Suffragettes went out for the count
Summary of a story from the Guardian, April 1, 2011
Suffragettes are largely famous for banner waving and being force-fed in their attempts to win women the vote, but according to research out soon, in 1911 they staged a mischievous boycott of that year’s census.
The “householder” had to list everyone who spent census night on the property. So suffragette women, since they didn’t count in Parliament, decided not to be counted for Parliament.
One of the ways they protested was to spend census night away from home.
They walked about outside, hid, or gathered at the home of a census resister. Women met in cafes, walked on the moors, and hid in barns and hay lofts.
With signs proclaiming “If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted”, one group of women in Wimbledon went out for a picnic of roast fowl, sweetmeats and tea.
In London and Manchester houses were packed with census evaders. Women in Portsmouth attended a reading of an Ibsen play. There were overnight events in Cardiff, Bristol, Liverpool, Ipswich, Cheltenham, Reading and Maidstone.
One woman put on her fur coat and spent the night in a cycle shed behind her house.
Emily Wilding Davison – famous for her death on the racetrack two years later – hid in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament.
In theory they faced fines or imprisonment, and of course derogatory remarks in the press, and they may not have actually affected the census, but, as the researchers say, from their stories the exhilaration of the attempt is clear .
Elizabeth Crawford and Jill Liddington’s new research into the ways women protested about the 1911 census is to be published this month in the April edition of the History Workshop Journal.