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'Votes for Women' movement in Dundee

"I canna see why a woman who is clever enough to earn money and pay taxes like a man canna go and put a cross on a piece of paper once every 5 years or so."

The city of Dundee has long been noted for its strong women and unsurprisingly played an important role in the suffrage movement.

The following are just a few of the pioneers of that era - ladies who wanted to be persons, women who would rather be rebels than slaves.

Ethel Moorhead (1869-1955)

Also known as - Mary Humphrey….Edith Johnstone….. Margaret Morrison….she often gave a false name when arrested. Ethel was an Artist, and a member of the Dundee Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Freedom League. She carried out various acts of militancy in Dundee and London. She threw an egg at Winston Churchill when he addressed a political meeting in Dundee. She was imprisoned several times, and was the first Scottish suffragette to be forcibly fed whilst in prison in Edinburgh.

Another of Ethel's aliases may have been Winnie Wallace who was arrested on a charge of breach of the peace and assaulting P.M. Asquith, and gave her address as 61 Nethergate, Dundee - the address of the headquarters of the Dundee Women’s Social and Political Union, but, of course no one at that address knew of any woman with that name.

Agnes Husband… (1852-1929)

Agnes worked in Dundee on behalf of the poor and for better education, and became President of the Dundee branch of the Women’s Freedom League in 1913, when it joined with the Women’s Social and Political Union to demonstrate against forcible feeding of imprisoned suffragettes. She spoke at an interview with Winton Churchill, when nine of the “gentle army” were granted a half hour meeting. She became one of Dundee’s first female councillors. (Image credit - Dundee’s Art Galleries & Museums)

Lila Clunas… (1876-1968)

Glasgow born Lila was a teacher who taught at Brown Street Public School in Dundee. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 and the Women’s Freedom League in 1907. In 1909, she was a member of a delegation to The House of Commons to petition P.M. Asquith, during which time she was arrested for obstruction. She was the first Dundee suffragette to serve her sentence in Holloway Prison. In 1943 she was elected as a Labour Party councillor in Dundee.

Mary Maloney (1878-1921)

Mary travelled to Dundee for an apology from Winton Churchill after he accused her of being drunk at a suffragist meeting in London. Her tactic was to ring a large dinner bell whenever he spoke in public, she did not receive positive publicity for her actions, or her apology.

Helen Wilkie (b1882)

Helen was a teacher. In 1907 she organised a group of 300 Dundee women, many from the Textile Worker Union, to attend a suffragist march in Edinburgh. In 1909 she was part of a delegation of women to meet Winston Churchill, and became secretary of the Dundee Women’s Freedom League in 1912.

Annott Wilkie/Robinson (1874-1925) (Sister of Helen Wilkie)

Annott was born in Montrose, but worked in Dundee as a teacher, where she met and was influenced by Agnes Husband. In 1906 she became the first secretary of the Dundee branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She was sentenced to 6 months in jail for trying to break into The House of Commons. During the war she worked for the Women’s International League for Peace, work that she also continued after the war.

May Grant/Pollock (1877-1957)

May was the eldest daughter of the Rev Dr C M Grant, (who made his congregation ‘ a centre of religious and social influence’) and was educated at Dundee High School.

After missionary work both at home and abroad, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1913, she attended a campaign meeting in Perth with Fanny Parker, where she was pelted with eggs, orange peel, decaying vegetables and stones. During her speech she said she had experienced hunger strike and it was not all “beer and skittles” as people imagined. It was reported that if there had not been a large police presence at the meeting, the women would have been “torn to pieces”.

Fanny Parker (1875-1924)

Fanny did not live in Dundee for a long time, but certainly made an impact. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908, and was a great friend and supporter of Ethel Moorhead. She spoke twice at meetings in Perth, despite being pelted with eggs, decaying vegetable, and stones. One of her many jail sentences was for attempting to set fire to Roberts Burn’s cottage in Alloway.

Also worth mentioning for their feisty endeavours!

Margaret Fraser Smith, once took an early morning stroll to a post-office in Dundee to make a delivery – a toffee hammer tied with ribbons in purple, white and green.

She was imprisoned for trying to disrupt a meeting, went on hunger strike and was released to loud cheers from the crowd that had gathered to greet her and sister hunger strikers."

In 1909, used a false Press Card to gain entry to a political meeting addressed by Herbert Louis Samuels, a liberal M.P. from 1902, and a prominent member of P.M. Asquith’s cabinet. She sat quietly until his speech started, then stopped his speech by shouting questions at him, until she was ejected from the meeting.

Isobel Kelley, planned to disrupt the 1909 meeting addressed by Herbert Louis Samuels (liberal M.P and cabinet minister). She hid in the venue’s attic overnight and planned to lower herself down into the meeting by rope, dressed as an acrobat, but an alert steward discovered her, and sat on her until the police arrived. After a night detained in the police station, she returned to the venue to collect her rope, saying it would come in handy for the next time.

You can read more about the remarkable women of Dundee here:

Recommended reading:

Daughters of Dundee - Norman Watson (1997)

Dundee’s Suffragettes – Their Remarkable struggle to win votes for women - Norman Watson (2018)

Martyrs in our Midst: Dundee, Perth and the Forcible Feeding of Suffragettes. Abertay Historical Society Publication No.33 - Leah Leneman (1993)

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