My great grandmother, Alice Hawkins, was a suffragette 100 years ago and was imprisoned 5 times in all in her fight for the vote…
With 2013 being the centenary of suffragette Emily Davison’s tragic death at the Derby in her fight for the right to vote, it is only fitting that Parliament Week has as its theme for this year Women in Democracy.
The suffragettes campaigned in the early years of the last century for the right to participate in the UK democratic life and none more so than my great-grandmother, Alice Hawkins.
Who was Alice?
Many people today believe that the suffragette movement was largely comprised of well to do ladies with time on their hands. Alice Hawkins was none of this. A working class lady and mother of six, Alice worked long hours as a machinist in a shoe factory yet found the time and resolve to campaign for women’s rights.
Why did she campaign?
From her early years Alice saw that women suffered many injustices in society of the day, being treated as second-class citizens. In her factory work, Alice and other women were paid far less than their male counterparts for work of similar skills. With six children to feed and a husband unemployed Alice campaigned for equal pay but when this failed, decided to take a more radical approach and join the suffragette movement, realising that only through empowering women in democracy could better pay and working conditions follow.
Her first arrest
In February 1907, on the day of the State opening of Parliament, Alice campaigned outside the Houses of Parliament with over 300 suffragettes, angry at no news in the Kings speech that day of a bill that would finally give women the right to vote. Arrested for ‘disorderly conduct and resisting police’ and imprisoned in Holloway Jail, Alice became even more determined to gain ‘the vote’ and went on to form the Leicester branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union with the help of the Pankhurst sisters. The following years saw working class Alice Hawkins campaigning shoulder to shoulder with women of all social backgrounds, united before a common cause.
Her legacy today
The descendants today are fiercely proud of Alice’s fight for the right to vote and have much of the suffragette memorabilia that once belonged to her, including her sash, hunger strike medal, prison notes and much more and is undoubtedly one of the best collections in the UK today. Perhaps more poignant though are the memories of Alice told to me by my mother, who lived with her ‘Granny Alice’ for many years. With Parliament Week focussing on Women in Democracy, Alice’s words to my mother can be none more fitting.
‘You must use your vote, we suffered for it’.
Words from all those years ago, as true today.
Interested in learning more of Alice?
Check out the family web site www.alicesuffragette.com
See a short documentary of her campaign on You Tube
And do not miss listening to the beautiful song! ‘Nana was a suffragette’