TODAY marks the 100th anniversary of women receiving the vote.

It was a long, and at times violent, campaign. Here we look at its local twists and turns, from the first teachers signing a petition to the suffragettes who were brutally force fed in a North-East jail.

OF the 1,499 women who signed the first petition in 1866 which demanded the right for women to vote, most came from fashionable metropolitan places such as London, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh – 24 were from Newcastle.

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The Northern Echo: EPSOM DERBY: Emily Davison died on June 4, 1913, trying to pin a rosette with the suffragette's colours on Anmer, the king's horse

EPSOM DERBY: Emily Davison died on June 4, 1913, trying to pin a rosette with the suffragette's colours on Anmer, the king's horse

But two were from the industrial town of Darlington: Jane and Elizabeth Proctor.

They were the founders of Polam Hall School, a Quaker establishment that runs like a thread through the local history of women’s fight for the vote.

The Quaker faith was unusual at the time in allowing its daughters to be educated in the same way as it schooled its sons, and the Proctors appear to have believed that this equality should apply to politics, as well.

It must have been a daring step for the sisters to put their names on the first of 16,000 petitions presented to Parliament in the 19th Century demanding the vote for women.

The petition was drawn up by the women of the Kensington Society, in London, who circulated it among their family and friendship circles. Quite a few teachers signed it, which must be how the Proctors came to be canvassed. The completed petition was placed in an apple seller’s stall outside Parliament, so it did not attract attention, for radical MP John Stuart Mill to pick up.

When he presented it to the Commons, it was defeated by 196 votes to 73.

Other local women who signed that landmark petition included Mary Gill of Sowerby, Thirsk, and Sarah Jane Richardson of Langbaurgh Hall.

DURING the 1870s and 1880s, speakers connected to the National Society for Women’s Suffrage toured the country. Women like Lydia Becker, the editor of the Women’s Suffrage Journal from Manchester, and Alice Scratcherd, of Leeds, spoke at hundreds of public meetings from Durham to Stockton to Saltburn.

Perhaps because of its Quaker sympathies, Darlington appears to have held the most meetings, like the one advertised on today’s front cover on a splendid poster from the Darlington Centre for Local Studies. It was in 1880 in Central Hall, and was attended by many leading townswomen.

Although Mrs Scratcherd was the principal speaker (she is given her husband’s name on the poster), the meeting didn’t confine itself to women’s suffrage.

Mrs FW Wood moved “a resolution deploring the foreign policy of the late government which had embarked upon an unjust and useless war in Afghanistan”. It was passed unanimously “with enthusiasm”.

The Darlington & Stockton Times said: “The meeting, one of the most remarkable ever held in Darlington, then concluded having been crowned with a success hardly hoped for by the promoters.”

ANOTHER of the speakers that day was Sophia Fry, the wife of Darlington’s MP, Theodore, and the grand-daughter of Edward “father of the railways” Pease. She lived in Woodburn, a demolished mansion that was the twin of Elm Ridge.

After another of Mrs Scratcherd’s visits in 1882, Sophia formed one of the country’s first Women’s Liberal Associations to encourage women to find their political voice.

In 1886, she called the presidents of 15 similar associations to Woodburn and they formed the Women’s Liberal Federation. Within a decade, the federation had nearly 500 branches and 70,000 members, and so it was one of the most influential voices for greater women’s rights, including, from 1892, the vote.

In 1895, Sophia was thrown from her carriage into Lake Maggiore in Italy and never recovered. She died in Le Grand Hotel in Biarritz in 1897, aged 59.

IN the first decade of the 20th Century, as well as the Darlington Liberal Women’s Association, there was the Darlington Petition for Women’s Suffrage, the Darlington Women’s Suffrage Society, the Friends League for Women’s Suffrage, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, and the Darlington Women’s Franchise League.

The secretary of Suffrage Society and the Friends League was Helen Bayes, the extraordinarily energetic principal of Polam Hall School. She was assisted by Maria Swanson of Waverley Terrace, about whom we know very little, other than she died in 1923 and is buried in West Cemetery.

INVOLVED in many of these groups, and attending nearly all of these meetings, was Clara Curtis Lucas. She was the daughter of a Thirsk railwayman who was educated at Polam Hall School under the Proctor sisters.

