The Anti-Suffrage Campaign in SurreyAs the Women’s Suffrage movement strengthened in Surrey so did the Anti-Suffrage campaign, which included many women, campaigning against women gaining the right to vote.
Prior to 1918, women were already able to vote in local government elections and could be elected to local boards and councils. For anti-suffragists this showed that women did not need the parliamentary vote because they could already participate in their natural sphere of ‘domestic’ politics. The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was founded in 1908 in response to a petition signed by 37,000 women who believed that the vote would ‘destroy, rather than add to’ their influence in local government. The League was led by author, Mary Ward (known as Mrs Humphrey Ward), who lived for a short time in Haslemere. In July 1910, Mrs Ward wrote to The Times claiming that women did not want the vote – Lord Farrer in Abinger replied to the newspaper on behalf of the women of Surrey that they very much did.
In 1910 the League merged with the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage to form the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage (NLOWS) which had branches across Surrey.
The 1911 annual meeting of the South East Surrey branch of the NLOWS was reported in The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser. The report stated that in November 1910, a postal canvass was made of the 906 women municipal electors of Reigate Borough as to whether they supported votes for women in national elections. 199 women were in favour, 338 against and 369 votes were either not returned or not counted on other grounds. The group took this to be a ‘satisfactory result’ and declared that ‘the majority of women municipal electors in the Borough did not desire the Parliamentary vote’. Similarly, in Ashtead, of 67 women in the village, 21 were Anti Suffrage, 7 Pro Suffrage, and 21 Neutral.
The Surrey Herald reported on 19 May 1911 that a meeting of the Weybridge Branch of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, Mrs. Greatbatch received huge applause when she proposed “that the granting of the vote to women would weaken and endanger the Constitution and imperil the safety of the Empire… The woman’s place was the home, and they could do much more good on local governing bodies and County Councils than they could in Parliament. If women kept the place that nature intended for them they would have in the world better mothers and better wives, better husbands, better sons and better legislators”. At the meeting, Leo Maxse advocated the formation of a Women’s Council, which could consider matters affecting women before Parliament, and make recommendations thereon. Other attendees were named as Miss Godden and Miss I. Heald (Hon. Secretaries), The Hon. R. C. Grosvenor, Sir Herbert and Lady Ellis, Hon. Mrs. R. C. Grosvenor, Sir Theodore and Lady Morison, Mrs. Yool, Mrs. Locke-King, Admiral and Mrs. Tudor, Mrs. A’Court, Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Churchill, Mrs. Gilead Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Gore-Brown, and Mr. E.Hume, K.C.
Many people became alienated by the militant tactics used by the Women’s Social and Political Union. Local newspapers reveal moments of public anger towards the suffragettes. In November 1906, the crowd at the Guy Fawkes Carnival at Brockham cheered when the guy ‘which represented one of the suffragettes with a placard in front on which was inscribed Votes for Women’, caught fire.
Active Anti-Suffrage Women in Surrey
Many women who were campaigning against the vote were active in their local communities and held positions of power and influence in society. Not all felt that women should be confined to the roles of mother and wife but rather that their influence could be applied in the local and domestic sphere without the national vote.
Bertha Marion Broadwood of Capel, a philanthropist and founder of the Cottage Benefit Nursing Association, was a committee member of the Dorking Branch of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. In her papers she expresses disapproval of ‘female faddists’ who ‘kick and scream and chain themselves to railings’ but her principal reason for rejecting the Votes for Women campaign seems to have been a loathing of universal suffrage, which she closely associated with ‘radicalism’ or ‘socialism’, since the Bill would have given the vote to ‘a very large number of uneducated women of the class of small shop keepers, milliners, lodging house keepers and their lodgers’ (SHC ref 2185/BMB/8/10/2). She was invited several times to engage in discussion at meetings of the Leith Hill and District Women’s Suffrage Society but appears to have always declined. Bertha’s niece, Jean Forsyth (Todhunter) was pro-suffrage and involved with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage; she also boycotted the 1911 Census at her residence in London.
Margaretta (Etta) Louisa Lemon MBE of Reigate, was a co-founder of the all-female organisation that later became the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Renowned for her public speaking, she lobbied for legislation to protect wild birds against the fashion for wearing feathered hats – as worn by Mrs Pankhurst – which she claimed was ‘murderous millinery’. Etta was deeply involved in her local community, serving as Mayoress of Reigate in 1911-1913, and as chair of both Reigate’s British Women’s Temperance Society and the local Red Cross. Despite her active and influential role in society she was an anti-suffragist and believed that to give women the vote would ‘work irrevocable mischief to human progress, to the British Empire, and to women themselves’. Etta headed a branch of the East Surrey Anti-Suffrage League and in a letter to the Surrey Mirror, dated 27 June 1908, she encouraged those ‘desirous of combatting the Women’s Suffrage movement’ to contact her.
Many upper class women in the county opposed the vote. One of the signatories of an article called ‘An Appeal Against Female Suffrage’, published in The Nineteenth Century Magazine, in June 1889, was Lady Mary Campbell, wife of General Sir William Payn, who then lived at Lynwood, in Ashtead. On the weekend before war was declared in August 1914, Lady Margaret Ryder was entertaining 150 supporters of the Dorking Branch of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage at an event in her grounds at High Ashurst on Box Hill.
The Votes for Women campaign divided families as well as political parties. In Hindhead, Mrs Humphrey Ward was a staunch ‘Anti’ but in Godlaming, her sister, Julia Huxley, (mother of author, Aldous), opened her progressive school for girls at Priors Field in 1902 and women’s suffrage was a huge topic of debate there. As a Conservative peer, with a voice and a vote in the House of Lords, Richard, 5th Earl of Onslow, of Clandon Park, the Earl found himself invited to consider the cause. In 1908, his mother Florence, then Countess of Onslow, had gone so far as to request a correction from a newspaper reporting the presence of ‘Lady Onslow’ at the Suffragist procession in June that year, pointing out that the supporter in question was the wife of Sir Alexander Onslow rather than herself, who had ‘no sympathy with the movement’ (SHC ref G173/225/3 p.274).
Discover more about the Ant-Suffrage campaign in Surrey:
Read our biography page for Margaretta ‘Etta’ Lemon
See Tessa Boase’s blog on Etta Lemon for The March of the Women.
Read our biography page for Bertha Marion Broadwood
Discover more about the Anti-Suffrage campaign in Surrey with our March of the Women virtual exhibition panels:
Panel 10: The Anti-Suffrage Campaign in Surrey
Panel 11 – Anti-Suffragists in Surrey: Active Women in the Community
Find out more about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Surrey
Search the suffrage indexes from local newspapers and periodicals here
Read our Surrey Suffrage biographies here
Discover sources for researching the Suffrage Movement in Surrey here