Theodora Wilde Powell (1871-1920)
Theodora Wilde Powell was secretary of the Godalming Branch of the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Together with Noeline Baker, she helped establish the Guildford Branch in 1909.
Theodora was born in Old Charlton, Kent, the youngest of six daughters and three sons of Thomas Wilde Powell, a stockbroker, and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nèe Marten). She was a wealthy women, with her personal effects amounting to £81,860 at the time of her death. She made substantial bequests to the causes that she had supported during her life, including £5000 to the National Trust (Times, 8 June 1921). She also bequeathed £3000 to the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship [the organisation which the NUWSS became in March 1919 when Eleanor Rathbone took over from Millicent Fawcett], as reported in Common Cause [newspaper of the NUWSS and later NUSEC], 4 February 1921. Theodora also contributed to the National Art Fund (founded by her sister Christiana) and left them a substantial legacy.
Theodora’s sisters were Christiana Jane Herringham (1852-1929), [May] Mary Elizabeth Turner (1854-1907), the wife of Hugh Thackeray Turner who were also supporters of the NUWSS, Rosamond Emma Wills (1861-1919), wife of Dr William Alfred Wills, Eleanor Grace Powell (1859-1945), and Agnes Margaret Dixon (1865-1918), wife of Charles Wolryche Dixon. Her brothers were Charles Marten Powell (1855-1928), Thomas Edmond Powell (1857-1901), and Herbert Andrews Powell (1863-1950). Charles and Herbert were executors of her will.
The 1881 Census lists ten year old Theodora among the residents of ‘Piccards Rough’, St Catherine’s, Artington, Guildford, on census night. Her father commissioned the house from the architect Richard Norman Shaw and moved here with his family following the death of his wife. He was also present that evening (head, widow, aged sixty), along with Mary Elizabeth Powell (spinster, daughter, aged twenty-seven years).
Theodora received a good education; the Times reported on 19 December 1889 that she was among those who were the first to be awarded a certificate in the new Oxford University examination for women.
Like both her sisters Christiana and Mary, Theodora was a skilled embroiderer. She exhibited a piece she had worked, designed by Mary, at the 1890 exposition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Given her suffrage sympathies it seems likely that she would have also put her talent to work helping to create the banners to be carried at suffrage events.
In 1906/7 Theodora was living at ‘Munstead Rough’ where she was a near neighbour of Gertrude Jekyll and Sir William and Lady Julia Chance. The Common Cause issues of 10 March 1910 and 30 March 1911 list Theodora and a ‘Miss Burnett’ both of ‘Munstead Rough’ as secretaries of the NUWSS Godalming Branch. Intriguingly it is possible that both Theodora and Miss Burnett evaded the enumerators on Census night 1911 as only the cook, Rose Parvin, and housemaid, Annie Elizabeth Winter, are listed at ‘Munstead Rough’, although the enumerator indicates on the schedule that the householder was Theodora Wilde Powell. Theodora does not appear at any other address on census evening.
Meetings of the Godalming branch of the NUWSS were hosted at Theodora’s house ‘Munstead Rough’. The West Sussex Gazette, 3 March 1910, reports a meeting presided over by Rev W F J Romanis [assistant preacher at Charterhouse School] at which Lady Chance and Miss Gordon were speakers. A vote was taken on the resolution that women should have the vote on the same basis as men.
Theodora was a joint signatory with Sir William Chance (a near neighbour), of a letter published in the Surrey Comet, 19 February 1910, on the work of the Surrey Aftercare Committee (now under the charge of SCC Education Committee), of which Theodora was Honorary Secretary.
The Surrey Advertiser of 10 September, 1910, reported an open-air meeting on women’s suffrage held in Wharf Street, Godalming, under the auspices of the Godalming branch of the NUWSS. Mr Picher presided and those present included Sir William and Lady Chance; Miss [Noeline] Baker, secretary of the Guildford branch and Miss [Theodora] Powell, secretary of the Godalming branch. John Simpson, a member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage was the principal speaker on the opportunity for achieving women’s suffrage presented by the Conciliation Bill’s progress through Parliament. He also made the point that there was inherent unfairness in the wages paid to women as against those paid to men for the same work.
The Daily News of 26 January 1912 reports a statement made by Theodora Powell on the subject of Lloyd George’s attitude to “votes for women” at the AGM of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society. She reported that the previous day she and Frances Sterling had attended a meeting of the Surrey, Sussex and Hants Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies in London. Theodora summarised the current political situation and then said that Lloyd George had decided there should not be a split in Cabinet and the Liberal Party would hold together and might hold a referendum on Women’s Suffrage. This interpretation was challenged by Lloyd George and Mrs Fawcett in the same report.
