A reader of this blog has asked me to confirm who was the ‘Mrs Rachel Scott’ who unfurled the ‘First in the Fight’ Manchester WSPU banner in 1908.
You will remember that I wrote here about the discovery of the banner and the subsequent appeal that resulted in it being acquired by the People’s History Museum in Manchester. In that piece I wrote that I suspected that the woman given the honour of unfurling the banner was the Mrs Rachel Scott who had been the WSPU’s first honorary secretary, rather than Rachel Scott, wife of C.P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian. And, of course, the merest further investigation showed that it was indeed Mrs ‘Secretary’ Scott who had unfurled the banner – not least because Mrs C.P. Scott had died three years earlier, in 1905.
But my enquirer was still interested in finding out something of Mrs Rachel Scott, the ‘unfurler’….so I have done a little delving. For, although her name has often been mentioned in studies of the early days of the WSPU, she has not, as far as I can see, hitherto been credited with a real life.
I can report that she was born Rachel Lovett in Chorlton, Lancashire, in 1863, one of the many (at least 9) children of Thomas Lovett and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father was a labourer in the oilcloth industry and in 1871 the family was living next to the Marsden oilcloth factory at Canal Side, Newton Heath. Rachel’s older sisters became weavers or winders as soon as, aged 14, they left school. However, the 1881 census shows that Rachel had escaped this fate and, aged 17, was working as a pupil teacher. She presumably continued teaching until her marriage in 1890 to Henry (Harry) Charles David Scott, the son of a schoolmaster. Harry was at this time described as a ‘cashier’ but by 1901, when the family, now with four children, was living at 5 Duncan Street, Broughton, he was ‘managing director of an engineering firm’. In fact, he worked for the Manchester firm of Royles for most of his life, becoming chairman of the board of directors. At the turn of the 20th century he was a strong supporter of The Clarion, the socialist newspaper, and was a member of the Independent Labour party, paying the rent of the Party’s Manchester meeting room.
For we know it was through the Manchester ILP that Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst encountered Rachel Scott, who was one of the women she invited to the meeting at her house in Nelson Street, Manchester, on 10 October 1903, at which the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded. Mrs Scott was appointed the WSPU’s first secretary and had a letter published in the 30 October 1903 issue of The Clarion alerting fellow Socialists to the existence of this new organisation and appealing ‘to all women Socialists to join in this movement to press upon party and community the urgent need of giving to women the vote, that they may take their share of the vote for social emancipation’.
Rachel Scott maintained her involvement with the Manchester WSPU for some years, noted as present at various meetings and demonstrations, for instance appearing on Platform 12 at the WSPU Hyde Park demonstration of Sunday 21 June 1908 (described in Votes for Women, 18 June 1908, as ‘well-known as a capable speaker and hard worker in the Manchester district’) and, of course, was singled out to present the banner to the Manchester WSPU on 20 June 1908, the day before the Hyde Park meeting. The banner hadn’t been ready in time to be unfurled with others in the Queen’s Hall in London.
Rachel Scott was on the platform at a meeting in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 19 January 1909 when Christabel Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome but I get the impression that after this she rather fades from view, perhaps less interested as it became clear that the WSPU was no longer a supporter of the socialist movement with which, in 1909, she was still actively involved. Certainly, she did not boycott the 1911 census and was at home (‘Arrandale’, Crofts Bank Road, Urmston) on census night with her husband and by now five children. Her eldest son was a ‘student of chemistry’, another was an ‘engineering apprentice’, and a third was a clerk. The other two children were still at school.
One of Rachel’s sisters was living with the family in 1911, as she appears to have done all their married life. Another of Rachel’s sisters died that year but had previously worked as a superintendent in the ‘Imbecile Wards’ of the Crumpsall (Manchester) Workhouse. Yet another sister had for a time been employed as a nurse in the same workhouse. Presumably both positions had been an improvement on the sisters’ earliest employment in the cotton industry. Doubtless both from her own experience and that of her sisters Rachel Scott was well apprised of the state of the poor and afflicted and had hoped that the WSPU would be a means of improving their lot. She may have become disillusioned.
Rachel Scott died in 1925. Of her sons, one was killed during the First World War, one became an analytical chemist, another an engineer designer, and the fourth emigrated to Australia. Her daughter married, but died in 1935. Harry, still a director of Royles, was appointed a magistrate in 1931 and died in 1937.
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