Clara was chairman of the Darlington Woman’s Suffrage Society, and as an “earnest and zealous advocate of votes for women”, she toured the area drumming up support.

In 1894, she became the first woman to be elected to Darlington’s education board, and in 1915, she was the first to be elected to the town council – although her victory was because her opponent George Zissler spoke with a thick German accent which lost him votes during the First World War.

Because of the windbaggery of the 27 other male councillors, she said at the end of her first meeting: “If we’re going to be here all this time every month, I’ll bring my knitting.”

Clara, the queen of Darlington’s suffragists, died in 1919 aged 65, at her home, Fieldhead, in Abbey Road.

IN 1897, Millicent Fawcett formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to which Clara’s Darlington branch was affiliated. Every town from Shildon upwards had its own branch pushing for peaceful reform.

In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WS&PU) was formed by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, for more radical and violent forms of protest with its defiant colours of purple, green and white. These were the “suffragettes” who turned their venom on the Liberal government which claimed to support their cause but refused to give them the vote.

On October 9, 1909, Chancellor David Lloyd George was to speak at the Palace Theatre in Newcastle about his “People’s Budget”. Tickets were marked “not to be sold to women” because disruption by the suffragettes was expected.

The women held a large march – a brilliant 45-second clip of it can be seen for free on the British Film Institute website (go to player.bfi.org.uk/free and search for “Newcastle suffragette”). The only banner shown with a place name on it is from Darlington.

Then 12 suffragettes launched an “attack on Government property”, stoning three post offices and breaking windows, and mingling with the crowd waiting for Lloyd George’s arrival.

Lady Constance Lytton threw the first stone and hit the car she thought was carrying the Chancellor – it actually contained Sir Walter Runciman, the Liberal MP for Hartlepool.

As Emily Davison took from her pocket a stone wrapped in a piece of paper bearing the legend “to Mr Lloyd George”, she was arrested.

Seven suffragettes were sentenced to up to a month hard labour in Newcastle jail, where they immediately went on hunger strike. Those, like Lady Lytton, whom were medically unfit were released when they fell ill; the younger ones were force fed.

On October 23, 1909, The Northern Echo carried a remarkable interview with Dorothy Shallard, 29, who had been sentenced to hard labour for breaking a Liberal Club window. She had refused to eat and, from a hospital bed after her release, explained how she’d been treated.

“A wardress pinched her nose, while another forced her mouth open,” said the Echo. “She was tied to a chair with a sheet and held buy three wardresses, one of whom placed her hand over the patient’s mouth. The tube was forced up the nostril and the doctors poured food into the funnel, but she coughed it up again.

“Every day the process was repeated, but as her strength failed, resistance became less and less active.”

The Echo said Miss Shallard had an “inevitable message”. “The released prisoner calls upon all women to take up the flag of freedom that the suffragettes have upheld and carry it on to victory.”

EMILY DAVISON’S militancy came to a terrible end on June 8, 1913, when she was killed trying to pin a rosette on the king’s horse during the Epsom Derby. Six days later, 5,000 suffragettes wearing the WS&PU colours marched behind her coffin and 50,000 people lined the London streets as she was taken to King’s Cross Station for her final journey to Newcastle station so she could be buried in Morpeth, in Northumberland, which was her family’s home.

Stations along the East Coast Main Line were said to be thronged with her supporters, although disappointingly, The Northern Echo doesn’t mention the reception as she passed through our area.

This, though, was “the last of the great suffragette spectacles”, as the movement put aside its militancy to fight the First World War.

IN 1915, Arthur Henderson, the Labour MP for Barnard Castle entered the all-party coalition government to prosecute the war. Henderson is one of our true heroes, a Glaswegian trade unionist who helped found Newcastle United FC and who in 1903 became Darlington’s youngest mayor.

Henderson backed universal suffrage – votes for all – and when he stood in the January 1910 General Election in Barney, his campaign became a national focal point for suffragists.

He became the first Labour minister to enter government, but in early 1916 he threatened to resign if the proposed Parliamentary reform Bill did not include women’s suffrage. To avoid embarrassment, Liberal Prime Minister HH Asquith added the measure so that when the Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent on February 6, 1918, it gave the vote to all men over the age of 21 and, for the first time, to 8.4m property-owning women over the age of 30.

  • If you have anything to add to any aspect of this story, we’d love to hear from you. Who was Maria Swanson? Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk