A brief history of the suffragette movement in Leeds

In a previous post, I recounted the story of Theresa Garnett from Leeds who assaulted Winston Churchill with a horse whip. In this post, I look briefly at some other notable events in the history of women’s suffrage in Leeds.

1873 Catherine Buckton became the first woman in Leeds to hold elected office following that year’s School Board elections.

1885 An all-male gathering at the Horsforth Conservative Club debated the issue of women’s suffrage before declaring themselves opposed to it!

1903 Isabella Ford from Headingley became the first woman to speak at the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee (later the Labour Party). 

1905 The leader of the British suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, spoke at the Hunslet Mechanics’ Institute, inspiring several young Leeds women present including Louise Swailes who went on to lead a long life of campaigning.

1906 Leeds suffragette Mary Gawthorpe was among a group of protesters who were arrested for invading the House of Commons.

1907 A group of protesters caused “great uproar” during a meeting presided over by Leeds MP and Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone. One cried out “What about votes for women?” before being bundled away by stewards. As she passed close to Gladstone, she grabbed the hat of a steward and threw it at the Home Secretary.

1908 Men attempting to disrupt an all-women meeting were repelled by female bouncers and failed to gain entry to the venue.

1908 Jennie Baines was found guilty of organising an unlawful assembly during a visit to Leeds by Prime Minister Asquith. She was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment in Armley Gaol. On the day of her release, a kite was flown above the prison walls bearing the slogan “Votes for Women“.

1909 Leeds-born Theresa Garnett attacked Winston Churchill with a horse-whip in Bristol. During her subsequent imprisonment, she set fire to her cell and went on hunger strike.

1911 Will Parsons successfully obtained a divorce after his wife began campaigning for women’s rights “which he rather objected to” and left him for a man more sympathetic to her views.

1913 Leonora Cohen from Leeds smashed a Crown Jewel display case in the Tower of London with an iron bar. After her arrest, she went on hunger strike and had to be set free under the so-called Cat and Mouse Act. This required hunger strikers to be released on health grounds whereas previously they were force fed. She was under almost constant Police surveillance (although she occasionally managed to give them the slip) and her every move was widely reported in the local papers, including a shopping trip to Boar Lane with her husband!

1913 Sufragettes Clara Giveen and Hilda Burkitt were arrested in the act of trying to burn down the rugby stand at Headingley Stadium.

1913 Lillie Lenton escaped from Armley Gaol and fled from Leeds to France. Read the full story here.

1923 Cohen became the first female president of the Yorkshire Federation of Trades Councils. She was later awarded an OBE.

1944 Louise Swailes died, aged 80, and was buried in Armley Cemetery.

1945 Alice Bacon was elected as Leeds’s (and Yorkshire’s) first female MP.

For more Leeds stories click here.

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Leonora Cohen (left) and Isabella Ford

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