Suffragette evaders of the 1911 census can be very difficult to uncover – that, of course, was their intention. It is well nigh impossible to identify individual evaders who, with their companions, took part in one of the organised mass evasions. However it is particularly tantalising when the organisers of a mass evasion publicised its whereabouts in the suffrage press and yet proof of the protest in the form of a group census form cannot be found. We can be sure that the authorities were studying Votes for Women and knew exactly where such gathering would take place.
One such is the mass evasion that took place in Birmingham. The WSPU organizers there, Dorothy Evans (for her biographical details see my Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide) and Gladys Hazel (1880-1959, who had been a teacher at King Edward’s School, Handsworth, and was later to be a suffrage organizer in Bristol) entered fully into the spirit of the census boycott. By 17 March (as quoted in Votes for Women of that date) they were planning all-night entertainment -‘ a meeting, speeches, dancing and probably a play. There will be chalking parties at 6, baths at 7 and a second breakfast at 8. Evaders of the Census who attend these parties have been asked to apply for forms in order to return them with ‘No Vote No Census’ written across them.’
The following week Votes for Women divulged further information – Resisters were to assemble at the office at 11pm for the entertainments, the baths were to be had at Kent Street and the 8am breakfast at Lyons in New Street.
With all this information available, how was it that I couldn’t find a census form for the office – 97 John Bright Street – where the all-night meeting was to take place? Well, whether it’s due to my speedy new computer – or the experience that has accrued from four years of searching the census websites – I have just discovered the relevant document.
There it is: The cover reads:Name of Head of Family etc: Suffragists. Address: WSPU Committee Rooms, 97 John Bright St.
The form shows that of the 130 Suffragists who spent the night there 120 were female and 10 were male. The Superintendent Registrar wrote on the form ‘This schedule is filled in as per instructions received from General Office April 8th 1911’
Moreover I have also uncovered the individual census forms for Dorothy Evans and Gladys Hazel, left for them at their lodgings, 34 Harold Rd Edgbaston. They filled them out identically, quoting the rubric – ‘Votes for Women’ ‘No Vote No Census’ and the enumerator wrote on each – ‘Housekeeper informs me that Miss Evans (Miss Hazel) did not sleep at no 34 Harold Road on Sunday’.
At the terrace house – still there and still available to let – though the agents now aim for students as tenants rather than suffragettes – the women shared three rooms between them – while the landlord, Thomas Wilkes, his wife (presumably the housekeeper mentioned by the enumerator) and nephew had the run of the remaining six.
If only a fraction of the 130 Birmingham evaders filled in their census forms, as did Dorothy Evans and Gladys Evans, they should be somewhere on the census websites – if only we could track them down. However, without a name or an address, this is difficult – although not impossible. Perhaps those who took part in Fight for the Right – the short film about the Birmingham suffragettes – will be inspired to uncover these hidden suffragettes.
To listen to a talk I gave on the suffragette boycott at a National Archives conference on the 1911 census click here