• March of the Women

Rose Lamartine Yates (1875-1954)

Rose Lamartine Yates: The Early Years

Rose Lamartine Yates, c. 1906. Image courtesy of Bath Central Library.

Rose Emma Janau was born of French patronage on the 23 February 1875 at 33 Dalyell Road, Lambeth, London, and was the youngest of three children[1]. Both her parents, Elphege Bertoni Victor (b.1847), a teacher of foreign languages and Marie Pauline (b.1841) were born in France but later became naturalised British citizens. She was schooled at Clapham and Truro High Schools and travelled to Kassel and the Sorbonne to study at the University of Paris[2]. In October 1896, Rose entered Royal Holloway College to study Modern Languages and Philology. In 1899, Rose passed the Oxford Final Honours Examination (the highest examination that was open to women at Oxford University), however she was not awarded her degree on the grounds that she was simply a woman[3].

In 1898, with the full approval of her parents, Rose began a courtship with solicitor and family friend, Thomas Lamartine Yates. The couple married in 1900 in Stoke d’Abernon in Surrey. During their first years of marriage, they were both ‘passionate cyclists’ who toured throughout Europe with the Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC)[4]. Rose became a leading figure within the reform party, becoming the first female member to be elected to the CTC’s council in 1907. It was during this time, when Rose stood for election to the CTC’s council, that she made the statement that she ‘was not a suffragette.’[5] Nevertheless, just a year later, Rose wrote that although it was ‘an honest statement’ it was at the same time ‘untrue.’[6] She stated that ‘for looking into the matter seriously I find I have never been anything else, therefore, I never really became a suffragist, I was born one and the tale I have to tell is rather how I became to realise I was and must remain one at whatever the personal cost.’[7]

The Suffrage Years

Rose joined the Wimbledon branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) soon after it was founded in January 1909 and immediately became a member of the Wimbledon WSPU committee. However, it was February 1909 that was said, by Mary Leigh, to be the date that ‘a new life was to open out for Rose,’ as it was on the 22 February 1909 (the eve of Rose’s birthday) that she attended a public meeting held in Wimbledon where Christabel Pankhurst was the chief speaker[8]. During the meeting, Rose felt a ‘definite call’ and when she arrived home from the meeting, Rose and Tom worded the telegram that offered Rose to the WSPU for the next deputation.

On the 24 February 1909, Rose attended a deputation, led by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, from Caxton Hall to the House of Commons, to present a petition under the Bill of Rights to the Prime Minister[9]. However, Rose was seized by police officers when she attempted to deliver the petition and was subsequently arrested along with 28 other women and charged with ‘obstructing the police in the execution of their duty.’[10] Despite her husband acting for her defence, she received one month’s imprisonment in the 2 division in default of being ‘bound over to keep the peace’. Her son Paul was just eight months old at the time of her imprisonment and the satirical magazine, Punch, printed a set of verses criticising her for leaving him. Rose defended her decision on leaving Paul not just in her court hearing but also in various speeches that she gave on her prison experience. Stating that he was left in the care of her husband, a nurse and ‘the gardener’s capable wife’[11]. On her return to Wimbledon Rose’s house had been decorated in the colours of the WSPU to mark the occasion and at the end of April, Rose was awarded the new illuminated addresses (given to all WSPU members who had served at least one week’s imprisonment) and a ‘Holloway Brooch’[12].

On her return from prison Rose continued as an active member of the Wimbledon WSPU and by the end of 1909 she had replaced Margaret Grant as the Wimbledon WSPU’s Organising Secretary. When Rose took on this position within the local Union, she essentially became an unpaid, full-time worker for the WSPU. In her capacity as Honorary Organising Secretary she organised the local meetings, oversaw the management of the local WSPU shop, enrolled new members, addressed local meetings, organised local suffragette bazaars and garden fetes and contributed weekly reports to the local, national and suffrage press and most famously defended women’s right to free speech on the Wimbledon Common- speaking at 3pm every Sunday on women’s issues. Rose not only became the face of the Wimbledon suffrage campaign, she was also the driving force behind the local movement and was the key to its success[13]. Between 1909 and 1911 alone, Rose along with other Wimbledon volunteers, increased the turnover the Wimbledon WSPU by over 1000%, with their annual turnover rising from £23 in 1909 to £328 in 1911.

