LSE Library holds the archives of the Women’s Freedom League, more early neighbours of LSE. Curator Gillian Murphy introduces the League, who formed in response to what they viewed as “unconstitutional” actions by the Women’s Social and Political Union.
On Saturday 14 September 1907, a meeting was held at the Eustace Miles Restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant in Chandos Street, just off the Strand. Under discussion was the unconstitutional action of the committee of the Women’s Social and Political Union that had taken place a few days before.
Caroline Hodgson gave an account to a group that included Charlotte Despard, Edith How-Martyn, Teresa Billington Greig, Marion Coates-Hansen, Irene Miller, Alice Abadam and others. They discussed Mrs Pankhurst’s announcement that a new committee was to be selected, the upcoming conference was to be abandoned, and that sections of the constitution dealing with organisation, election of committee and officers were to be wiped out. This is a copy of the letter that was sent to Emmeline Pankhurst after this meeting:
Over the next few days, several meetings took place and plans were made to hold the annual conference at Caxton Hall on 12 October anyway. It took place and new officers and committee members were elected. Mr Francis, who published Women’s Franchise, gave this group a page of his suffrage newsletter to publicise its activities, which it did under the title Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with Charlotte Despard as Honorary Treasurer. In the issue of 7 November 1907, a list of new potential names for the group was published: Women Emancipators; Women’s Freedom League; Women’s Enfranchisement League; Women’s Association for Rights. Three weeks later, the group had decided on the Women’s Freedom League:
The League was a non-violent militant group and began by organising its members to resist paying income tax. Branches in London and around the country formed quickly. The first branch was formed in Chelsea with Cicely Hamilton as secretary. By 1908 there were branches in Scotland.
Meetings of the League had been held mainly at 18 Buckingham Street, off the Strand. Friends gave gifts of office furniture: Mary Lowndes gave two chairs, Alice Vickery a table, Marie Lawson had lent her typewriter for six months. Christiana Herringham was the real tenant of the offices and the landlord was not too pleased with activity. By September 1908, Marion Coates-Hansen and Sarah Benett became leasees of new offices of the League at 1 Robert Street, Adelphi.
With the adoption of the purple, green and white colour scheme by the WSPU in June 1908, the Women’s Freedom League also considered what colours it would use. Before this, they had used red and white as shown in this badge:
They had also used yellow and black, as in this banner miniature designed by Mary Lowndes (the banner was made up for the NUWSS procession on 13 June 1908).
The executive committee of the League suggested various colours from rainbow, black and white, black, yellow and white, or dark blue or dark green instead of black. The decision was taken by the branches for white, gold and green. The organising sub-committee settled on the exact shade and ordered badges and other merchandise in the colours.
They had come up with its motto “Dare to be Free” by 1908, as shown in this banner designed by Mary Sargant Florence:
In the following year, 1909, the League was publishing its own newspaper, The Vote.
Over the coming years, the League protested outside police courts and organised caravan tours around the country spreading the women’s suffrage message. Two more notable protests were the chaining of some members to the Grille in the Ladies’ Gallery in 1908, and organising a boycott against the Census in 1911.
The League continued campaigning for women’s rights into the 1960s. Have a look at some of the images relating to the Women’s Freedom League on our LSE Library Flickr site.
Contributed by Gillian Murphy (Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship, LSE Library)
For more information about Eustace Miles Restaurant see Elizabeth Crawford’s The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a Reference Guide and blog posts on Woman and Her Sphere.
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