To celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act (which gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification) we look here at the role local women played in the campaign for women’s suffrage.  The study of the suffrage movement has tended to focus on the actions of militant suffragettes in the larger cities, but women’s fight for the right to vote was also carried on in the regions, and even made its presence felt in Sherborne.

Western Gazette, 12 February 1909.

Henry and Connie King.

‘E. wind, damp & cold.  Went with C to a Suffragist meeting afternoon. Digby crammed. Came out after Lady F. Balfour’s speech which was quite rational.’

This diary entry for Wednesday, 10 March 1909, was written by Sherborne schoolmaster Henry Robinson King.  At 3 pm on a damp and cold afternoon in March, Henry and his wife Connie attended a meeting at the Digby Assembly Rooms (now The Digby boarding house) in Digby Road, Sherborne.  The chief speaker that day was Lady Frances Balfour (1858-1931), daughter of the Duke of Argyll and sister-in-law of former Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour.  Lady Balfour was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS), known as the suffragists, who believed in political lobbying, unlike the break-away group the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the suffragettes, whose motto ‘Deeds not Words’ reflected their belief in militant action.

The previous night, in a speech at Bournemouth, Lady Balfour had set out her reasons for demanding voting rights for women: ‘If they had an ideal state where no women went into the industrial field, they could believe that man was superior, but there were millions of women earning their living, and every day legislation was being passed which affected the lives of those women in a way which the male voter would not tolerate for one instant if applied to themselves.  It was contended that the position of women wage earners would not be raised by their having the vote, but that remained to be seen, for she knew that man’s position ever since he had the vote had been raised in every sense.  She referred to Norway, where since women had had the right to exercise the vote the telephone and post office girls had been paid in the same rate of wages as the men.’

As Henry Robinson King’s diary entry indicates, Lady Balfour was a brilliant orator.  Her brother-in-law Arthur Balfour said of her that if she had been a man she would have been famous as a great political leader.  Unfortunately for Lady Balfour, as a woman, she was not then allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, let alone stand as a candidate for election as an MP.

By 1909, the actions of the militant suffragettes were making headline news, so it is hardly surprising that after her speech at Sherborne Lady Balfour was questioned about the actions of the militant suffragettes.  Although, as a suffragist, she did not support their actions, Lady Balfour told the meeting that she believed ‘that the anti-suffragist was a more outrageous subject than the militant, and the woman who banded herself against the emancipation of her sex had much more to be ashamed of than the woman who had the courage to go to prison for her opinions.’

Encouraged by the enthusiasm generated by Lady Balfour’s appearance at Sherborne, a Sherborne branch of the NUWSS was formed and a meeting was held at the Digby Assembly Rooms the following month on the evening of Friday, 23 April 1909.  The meeting was reported in the Western Chronicle on 30 April 1909, under the headline ‘WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MEETING. OBJECTION’S ANSWERED. LOCAL CLERGYMAN DEFENDS THE WOMEN’S CAUSE’.

Mildred Mansel.

A local committee was elected that included men and women from all walks of life.  The branch president was Mrs Mildred Mansel (1868-1942) who was the daughter of suffragette Adeline Chapman and first cousin of Ivor Guest, MP.  Mildred was married to Colonel J.D. Mansel of Bayford Lodge, Wincanton, and went on to set up in 1910 a Yeovil branch of the WSPU and was also honorary secretary of the Bath WSPU.

The post of honorary secretary was held by the Hon. Mrs Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920) of Marsh Court, Caundle Marsh.  Evelina was the daughter of the 3rd Baron Abinger of Inverlochy Castle and in 1887 she had married Major Henry Wykeham Brook Tunstall Haverfield RA (1846-1895).  Major Haverfield died in 1899 from symptoms associated with syphilis, leaving Evelina with two young sons.  In 1899, she married an old army friend of her husband, Major John Henry Balguy RA (1859-1933), but retained by deed poll the surname of her first husband.

Evelina Haverfield and Mildred Mansel were members of the militant WSPU and on 29 June 1909, during what was known as the Bill of Rights March, they were both arrested with Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst after they had attempted to enter the House of Commons to present Prime Minister Herbert Asquith with a petition.  Their arrest was reported in the Western Gazette under the title ‘SUFFRAGIST FURIES’ and ‘MARTYRDOM OF TWO WEST COUNTRY AMAZONS’.

Evelina Haverfield.

