100 years on, Havering remembers women who fought to vote

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcet, lfounder of the Suffragette movement, in 1925. Picture: PA

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcet, lfounder of the Suffragette movement, in 1925. Picture: PA - Credit: Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images

The women’s rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is largely portrayed through a select number of notable faces, such as suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, the woman who was tragically killed by the King’s horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby in 1913.

Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pil

Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pilgrimage in Hyde Park. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

But the grassroots of the suffrage movement were composed of thousands of ordinary women, like Upminster resident Henria Williams, who was an instrumental force in the local suffragette scene before she suffered an untimely death.

Henria, through her membership of the Women’s Freedom League, took part in a protest on November 28, 1908, which called for women to be given the vote on the same terms as men.

This week marked the centenary of a peaceful women’s suffrage pilgrimage which made its way through Romford, before continuing to London for a rally in Hyde Park.

Cllr Pam Light organised a photograph outside Havering town hall, on Wednesday, to remember the occasion. She and others donned the suffragette colours of purple, green and white.

Cllr Light, whose grandmother was a suffragette, said: “I wanted to mark the day as it is so important for general suffrage, not just women’s suffrage, because there are still sections of society that are not properly represented across the world.

“[Although] the good thing about the women’s movement was it went across all classes, with milkmaids and ladies, woman from all walks of life.”

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The 1913 pilgrimage saw suffragists from all over the country march to London, where a rally took place on July 26 in the hope of lobbying Parliament.

The demonstration, thought to be the largest women’s suffrage protest before the First World War, saw 30-40,000 people gather to hear speakers such as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, leader of the suffragists.

The event was a peaceful protest as the suffragists were non-militant, unlike the suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union, who staged more controversial displays to attract attention for their cause.

The ladies who took the east coast route to London stopped off in Romford on July 24, setting off the next day to head to Stratford.

They numbered 19, with one having walked all the way from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

After arriving at noon from Brentwood, the women marched through the town with banners, holding a meeting at the market place.

They then attended a service at St Andrew’s Church with a mass meeting later in the evening at the Corn Exchange.

The Romford Times’ July 30 edition stated: “The pilgrims were largely augmented by local supporters and attracted a large audience.”

A Mrs Philip Snowdon is also reported as saying: “The exclusion of women from parliamentary franchise is unjust and contrary to the principle of representative government.”

The London rally was a success, with no disturbances reported. A number of MPs even wrote to the demonstrators to wish them luck.

However, many women’s suffrage protests in the 20th century were marred by violence, often because of heavy-handed treatment by the police.

Cllr Light believes her grandmother Rose Sew found aspects of the suffragette life difficult.

She said: “People in those days didn’t talk about the trauma, but I think it was quite traumatic.

“She was part of the women’s movement in Ascot and saw the woman trampled by the horse. My grandmother instilled in me the importance of women’s rights.”