Suffrage and Stockton at 100

February 9, 2018 no comments

This week saw the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act. While universal suffrage was still ten years away, the Act enfranchised a sizable proportion of Britain’s women (those aged over 30 with property qualifications), proving to be a significant moment in the history of democratic representation.

The arrival of votes for women didn’t go without notice in Stockton. However, The Gazette’s editorial notably chose to focus initially on the other electoral issue of the day, proportional representation. The addition of six million women to the franchise almost served as a footnote:

Daily Gazette, 7th February 1918, p.2


Later in the month, a meeting of the Women’s Liberal Associations in Leeds was reported on, outlining a view that the inclusion of women in the franchise could have avoided a catastrophic world war:

Daily Gazette, 15th February 1918, p.6


Expressing a more negative view of women’s new role in the democracy process was Dr. T. Claye Shaw. In just one example of the general ignorance and oppression women had to contend with during this period, Shaw’s 1913 lecture lamented the change he had, rather unscientifically, observed in “The Modern Woman”:

Daily Gazette, 18th November 1913, p.5


Her standing in the marriage market may have declined but the modern woman can at least console herself with her prowess at ping pong:

Daily Gazette, 18th November 1913, p.5


Thankfully, the great 1913 crisis of muddy boots and heaped hockey stocks did little to obstruct the cause of women’s suffrage.

Whilst researching this post a fascinating incident came to light via the British Newspaper Archive. A general search for “Stockton” and “Suffragette” returned the story of Lizzie Crow and an attempt to burn down Stockton Racecourse on 8th November 1913. First reports linked the arson attack to the visit of The Chancellor of the Exchequer (and future Prime Minister) David Lloyd George to Middlesbrough on that day. “Feminine Incendiaries” were suspected, with militant literature found at the scene:

Daily Gazette, 10th November 1913, p.6


We do not know what course the investigation took, but in December several regional newspapers reported that a woman named Lizzie Crow had been arrested in Newcastle and was charged at Thornaby with “having feloniously set fire to the grand stand on Stockton Racecourse”.


Yorkshire Post, 9th December 1913, p.10


Refusing to give her address, have her photograph or finger prints taken, Crow commenced a hunger strike and was remanded to Durham jail.  The last mention of Crow in the archive was of her release under the Cat and Mouse Act.

Leeds Mercury, 16th December 1913, p.7


The act allowed for the early release of hunger striking prisoners who could then be recalled once their heath had improved.  The lack of further reports about the case suggest Lizzie Crow was one of many women who evaded re-arrest because of the inadequacies of the act and events being overtaken by the exigencies of 1914.

Lizzie Crow’s story is just one of thousands, showing the lengths women were prepared to go to achieve the vote.  As we’ve seen, these stories can be chanced upon in libraries and archives.  If you know more about this particular case or have researched other stories of the women’s suffrage movement in the area, we’d be thrilled to hear about the personal and individual struggles that lie behind the grand narrative of history:

The Suffragette, 12th December 1913


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