Ipswich suffragettes who refused to be counted in 1911 census
A hundred years ago this weekend, between 20 and 30 Ipswich suffragettes decided to frustrate the UK census of 1911 by refusing to stay home and be counted.
If the government wanted to include them in the census returns, the suffragette movement reasoned, they first had to count – by being given the vote.
Last night, their decision to use the census as a way of advertising their cause was commemorated by 160 women who gathered in the very same museum rooms (now a restaurant) where the women stayed overnight on April 10, 1911.
Author and historian Jill Liddington explained the controversial backdrop to the decision of the suffragettes to resist the census.
The idea of a census was conceived by socialist MP John Burns.
From a working class background himself, Mr Burns wanted the then Liberal government, led by a Prime Minister – H. H. Asquith – who was very hostile to women’s suffrage, to gather specific data on the level of infant mortality among the working class in order to build a head of steam to tackle it.
But to be counted in the census, everyone had to be at home when the ennumerator arrived to pick up the form.
The decision to resist was therefore a difficult – and controversial – one for the suffragettes to take.
However, resist they did. (see WVoN story)
And as Joy Bounds of the local Women’s History Group explained, the women of Ipswich played their full part. They also achieved their aim – publicity for the right of women to vote.
The local paper duly recorded the next day that about 16 women and five men spent what was probably a very cold and uncomfortable night in the museum rooms. The police put the figure at 30.
One of the women – Constance Andrews – subsequently went to jail for her belief in the right of women to vote.
So for Constance and all those other unnamed women who fought for us so that we might be more free, we raised a glass, sang a song and felt moved to continue the fight for women’s equality.