Monday, August 31, 2015

On the campaign trail

Edith travelled the country in her role as an organiser in the Women’s Social and Political Union and in February 1909 she was on the campaign trail at a by-election in the Scottish border town of Hawick.

The by-election was called following the resignation of the Rt Hon Thomas Shaw who had held the Border Burghs seat since 1892, beating his Liberal Unionist opponent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, at the 1906 General Election.

On Friday, February 26, 1909 the Hawick News reported the presence of the campaigning women in Hawick as a ‘novelty.’ The newspaper was slightly less patronising in its description of Edith ‘a lady of attractive personality, an eloquent speaker, and has the knack of keeping herself on the best of terms with her audiences.’

As was the usual practice the women had set up a temporary campaign headquarters in a shop in the High Street from which they sold their political literature, encouraging voters to vote against the Liberal candidate.

Edith launched the campaign by addressing a large public meeting on the Tower Knowe during which she ‘justified militant tactics adopted to secure the end they had in view – the political enfranchisement of women.’ By this time Edith had already served several terms of imprisonment.
The meeting was described by the local press as ‘orderly’ with the women speakers receiving a ‘courteous hearing.’

Emmeline Pankhurst and her youngest daughter Adela both attended meetings during the 1909 by election campaign in Hawick.

Mrs Pankhurst was introduced by Edith at a crowded meeting held in the Town Hall where a piper had been engaged to accompany the singing:

Rise, ye men of Border burghs.
Show yourself in your true colours
As you've done in days gone by
Stand by British Liberty

"Votes for Women" loudly defying
Stubborn foes you'll put to rout
Vote and keep the Liberals out

Edith tried to rally the crowd with a cry of ‘come away, now – you have your song sheets’ but there was a definite lack of enthusiasm. Undaunted Edith continued ‘we will have that song, we have lost our voices with talking, and you have not; come away now – Rise ye Men,’ but still the response was poor.

The report continued:

“The second attempt was not much better than the first, whereupon she advised them to get the words off for next week. ‘We will have the pipes again, and will expect you to do much better.’”

Edith knew how to work a crowd and before introducing Mrs Pankhurst, she told the audience that she was not going to worry them with a speech as they would hear plenty from her during the following week ‘whether you want it or not, some of you – you have got to have it,’ to which they responded with ‘great laughter and cheers.’

At the end of the meeting Edith moved a resolution calling upon the Government to pass a measure that session to give women the vote. She accused the Government of being antiquated because the leader was antiquated to which a joker in the crowd called out – ‘He’s fear’ed for e’e’.

On Polling Day, March 5, 1909 the women were on duty at the Polling Stations handing out postcards addressed to the Prime Minister declaring a vote had been cast against the Liberal candidate in protest against the Government not having passed a measure to give women the vote. There was, however, a general feeling that the campaigning women had gone a step too far.

The Liberal candidate Sir John Barran won with 3,028 votes, a reduced majority of 520, over his opponent the Liberal Unionist Halford John Mackinder who polled 2,508 votes.

Edith addressing an open air meeting at Hawick.

This familiar photograph of Edith was taken during the Hawick campaign.

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