Somerset-born Alice Clark came from a family of pacifist shoe-makers who were involved in the suffrage movement. LSE curator Gillian Murphy finds that Alice Clark also held a Shaw Research Studentship in economic history at LSE.
Alice Clark, daughter of Helen and William Clark, was born in Street in Somerset in 1874. She was a Quaker by birth, and also a Liberal, and her family were owners of C & J Clark Shoes.
Her family was also deeply involved in the suffrage movement. Her grandfather was Liberal MP John Bright, her mother, Helen Priestman Bright Clark, signed the 1866 women’s suffrage petition as did her father’s sister and niece. Alice’s sisters, Hilda, Esther and Margaret, were all suffragists as were her aunts, Anna Maria and Mary Priestman.
Alice was very much part of the family business. In her late teens she learnt the lighter processes of shoe-making, such as top-stitching, on the shop floor and then moved onto heavier processes in the cutting and bottoming rooms. By 1904, Alice held managerial roles in the business.
The women of the Clark family put their suffrage energies into the Women’s Liberal Federation, an umbrella group for various Women’s Liberal Associations. Alice, present when the Street Women’s Liberal Association was formed in 1890, became its secretary for eleven years. Into the 20th century, Alice, like many others, became disillusioned with the Liberal government, and she took part in the Women’s Social and Political Union’s deputation to the House of Commons in February 1907. She was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), and although she never joined the WSPU, she was open to the idea of passive resistance, and subscribed to the Women’s Freedom League.
Alice contracted tuberculosis and spent a long time recovering. In good health by 1912, Alice founded the Friends League for Women’s Suffrage with her brother, Roger, and they were joint secretaries. Alice also played a prominent part in the NUWSS’s Election Fighting Fund (EFF), a fund to support Labour candidates in by-elections. Interestingly, minutes of the EFF committee record Millicent Garrett Fawcett promising to get in touch with students at LSE to be organisers. Alice was also co-opted onto the Executive Committee of the NUWSS in June 1913 and then in the following month, she was co-opted to cover Catherine Marshall’s role as secretary of the EFF and Parliamentary Secretary during the autumn. The NUWSS minutes for the autumn recount Alice’s political activity.
During 1913, the NUWSS organised a suffrage pilgrimage lasting six weeks which ended with a huge rally in Hyde Park on 26 July, at which Alice carried the Street Women’s Suffrage banner, made by her sister, Esther. Letters about this and the banner are in the Women’s Library collection.
At the end of the year, Alice was interviewed by Sir John Cockburn, Mrs Knowles, Mr Pearse and William Reeves, the Director of LSE, for the Shaw Scholarship. Charlotte Townsend Shaw, wife of George Bernard Shaw, established this scholarship of 100 guineas for two years to be awarded to women only. Under the supervision of Lilian Knowles, Alice studied the working life of women in the seventeenth century.
Alice attended LSE at a time when many women were active in the field of economic history. Between 1895-1932, 22 per cent of LSE’s regular teaching staff were female (reference: Introduction by Amy Louise Erickson to Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century by Alice Clark (1992), p xii.).
LSE Archives contain letters and reports about this award.
Alice’s studies were interrupted by the need, in October 1914, to return to the family business to set up workrooms for unemployed women and her scholarship was left open. Charlotte Shaw approved of this decision but “…at the same time I deprecate extremely the orgy of private enterprise …when everyone seems to feel it incumbent upon them to rush single-handed into work which should obviously be organised by the government and to do gratuitously what some needy person should be highly paid for doing.” (LSE Central Filing/835).
On the outbreak of war, the NUWSS suspended its suffrage campaign and backed the war effort. Being a Quaker, Alice was not comfortable with this decision. An international peace congress was taking place in the Hague in 1915, and she believed that the NUWSS should take part. When the NUWSS told its members not to attend, Alice resigned along with others.
Later that year, Charlotte Shaw wrote to Mrs Christian MacTaggart, the School Secretary, asking “What has happened to Miss Clark?” Alice sent a progress report of her work in November 1915 which pleased the committee. She finished her studies and published her book Working Women in the Seventeenth-Century in 1919.
Alice returned to Street and worked as one of four people in charge of the family business. She directed the Machine Room, where 300 women worked, and also took charge of personnel management. She died in 1934.
We hold two other banners relating to the Clark family. A large cream and beige banner has the words ‘Blessed are the peace makers’ and a smaller blue banner has ‘Arbitration our hope at home and abroad’. On the reverse of both banners is the inscription ‘Clark, Millfield, Street, Somerset’. These banners probably have more to do with the Clark family’s pacifism than suffrage.
Contributed by Gillian Murphy (Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship, LSE Library)
Find out more in Elizabeth Crawford’s The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide (1999)
Find out more about The Women’s Library collection