a wholesale stationer, is the head of household and states that they had been married for a year.Norah seems to have become active in the militant suffrage campaign in 1912, when she became Honorary Secretary of the Kingston and District Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Due to a talent for public speaking, she seems to have risen to prominence in the WSPU nationally and had speaking engagements throughout Surrey. In March 1913 she became General Secretary of the national WSPU and became a prominent speaker for the cause, sharing the platform with such luminaries as Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney (a ticket for a WSPU meeting dated 7 Dec 1913 features them all; see The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref: 7KGG/3/19).
In a letter to Archbishop Davidson, on 27 February 1914, Norah states that the Archbishop is to blame for the WSPU’s militancy claiming that in the half century since the fight for Votes for Women began the Archbishop had had numerous opportunities to show support for the cause and that if this had been forthcoming the need for militancy would have been averted. She continued “Our view is that the Church is very responsible for Militancy, because it has failed to realise the spiritual meaning of the Women’s movement and has not helped women to get the vote.” (Letter to Davidson from Norah Dacre Fox, Lambeth Palace Archive, ref. Davidson 516).
In May 1914 Norah and fellow activist Flora Drummond were arrested during a demonstration at a meeting at Chelsea Town Hall, where The Times reported that they were “openly and deliberately advocating acts of militancy and violence” (8 May). The women failed to appear when summoned at Westminster Police Court and warrants were issued for their arrest (The Times, 15 May 1914). Norah and Flora did not attend the court because they decided to picket the residences of Lord Lansdowne and Sir Edward Carson instead. Norah was arrested at Lord Lansdowne’s and Flora at Sir Edward Carson’s. The women were sent to Holloway Prison, Norah went on hunger strike and was released on license.
As an official in the WSPU, Norah was involved in the publication of The Suffragette. Emmeline Pankhurst recalled later “The Government made several last, desperate efforts to crush the WSPU to remove all the leaders and to destroy our paper, The Suffragette. They issued summonses against Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Dacre Fox, and Miss Grace Roe; they raided our headquarters at Lincoln’s Inn House; twice they raided other headquarters temporarily in use; not to speak of raids made upon private dwellings where the new leaders, who had risen to take the places of those arrested, were at their work for the organisation.” (My Own Story, 1914). The Times reported on such an action on the 20 May 1914 and on 31 July 1914 reported the arrest and detention of Mrs Dacre Fox under the “Cat & Mouse Act”. She had been apprehended by police at Buckingham Palace whilst trying to deliver a letter from Mrs Pankhurst to King George V.
Norah was arrested and imprisoned at Holloway on three occasions for her militancy. She endured forcible feeding as a result of hunger strike for which the WSPU awarded her a medal with three bars. Norah together with other suffragettes were released from Holloway Prison under the King’s Clemency Order following the outbreak of the First World War. Her name appears on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners 1905-1914 (The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref. 7LAC/2).
Norah supported Emmeline Pankhurst’s call for the WSPU to support the government during wartime and to fight for the country as they had done previously for the vote. The WSPU received a £2,000 grant from the government to organise a demonstration in London where WSPU members carried banners in support of the war effort. 30,000 people attended a rally at which Emmeline Pankhurst urged the trade unions to let women work in the industries traditionally dominated by men, freeing up men to serve their country in the Army Forces. Throughout 1915 Norah worked alongside Mrs Pankhurst, Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney and Grace Roe to encourage women to work in industry as their contribution to the war effort.
Norah continued to support the virulent anti-German policy of the WSPU leadership after the war and this message was carried forward into her election address in November 1918. It seems that she must have fallen out of favour with the Pankhursts following her decision to stand as an Independent in this election rather than as a candidate for the Women’s Party supported by the WSPU Leadership. Neither Common Cause, The Vote or Britannia reported Norah’s election address.
During the 1918 election campaign Norah argued that people of German birth should be deported from Britain. She later recalled that “my own distrust of party politics made me wary of turning in this direction, and I preferred to stand as an Independent, going down with all other women candidates on this occasion, save one.” There were four candidates standing in Richmond and Norah Dacre Fox polled 3,615 votes, in second place to the Unionist Candidate, Clifford Edgar, who polled 8,364 votes.
Norah did not stand for Parliament following the 1918 election but continued to have an active interest in politics. She wrote a letter to The Times, on 10 April 1920, in which she argued against the Treaty of Versailles saying that “France is our friend. Upon her security and her prestige depends the security and prestige of the British Empire. One had imagined that this lesson had been fully learnt as the experience of the European War, and a policy which tends to weaken France must be a policy which helps to strengthen her enemy and ours – Germany. The truth is that in this country there are a group of politicians and public men, surrounded by officials and advisers, who have always worked and are still working for a rapprochement with Germany and the hope of a future alliance with her.” Following the war, Norah joined with former suffragettes Flora Drummond and Elsie Bowerman to establish the Women’s Guild of Empire, a right-wing league opposed to communism.
