Godalming and District Woman’s Suffrage Society
The Godalming and District Woman’s Suffrage Society, a local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was high profile. It was fortunate that well-known and influential local dignitaries supported the cause and spoke at meetings, including Sir William and Lady Chance, Sophia Pilcher, Mrs G F Watts (President of the Godalming Branch), Lady Midleton, Lord Lytton, Agnes Dixon, Theodora Powell, Dorothy Hunter, Christiana Herringham and Arthur Jex Davey. However, the branch was not exclusive and during the last quarter of 1910 undertook a controversial canvass of working women in Godalming, along with another of qualifying female municipal and county council voters. The branch supported the national mass rally at the Albert Hall, in March 1912, and took part in the procession of the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage in July 1913. It continued campaigning throughout the First World War and continued to undertake fund and consciousness raising events right up until the vote was won. Miriam Farr, volunteer for The March of the Women project reveals more.
During my research for The March of the Women project, I was able to search in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) newspaper Common Cause and other newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive Online and also in the microfilm of the Surrey Advertiser held at Surrey History Centre.
I have been searching for the activities of individual suffragists living in the Munstead area, women such as Lady Julia Chance, Gertrude Jekyll and Theodora Powell whose commitment to the cause brought about the founding of a local branch of the NUWSS. I have also wanted to explore a report published in the Surrey Advertiser, 23 May 1908, “Suffragettes on Tour, with Lively times at Godalming”. These were the women who took part in the Women’s Freedom League Suffrage Caravan tour of Surrey. The meeting ended with the ladies having to flee through the back door of Thorns Restaurant in Church Street and escape by means of ladders over a high wall into the Deanery House garden. They went to the railway station, but were ordered out, then made their way to the Burys and Bridge Street. Here they took shelter in the police station for an hour before going back to their van.
Local interest in the cause of women’s suffrage grew and a new Godalming branch joined the NUWSS, as reported in Common Cause on 11 November 1909. Prior to the setting up of a branch, a report in the Times on 11 February 1909 notes that, at a local meeting of supporters of women’s suffrage organised at Godalming by Sir William Chance and others, a letter from Mrs [Mary] G F Watts was read. She expressed her sympathy with the movement and pledged her support for the formation of a local branch. Following the meeting, Mary Watts became the President of the Godalming and District Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS), Gertrude Jekyll and Sir William Chance Vice-Presidents, Theodora Powell became secretary.
The NUWSS represented supporters of women’s suffrage who believed in a peaceful and non-confrontational approach. They believed that success could be gained through argument and education. The aim of the organisation was to build support peacefully and within the law, with petitions, posters, leaflets, calendars and public meetings. It was a highly organised movement with a network of local federations such as the Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire Federation. Reports in Common Cause of their activities indicate that the regional federations had an important role in mobilising the local branches, providing recommendations for speakers, co-ordinating the activities of the suffrage campaign in the locality. The NUWSS initially drew its support from affluent, educated women from the middle or upper class, who initially supported giving the parliamentary vote to middle-class, property-owning women. Over time many of the campaigners began to recognise that all women, including working women, should be given the right to vote on the same basis as men so as to protect their interests as wives, mothers and workers.
Miss Gordon, an NUWSS organiser was the co-ordinator for the Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire Federation. Her work with local branches is frequently reported in the pages of Common Cause. On the 24 February 1910 the paper reports that Miss Gordon would be working in Godalming with the Godalming Branch to help them in set up a branch in Guildford. From the 1-4 March she would be speaking at meetings arranged locally. The paper of 3 March 1910 carries a report of a Godalming.
Branch meetings were held courtesy of Miss T W [Theodora Wilde] Powell, “At Home” at Munstead Rough. There was a large attendance and the proceedings were chaired by Mrs Romanis (the wife of Rev. Romanis of Charterhouse School). The speakers were Lady [Julia] Chance and Miss Gordon. Another meeting was organised at Wonersh with Mr Kendal in the chair at which Miss Gordon and Mr Pilcher [Giles Theodore Pilcher] spoke. Later the same day, an evening meeting in support of women’s suffrage was held at Godalming with Mr Mackay in the chair and Mr Edwards giving the speech. In Guildford further speaking engagements for Miss Gordon were arranged as part of the preliminaries to setting up the Guildford Branch. By 30 March, Common Cause reported that a new Guildford branch was now affiliated to the NUWSS with Noeline Baker as secretary.
The progress of the Conciliation Bill through Parliament provided the focus for many local branch meetings and rallies. Common Cause on 30 June 1910 reported that Miss [Barbara] Duncan one of NUWSS HQ’s speakers gave the speeches and the resolutions were passed in favour of the bill at meetings in Camberley, Godalming and Woking. That summer, Common Cause on 18 August 1910 reported that Lady Julia Chance’s booklet setting out why all women need the vote was sent out to all members of the Godalming Branch. Other branches were able to order copies from Lady Chance “Orchards” Munstead Heath Road, Godalming.
The Godalming Branch had strong support from a local branch of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage who organised a huge open-air meeting, with several hundred attending, in Godalming (reported on 8 September 1910 in Common Cause). Mr G T [Giles Theodore] Pilcher chaired the meeting and John Simpson gave an address. A resolution in favour of the Conciliation Bill was proposed by Mr Pilcher and seconded by Sir William Chance. The motion was carried with only two dissenting votes. Further meetings were reported in Common Cause throughout September and October 1910.
The raising of funds both nationally and locally occupied the campaigners of Godalming Branch, Lady Chance organised the sale of plants at below nursery prices to readers of Common Cause, 10 November 1910, with all proceeds going to fund the campaign for suffrage. It is likely that she took advice and was encouraged in this by her good friend and neighbour Gertrude Jekyll.The Surrey Advertiser (5 March 1917), reported the annual meeting of the Godalming and District Women’s Suffrage Society held at ‘Treen’, Hindhead Road, Godalming, the home of Sophia Pilcher (and her husband Giles Theodore Pilcher). Sophia was the honorary secretary and treasurer of the branch. The apologies including a letter from Mrs C W Dixon (Agnes Margaret Dixon) the committee chairman in which she said she would be unable to attend as ‘Great Roke’ was being closed as a military hospital and she was off to France [returning to work in Red Cross canteens at The Front – see The Canteeners by Agnes M Dixon, published J Murray, 1917]. A report on the war work undertaken during the year by the branch was given. The committee was standing for election and most committee members were re-elected. Mrs G F Watts was re-elected president; Mrs C W Dixon, chairman; Mrs Osgood, vice-chair; Mrs Pilcher, hon. secretary and treasurer; and other committee members; Miss Cousin; Miss Powell; Mrs Newton; Mrs Wilde and Mrs Hall (Milford). The meeting was optimistic that the franchise would soon be extended to women.
Clara Mary Lambert, a militant suffragette who spent her final 18 years of life living in Farncombe, was an associate of Mrs Pankhurst and an original member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed in 1903. She was a part of a number of high profile militant activities and printed copies of The Suffragette for her branch of the WSPU, often having to move the printing press from house to house to keep it safe. It would interesting to know if she had any connection with the Godalming and District Women’s Suffrage Society.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, The March of the Women project volunteer
Surrey Advertiser, Times and Common Cause newspapers, accessed via British Newspaper Archive online, via Surrey Libraries Online Reference shelf available at Surrey History Centre
The Canteeners by Agnes M Dixon, published J Murray, 1917
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