Evelina was also a member of the Blackmore Vale Hunt and a keen horsewoman, a skill that would come in useful during her militant days with the WSPU.  On 18 June 1910, she took part as a mounted marshal in The Great March, when 10,000 women marched to the Albert Hall carrying banners designed by Sturminster Newton artist and suffragist, Mary Lowndes (1856-1929), and, on another occasion, she was arrested for leading police horses out of their ranks.

Following the notorious ‘Black Friday’ riots (18 November 1910), when the home secretary Winston Churchill authorised the police to use extreme physical violence against the protestors, Evelina was charged with hitting a policeman in the mouth.  When charged she said, ‘It was not hard enough. Next time I will bring a revolver.’

The branch treasurer of the Sherborne branch of the NUWSS was Miss Hermione Parry Okeden (1883-1938), daughter of Uvedale Parry Okeden of Turnworth House, and the literature secretary was Miss Elizabeth Gorham (1873-?), a teacher at Sherborne School for Girls.

Other members of the committee included Mr Lionel Fox-Pitt (1860-1937) and Mrs Mary Fox-Pitt (1870-1944) of Cliff House, Shaftesbury; Mrs Innes Paget (1859-1944) who was married to the Rev. Cecil George Paget of Stock House, Stock Gaylard, and gave ‘Suffragist’ as her occupation in the 1911 census; Mrs Emily Woodruff (1886-1918) who was married to the Rev. Arthur Woodruff, rector of Lillington; Mrs Frances McAdam (1848-1929), daughter of John Bligh Monck of Coley Park, Reading, and married to Major J.J.L. McAdam JP of Greenhill House, Sherborne (now The Greenboarding house); the Rev. Canon Edward Goodden (1847-1924), rector of Over Compton & Nether Compton; Miss Susie Duxfield (1883-1962), Headmistress of Lord Digby’s School, Sherborne; Mrs Maude Baxter (1868-1953) who was married to Colonel W.H. Baxter, proprietor of the Dorsetshire Brewery in Long Street, and lived at The Wilderness, Sherborne; Miss Mary Roe (1868-1947), daughter of Prebendary Henry Roe, rector of Poyntington, and sister of the Rev. Wilfred Thomas Roe, rector of Trent; Mrs Maria Regan ARCM (1856-1940), a music teacher at Sherborne School for Girls who was married to Charles Regan and lived in Richmond Road, Sherborne; Miss Hartley; Miss A. Hambro; and Mrs Agnes Pinhey (1864-1949) who was married to Hugh Pinhey, a former director of Indian Telegraphs, and lived at Cherra in The Avenue, Sherborne.

At the Sherborne branch meeting held on 23 April 1909, Mildred Mansel put the resolution that women’s suffrage should be granted to women on the same terms as it was granted to men.  The resolution was carried with only a few objectors.  One of those who objected was Hubert Dalzell-Walton, a retired Indian civil servant living at Devanha in North Road, Sherborne.  Mr Dalzell-Walton admitted that although he had put up his hand against the resolution he had considerable hesitation in saying why because at the last meeting questioners did not meet with a very favourable reception.  He went on to say that he was not one of the ‘absolute brutes’ that men were said to be if they did not agree with this movement, that he sympathised with everything that had been said but did not believe that giving women the vote on the present Parliamentary basis was the answer.

The Rev. Mr Arthur Woodruff, rector of Lillington, spoke in favour of the resolution, saying that it seemed to him perfectly astounding that there was not a single man who would rise and support the movement, and that the ladies should stand there and plead their cause practically alone.  He said the common belief that God made man before woman was wrong because he actually made woman at the same time and they were absolutely one to begin with.  It was through a wrong translation of the scriptures that the idea had arisen that women were lower or inferior to men.  He was convinced that what was right for man was right for woman and he would like to see women sitting not only in Parliament but also occupying the pulpit.  The Rev. Woodruff’s speech was followed by hearty applause.

Fortunately, the Sherborne meeting was a peaceable event, unlike a meeting held eight months later on 30 November 1909 at Yeovil Town Hall.  At this meeting, Evelina Haverfield and her fellow speakers were pelted with coal and apple cores and drowned out by shouts of ‘Go home and mend your stockings’ and ‘Blokes for Women’.  The meeting had to be abandoned and the speakers escorted out of the hall by the police.

Back in Sherborne the debate continued.  At Sherborne School on 6 March 1910, a 16-year old pupil, Henry Castree Hughes, read a paper on woman’s suffrage to the Duffers’ Society, described by Henry Robinson King in his diary as ‘the best Duffers paper we have ever had from a member’.

Western Gazette, 17 January 1913.

