Suffrage Stories: Mrs Joseph McCabe Bathing her Baby

Mrs McCabeThis card was one of several published by the Women’s Freedom League in 1910 in an ironical series ‘Suffragettes At Home’ – a tongue-in-the cheek riposte to those who castigated suffragettes as being unwomanly.

Mrs Joseph McCabe was born Beatrice Alice Lee in Leicester in 1880, one of several children of William Lee, a framework knitter and, most importantly, a member of the Leicester Secular Society.  For it was doubtless through the Lee family’s association with that Society that in 1899 Beatrice Lee, at barely 19 years old, came to  marry Joseph McCabe. The latter was then 32 years old and had already experienced an adventurous religious life – having, at about the time Beatrice was born, entered the Franciscan order and in 1890 having been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. By 1896, however, he had lost his faith, left the priesthood and begun a career as a writer and thinker on freethought. From 1898-99 he was secretary of the Leicester Secular Society.

In 1911 the family was living in north London, at 16 Elm Grove, Cricklewood. On 2 April, when the census was taken, Joseph was away in Wales, presumably on a lecture tour, leaving Beatrice at home with her four children. Although we must assume – in that she allowed herself to be promoted in the WFL card – that she was a member of the Women’s Freedom League she did not evade the census enumerator when he left the form with her at 16 Elm Grove. She completed it, describing herself as ‘mother, nurse and housekeeper also cook’. Besides the 4 children and the 17-year-old domestic help she lists the other members of the household – the cat ‘Diddie’ (neutered), 5 rabbits: ‘Brownie’, ‘Toodles’, ‘Baby’, ‘Biskie’ and ‘Bunkie’, and 3 goldfishes ‘no name’.

Across the form she added the following protest:

‘I wish to register in the strongest possible terms, my utter detestation of, and indignation at, having thrust upon me in the absence of my husband, the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, when neither I nor any single member of my sex is allowed to exercise the most elementary right of a citizen. I would also protest against the insult especially to mothers in describing their valuable services as ‘”only” domestic’.

Joseph McCabe was a keen supporter of women’s suffrage – particularly speaking for the Women’s Freedom League. In 1917 Beatrice McCabe was the hon secretary of the Hendon Women’s Franchise Society, which was affiliated to the United Suffragists.  The McCabes were then living at 49 Bridge Lane, Hendon, but separated in 1925; Joseph was notoriously difficult. Beatrice died in 1960.

So that is the story that underpins ‘Mrs Joseph McCabe Bathing her Baby’ –  that chubby-cheeked chap being  Ernest (1909-1988).

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  1. #1 by Rosalind McCabe on September 30, 2013 - 1:25 pm

    Thank you for this article. The above mentioned Mrs McCabe is my great grandmother, the baby my grandfather. I have been looking for information about Beatrice’s early life for some time. there is so much information about Joseph, but until now I had found nothing about Beatrice.

    • #2 by womanandhersphere on September 30, 2013 - 1:59 pm

      I am glad you found the article useful. You may be able to find out much more about William Lee and his family by contacting the Leicester Secular Society – which I see from their website is still going strong.

  2. #3 by Rosalind McCabe on September 30, 2013 - 3:17 pm

    Many thanks indeed. I will certainly contact them, and hopefully find other articles online. Rosalind

  1. ‘Mummy’s a Suffragette’: Contested Womanhood | Historian Interrupted

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