In July 1913, on the ‘Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage’ from Portsmouth to Hyde Park in London, Harriet Blessley documented in her diary that the pilgrimage travelled along the Portsmouth Road, through Godalming and places visited including the home of Mrs C W Dixon of Great Roke, Witley, and Miss Theodora Powell of Munstead (SHC ref Z/708/1).
Theodora moved to ‘Gorse Bank’, Enton, Witley, around 1917 and this remained her home until she died in 1920.
Theodora’s sister, Eleanor Grace Powell, wrote the following obituary for The Common Cause with a footnote by the editor, 4 February 1921:
Theodora Wilde Powell
We are indebted to *Miss Eleanor Powell for the following notes of the life of her sister –
Theodora Wilde Powell was born in 1871. She was educated chiefly at home, but was, for a time, at Somerville College, Oxford, though her health prevented her from taking any complete course of study. For about a year she was a student at the Horticultural College, Swanley, and always retained her interest in the college. She loved the country and disliked London life. Most of her life was spent at Guildford and Godalming; at both these places she identified herself with local activities, and gave a good deal of her time to the work of the Guildford Charity Organisation Society, and the Women’s Local Government Society. At different times she acted as Secretary of the South African Colonisation Society, and an organisation connected with women in agriculture. In her later years the suffrage question absorbed a great deal of her attention and sympathy, and she worked and spoke for that cause. The last two years of her life were saddened by the death of two sisters, and she herself died in June 1920, after a short illness. She had friends to whom she was devoted and was deeply attached to her dogs. Nothing aroused her indignation so much as cruelty to dumb animals, and she was always ready to help those who were working for their protection.
Letters filed at Headquarters [NUWSS and NUSEC] show that Miss Powell gave secretarial help at the National Union office at a time of pressure and testify to her deep interest in the objects of the Union.
*Eleanor Powell (1859-1945) was tutor of Modern History at Somerville College, Oxford. It seems likely that she was also a supporter of women’s suffrage like her sisters. As a biographer she contributed articles on William Neale, Adam Newton, George Norwych and William de Raleigh to the 1901 edition of Dictionary of National Biography. During the First World War she combined her academic work with a regular Sunday shift at a munitions factory, committee work on the War Pensions Committee, and the Women’s University Settlement. She died in Liphook, Hampshire on 22 April 1945.
In 1915, Theodora’s brother, Herbert and his wife Elizabeth Powell, placed their house, “Piccard’s Rough,” at the disposal of the War Office. It provided 50 beds for sick and wounded soldiers with Mrs Powell as its Commandant and Mr Powell as Medical officer. Read more about his life on Lizanne Lloyd’ blog “The British Water Colour Collection”.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, The March of the Women project volunteer
Elizabeth Crawford. The women’s suffrage movement in Britain and Ireland: regional survey; Routledge, 2008
Common Cause, the West Sussex Gazette and Daily News online via British Newspaper Archive, accessed at Surrey History Centre (via Surrey Libraries)
Ancestry.co.uk accessed at Surrey History Centre (via Surrey Libraries)
For a copy of a transcript of an extract from the diary of Harriet Blessley, documenting her journey from Portsmouth along the Portsmouth Road on the ‘Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage’ through Liphook, Haslemere, Hindhead, Godalming, Guildford, Esher, Surbiton, Kingston, Twickenham and Richmond towards Hyde Park in London, see SHC ref Z/708/1.
Powell family names and dates https://outoftheblueartifacts.com/thomas-wilde-powell-1818-1897/
Powell family information, including ‘Piccards Rough’, in The Development of Arts and Crafts Architecture in St Catherine’s, Guildford, study notes by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey, 2013, available as a pdf on the Artington Parish Council website https://www.artington.org.uk/history.html
For Powell family deeds and documents, see SHC refs 1384/39/1, 1384/3/2, BR/T/2229/1-2, 1218/10; for an album of photographs showing Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses at Piccards Rough, Guildford, 1915-1923, see SHC ref 9307/1/1/1
For sale particulars of Munstead Rough, Godalming, 2005, see SHC ref SP/3612.
Surrey Comet and Surrey Advertiser microfilm at Surrey History Centre
Find out more about Godalming and District Women’s Suffrage Society at https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/womens-suffrage/the-womens-suffrage-movement-in-surrey-new/godalming-and-district-womans-suffrage-society/
Information on Eleanor Grace Powell http://blogs.some.ox.ac.uk/thegreatwar/wp-content/blogs.dir/14/files/somervillians/Eleanor-Powell-tutor-1888.jpg and http://blogs.some.ox.ac.uk/thegreatwar/2015/11/03/november-1915-the-munitionettes-women-in-the-munitions-industry/
Hugh Thackeray Turner https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/people/architects/hugh_thackeray_turner/