Early in the 1920s Norah was living in Kensington following her separation from her husband. She embarked on a relationship with Dudley Elam (a married man) and in 1922 gave birth to her only child, a son called Evelyn. She changed her name by deed poll to Norah Elam in 1928.
Norah was a member of the London and Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society (LPAVS) from around the time of its inception in 1900. Her interest in this cause continued and during the 1930s she published two pamphlets under the auspices of the LPAVS: “The MRC: What it is and How it Works” and “The Vitamin Survey”. She hated the practice of vivisection and in the late 1930s was a founding member of the British Union Against Vivisection.
By the time Norah and her son moved to live with Dudley at Northchapel, West Sussex, he had retired from the civil service, and became chairman of the Chichester branch of the Conservative Party. Norah joined the Conservative Party; she and Dudley remained members until 1934, when they both joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF).Norah’s talent for politics and activism meant that she quickly became part of Oswald Mosely’s BUF inner circle. Norah fell under Oswald Mosely’s spell, she felt that he had the thoroughbred social status and dynamic political career that she and Dudley aspired to. She became a regular contributor to The Blackshirt, as well as other fascist publications such as the Fascist Quarterly, using the by-line “An Old Suffragette”. Her articles attacked the limitation of women’s freedom under democracy. She believed her militant suffragette past gave her moral authority for her view that the freedom that she had helped win was just a bluff. Democracy was an antiquated and worn out view, and the party system upon which it was based enslaved women and men alike. A rift between Norah and her former suffragette comrade Flora Drummond occurred over the use of violent methods to gain political objectives. On 22 February 1935 Norah took to the pages of The Blackshirt to criticise Drummond and other former suffragettes as “extinct volcanoes, either wandering about in the backwoods of international pacifism and decadence, or prostrating themselves before the various political parties.”
With views like these it is no wonder that she became a prominent activist in the BUF and became the County Women’s Officer for West Sussex. Dudley clearly shared some of these views and became BUF Regional Inspector for Surrey. Dudley and Norah’s son, Evelyn Elam, was sent to school in Germany in 1934 where he became a member of the Hitler Youth. In November 1936 Norah was selected as the BUF parliamentary candidate for Northampton but the outbreak of the Second World War intervened. In May 1940 she was interned under Defence Regulation 18B and sent once more to Holloway Prison. Dudley was elderly, frail and suffering from heart disease, hence he and Norah were released in 1942. The BUF was disbanded in 1945 but Norah continued to hold and express strong anti-Semitic views.
Norah and Dudley moved from Northchapel to a cottage in Twickenham and retired from active politics. Dudley died in 1948 and Norah in 1961.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, volunteer for The March of the Women project.
1911 census accessed online through Ancestry via Surrey History Centre
Letter to Archbishop Davidson from Norah Dacre Fox, Lambeth Palace Archive, ref. Davidson 516, see https://lambethpalacelibrary.wordpress.com/tag/norah-dacre-fox/
Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners, 1905-1914 (The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref. 7LAC/2).
For a ticket a ticket for a WSPU meeting, dated 7 Dec 1913, featuring Norah Dacre Fox along with Mrs Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, among the papers of WSPU member Katie Gliddon, of Twickenham, see The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref: 7KGG/3/19.
Mention is made of Norah Dacre Fox in interviews with former WSPU members, Jessie Stephen and Cicely Hale (The Women’s Library collection, LSE Library, ref.8SUF/B/157 and 8SUF/B/021)
Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story, 1914
McPherson, S, and McPherson, A, Mosley’s Old Suffragette: A Biography of Norah Dacre Fox, 2010 http://repository.essex.ac.uk/2090/
McPherson, S, and McPherson, ‘The Private and Political Journey of Norah Dacre Fox: A Suffragette turned Facist, Women’s History Network, Summer 2012
Read Elizabeth Crawford’s blog about Norah Dacre Fox https://womanandhersphere.com/tag/norah-elam/
The Times Digital Archive accessed through Surrey Libraries Online Reference Shelf at Surrey History Centre
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-112214?rskey=YIedeU&result=1
For more about Norah Dacre Fox, see https://spartacus-educational.com/Wdacrefox.htm
For more about Norah Dacre Fox and her Fascist views, see http://www.artinsociety.com/from-the-rokeby-venus-to-fascism-pt-2-the-strange-allure-of-fascism.html
For the Kingston University blog by Dr Steven Woodbridge about Flora Drummond, the Women’s Guild of Empire and Norah Dacre Fox’s views, see https://historyatkingston.wordpress.com/2020/08/15/drift-to-the-right-flora-drummond-and-the-origins-of-her-womens-guild-of-empire-in-the-1920s/