On 23 January 1913, a meeting was arranged at the Digby Assembly Rooms by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage.  The meeting was presided over by local butcher and churchwarden, Mark Parsons (1857-1932).  At the meeting, Miss Mabel Smith contended that women did not need votes because they were well represented by their menfolk. She added that men and women were complimentary and that it was surely so much better to be the best kind of woman they could be than try to be a feeble imitation of a man.  The guest speaker, Alexander Maconachie MA, was asked what he thought about the force-feeding of suffragettes in prison.  He answered that he did not think he would forcibly feed the suffragettes, instead he would put the food beside them and leave them to make their choice, and if they insisted on dying he would let them die.  He added that he had a great faith in the aromatic odour of steak and onions at the psychological moment.

On 5 March 1913, the NUWSS held another public meeting at Sherborne’s Digby Assembly Rooms.  On this occasion, Dr H.C. Manningham, assistant county medical officer for Dorset, was in the chair, supported by Miss Helen Fraser of the NUWSS.  Again, the actions of the militant suffragettes were discussed.  Dr Manningham pointed out that the NUWSS was opposed to violence, it being ‘repugnant and unworthy of the cause.’  Although Miss Fraser’s resolution supporting the extension of the franchise to women was defeated, no one in the audience was willing to state their reasons for voting against it.  Colonel W.H. Baxter (whose wife had been a member of the original committee of the Sherborne NUWSS) suggested that this was because men did not like to argue with a lady, to which Miss Fraser retorted ‘but the lady does not mind in the least, she welcomes it’.  Miss Fraser suggested that all those who had supported the resolution might like to join a new Sherborne branch of the NUWSS, adding ‘We have many sympathisers in the town already.’  Miss Fraser’s comment suggests that the original Sherborne NUWSS formed in 1909 had been relatively short-lived.

This was not the last encounter that Colonel Baxter had with the Sherborne NUWSS.  With the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, the women’s suffrage societies encouraged their members to abandon their campaign and support the war effort. The Sherborne NUWSS evidently took the suggestion to heart and at the end of August 1914 they presented the Sherborne ‘G’ company of the 4th Dorsets (then under the command of Colonel Baxter) with 120 pairs of socks.

Evelina Haverfield’s own war efforts were particularly significant.  She was pivotal in forming the Women’s Emergency Corps, the Women’s Volunteer Reserve (WVR), and the Green Cross Corps, which later evolved into the Women’s Army Corps (the WAAC, WRNS & WRAF).  In May 1915, she joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals with whom she worked in Serbia, making frequent visits back to England to raise funds for the Serbian Red Cross in Great Britain and the Fund for Disabled Serbian Soldiers.

On 8 February 1918, Henry King attended a fundraising lecture given by Evelina Haverfield at Sherborne School.  Afterwards, he wrote in his diary, ‘Heard Mrs Haverfield lecture on Serbia in Schoolroom. We in England know nothing of suffering compared with this heroic nation wh. has been deliberately murdered.’ 

A Serbian stamp featuring Evelina Haverfield (2015)

Just two days before Evelina gave her lecture at Sherborne School, the Representation of the People Act had been passed, granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification. Ironically, it was the British Government’s recognition of women’s war service, rather than their political lobbying and militant actions, that eventually resulted in women being given the vote.  Henry Robinson King made no mention of the passing of the Act in his diary, but it was reported in the Western Gazette on 8 February 1919 under the headline ‘8,000,000 NEW MEN AND WOMEN VOTERS’.

Evelina Haverfield returned to Serbia where the government asked her to help the orphans of the war.  She founded the ‘Hon. Evelina Haverfield’s Fund for Serbian Children’ and set up orphanages at Uzitza and Bajina Bašta.  In March 1920, she contracted pneumonia and died on 21 March 1920, aged 52.  She was buried at Bajina Bašta and a memorial service was held for her at Southwark Cathedral on 1 May 1920.  In 1923, a memorial tablet was installed in her memory at Bishop’s Caundle church in Dorset, beneath the memorial window Evelina had erected for her first husband.

Rachel Hassall
February 2018.

See also:
Evelina Haverfield’s recipe book
Sherborne School’s first female teachers

Further reading:
Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement. A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2001)
Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland. A Regional Study (2008)
Elizabeth Crawford, Art and Suffrage. A Biographical Dictionary of Suffrage Artists  (2018)
Boyce Gaddes, Evelina. Outward Bound from Inverlochy. A Biography of the Hon. Evelina Haverfield(1995)
Lucinda Hawksley, March, Women, March (2013)
Pamela Vass, Breaking the Mould. The Suffragette Story in North Devon (2017)
The Women’s Library, LSE
Suffragette timeline: the long march to votes for women