September 2013: Votes For Women; Suffragettes in Surrey – Kathy Atherton

One hundred years ago the Dorking area was a hotbed of protest during the Women’s Suffrage Campaign and a number of leading activists, including Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence. Their home at Holmwood was a centre for the movement; meetings and demonstrations were planned there and they even had a platform in their garden for activists to practice their speeches!

In 1912 the Pethick-Lawrences were imprisoned, went on hunger strike and were forcibly fed. The Government auctioned their possessions to recover costs and some 3-4000 people turned up to buy the goods back for them – a great publicity coup. Dissension then arose within the movement. The leader, Mrs Pankhurst, planned to step up the militancy; the Pethick-Lawrences spoke out against it and were expelled. They were devastated and the WSPU was never the same again – the increased militancy merely stiffened the Government’s resolve. Women got the vote after the First World War, but only in two stages and had to wait until 1928 to get full equality. Right eventually prevailed, but the WSPU’s influence has remained controversial ever since.

Kathy’s talk gave us a vivid picture of the struggle for the vote and the hardships the activists went through to get it. She also gave us an insight into the anti-suffrage movements in our area and what happened to the Pethick-Lawrences afterwards. It is a remarkable story.