In addition to all her commitment as Wimbledon WSPU’s Honorary Organising Secretary, Rose also opened up her Wimbledon home, Dorset Hall, to some suffrage activists who were in need of recuperation from their exhausting daily schedules. The most notable suffragettes to have stayed at Dorset Hall were Emily Wilding Davison, Mary Leigh and Mary Gawthorpe. WSPU organiser, Mary Gawthorpe, actually stayed with the Lamartine Yates family for six months from October 1910 whilst recuperating from what Mary described as ‘overstrain and injury received in the votes for women campaign’[14].

Nevertheless, it wasn’t just suffragettes that Rose and Tom welcomed into their home. In 1913 Rose was the ‘first guard of honour’ to Emily Wilding Davison’s coffin, and opened up her house to Emily’s brother, Captain Davison, during the inquest and the funeral. Their generosity to the Davison family is apparent in a letter that the Captain wrote to Tom, thanking them for their kindness and support with the funeral and inquest (Tom was the solicitor who represented the Davison family at the inquest). After Emily’s funeral Rose took nearly a year off from the Wimbledon WSPU due to a ‘severe illness.’[15] After several attempts to recover from her illness in ‘the fray’, she was ‘ordered aboard for rest.’[16] During this time the Wimbledon WSPU was organised by the Union’s second in command, Edith Begbie.

Women’s Suffrage and War

Image of Rose Lamartine Yates with her son Paul, nd ( copyright Museum of London)

Rose Lamartine Yates with her son Paul, nd (copyright Museum of London)

By the summer of 1914, Rose had returned as Organising Secretary of the Wimbledon WSPU but soon afterwards, the First World War was declared. WSPU members were informed of the ‘temporary suspension of militant activity until the conflict was over.’[17] The Pankhurst leadership argued that to secure ‘votes for women’, they needed a ‘national victory’ since ‘what would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!’[18] However, Rose and the Wimbledon WSPU didn’t agree with this decision. In their local 1914 Annual Report, they record that ‘the subject of women’s enfranchisement was still a concern for many local women’ and because of this, the branch chose to ‘keep in touch with the only subject which unites all suffragists’ by holding weekly meetings, readings and discussions at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoons. This was open to ‘members and their friends.’[19] This continuance of suffragette meetings by the Wimbledon WSPU into 1915 is highly significant as they were the only local WSPU branch that is known to have defied instruction and continue their local meetings. Not only did they continue their meetings but in September 1914, Rose ‘tried to minimise the suffering brought upon women and children in the locality by reason of the war’ by persuading the WSPU committee to transform the bottom floor of their WSPU shop into a cost-price restaurant. In just one year the cost-price restaurant served over 40,000 meals.

With the cost-price restaurant a success, Rose turned her attention onto what she felt was the most pressing issue at this time. In 1915, this was still votes for women. Rose and many other women such as Mary Leigh, Dorothy Evans and Annie Cobden Sanderson were all women united in their disapproval of the WSPU leadership’s decision to no longer use the WSPU’s name, and its platform, to campaign for women’s suffrage[20]. Consequently, on the 5 December 1915, Rose and temporary executive proceeded to devote themselves to suffrage work’ and acted ‘untidily as a group of the WSPU for suffrage only.’

The Suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union (SWSPU), as the organisation became known, resumed ‘the highly important social and political work of the WSPU’[21]. Meetings of the SWSPU took place at least once a week throughout 1916 and 1917 and the SWSPU newsletter (the Suffragette Newssheet) was sold on the streets on London. The SWSPU also contributed to the wartime campaign for women’s enfranchisement by signing circular letters to parliament, attending pickets at the House of Commons and taking part in collective deputations to Parliament with organisations such as the East London Federation of Suffragettes, the United Suffragists and the Women’s Freedom League.

Life After Votes for Women

On the 6 February 1918, the Representation of the People Bill received the Royal Assent, giving the vote to some women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification and to all men over the age of 21. With votes for some women achieved, Rose’s focus altered. With the support of the National Federation of Women Teachers, she was elected, in 1919, to the London County Council (LCC). Rose’s election to the LCC provided her with a platform on which she, as a practical woman and mother, could use her voice and influence to help improve the lives of women and children in North Lambeth by shaping the local political agenda and ensuring that local women and children were a priority. Whilst serving on the LCC, Rose worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions of North Lambeth residents, suggesting and implementing house plans that would benefit housewives and working women. She also ‘persistently supported every effort to improve the tram service and reduce the fares’ notably securing the halfpenny fare for children in her constituency. Moreover, her work for equal treatment of women in wages was tireless, as was her determination to secure a minor aliment clinic for children in North Lambeth. In 1920 Rose secured an LCC grant which enabled a minor aliment children’s centre to be opened in North Lambeth. This clinic was opened in 1921 and named The Rose Lamartine Yates Clinic. The clinic remained an integral part of North Lambeth’s health care system up until 1958 when the clinic was closed and offered to the National Health Service. Although Rose only served on the LCC until 1922, she remained as the Honorary Treasurer of the clinic until 1934.

In 1938 Rose was one of the ‘prime movers’ behind the establishment of The Women’s Record House at 6 Great Smith Street, Westminster. Rose opened the Women’s Record House in May 1939. It housed a vast range of suffragette material from banners to postcards. Each room had its own theme: ‘the early beginnings of the movement, the militant phase, prison records, souvenirs and reminiscences.’[22] However, the existence of the Women’s Record House was short-lived, as it had to close in September 1939 ‘on account of the war.’[23] The ‘suffrage records were distributed to places of safety.’[24] The records that Rose contributed to the collection were taken back to her house for safekeeping and it appears that she never returned them to the Fellowship as there is very little that relates to her, or the Wimbledon WSPU, within The Suffragette Fellowship Collection today.

After the establishment of the Record House in 1939, Rose was never again active in public life. Instead, she settled in her Putney flat and ‘delighted in her grandchildren’- whom she adored. In 1951, she bought her son a house in Sevenoaks and ‘visited frequently.’[25] Just three years later, after a brief illness, she died of colon cancer at the age of 79. She was buried next to her beloved husband, Tom, in the family’s plot in St Matthew Avenue, Brookwood Cemetery[26].

For an article on Rose Lamartine Yates see Alexandra Hughes-Johnson, ‘Here indeed one can say this life has been lived abundantly’: The life and political career of Rose Lamartine Yates’, Women’s History, Special Issue 1918-2018, vol 2 Issue 11.

Contributed by Dr Alexandra Hughes-Johnson, University of Oxford.


[1] Please note that some of the material used in this blog post was originally published in Women’s History, 2:1 (2018), 19-26.
[2] A.J.R., eds, The Suffrage Annual and Women’s Who’s Who, (London: Stanley Paul & CO, 1913)
[3] Ibid.
[4] Gail Cameron, ‘Rose Lamartine Yates (1875–1954)’, ODNB.
[5] Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, A Reference Guide, 1866-1928 (London Routledge, 2001), 763.
[6] Lamartine Yates, Rose ‘How I Became a Suffragist’. Women’s Library, Papers of RLY (7RLY).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Leigh, Mary, Biography of Rose Lamartine-Yates, date unknown. Typescript Biography. From Women’s Library at LSE, papers of Mary Leight, MLB/E.
[9] Lamartine-Yates, Rose. A Month in the Common Gaol for the Faith. Women’s Library, Papers of RLY (7RLY).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Leigh, Mary, Biography of Rose Lamartine-Yates.
[12] Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, 763.
[13] Itinerant organisers are paid organisers who travelled throughout the country to organise for the WSPU. Unlike district organisers, they did not have a fixed area that they focused upon.
[14] Mary Gawthorpe Fund Letter, Dora Marsden Collection, Box 2, Folders 1-2; Source quoted in L. Meredith, “Mary Gawthorpe’s post-WSPU career, 2011.
[15] Leigh Mary, Biography of Rose Lamartine-Yates.
[16] Leigh Mary, Biography of Rose Lamartine-Yates.
[17] June Purvis, “ The Pankhursts and the Great War,” in The Women’s Movement in Wartime: International Perspectives, 1914-1919, ed. Alison Fell and Ingrid Sharp. (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 143.
[18] Pankhurst, Unshackled, 288.
[19] The Wimbledon Boro News, “Wimbledon WSPU Annual Meeting.” March 13, 1915, 6.
[20] The Vote. “A Protest Meeting.” November 5, 807, 1915.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Lamartine-Yates, Paul. Paul Lamartine Yates’ autobiography. From the John Innes Society, Wimbledon.
[23] Suffragette Fellowship Newsletter. “Women’s Record House.” 1939-40. From The British Library.
[24] Suffragette Fellowship Newsletter. “Women’s Record House.” 1939-40. From The British Library.
[25] Lamartine-Yates, Paul. Paul Lamartine Yates’ autobiography.
[26] Lamartine-Yates, Paul. Paul Lamartine Yates’ autobiography.

Online article by Sheila Hanlon, Cycling UK, on Rose Lamartine Yates, the Cyclist’s Touring Club and her love of cycling, 2018.

For an entry featuring Rose Lamartine Yates on the ‘How the Vote was Won’ website click here.

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