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Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Margery Corbett Ashby

21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

This is the second:

Margery Corbett Ashby, photographed in 1923

Mrs M.C. Ashby who was standing in Birmingham’s Ladywood constituency as a Liberal candidate, with support from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

Margery Corbett Ashby (1882-1981) was the daughter of a Liberal MP, Charles Corbett, and both her parents were strong supporters of women’s suffrage. She had a university education, trained as a teacher in Cambridge and from 1907 to 1909 was secretary of the NUWSS and in 1910, the year she married, she was an organizer for the Liberal party. She resigned from the NUWSS executive committee in 1914, too committed a Liberal to support the Election Fighting Fund policy, by which the NUWSS was backing Labour party candidates at elections.

After the First World War she took Mrs Fawcett’s place at the Versailles Peace Conference (Mrs Fawcett did not wish to attend) and helped advise Germany on the founding of its women’s police force.

Margery Corbett Ashby’s candidature at the 1918 general election caused some difficulty for the Birmingham Society for Women’s Suffrage which was criticized for supporting her, rather than the Labour candidate, as the latter party had, unlike the Liberals, traditionally supported the suffrage movement. She was also supported by the Society for Discharged Soldiers – who obviously liked point 7 of her Election Address.

In her lengthy Election Address Margery Corbett Ashby made her (Liberal) views clear:

  1. A League of Nations. To make another War impossible, to abolish conscription, to lighten the burden of taxation for armaments, to substitute open treaties, ratified by Parliament for secret diplomacy, to pool raw materials and food for the hungry peoples of the world. I welcome the practical beginnings of the idea in the International Council which will be established at the Peace Table to ration the nations.
  2. Free Trade and No Food Taxes.
  3. Rights of Little Peoples: Home Rule is imperative to give Ireland the same free choice of government we have demanded for Poland, Alsace-Lorraine and Serbia.
  4. Health and Housing: I believe the urgency of housing admits of no delay, and that there must be immediate provision of a) Houses with at least 3 bedrooms, bath room, water laid on, within the average wage-earner’s means. b) A garden or allotment with each house, for those who want it. c) State assistance to encourage municipal enterprise; the adequate taxation of land values; and the right of compulsory purchase of land for all public requirements at the rate-book valuation.
  5. Equal Citizenship: Real equality between men and women before the law in a) all questions of marriage, morals and the home. b) Opportunities of general and technical training. c) Equal pay for work of equal value above a sound minimum for all. d) All trades, industries and professions.
  6. Labour and Leisure. a) A shorter working day and adequate minimum wage, enforced by law if necessary. b) Regularity of income through universal non-contributory unemployed insurance. c) More freedom and consultation in the workshop. d) Public recreations of a wholesome kind
  7. Soldiers, Sailors and Mothers: I believe in Justice without Charity to secure: a) Adequate pensions for widows with dependent children. b) A real right of maintenance for wives. c) Fullest possible help of all kinds to disabled or discharged soldiers and sailors. d) Fair treatment for women war workers. I welcome Mr Asquith’s desire to improve the Old Age Pensions secured by the Liberal Party, and should like to see the pension raised the age limit lowered.
  8. Civil and Industrial Liberty: I support the immediate restoration of a) All British liberties of citizenship; and b) All essential trade union rights for men and women to enjoy the full use of collective bargaining, surrendered or lost during the war.
  9. Trade and Transit: I favour a) The removal of irksome Government control from private industries. b) The encouragement of production by science, canals and railways. c) The continued municipal ownership of electrical supply. In general I should like to see more Municipal Administration and less Whitehall Bureaucracy.

At the December 1918 election Margery Corbett Ashby polled 1152 votes and lost her deposit. She then stood, again unsuccessfully, at every inter-war election except that of 1931. She succeeded Eleanor Rathbone as president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and in the late 1920s was the co-founder of the Townswomen’s Guild. She also was president of the Women’s Freedom League. At various times she was also president of the British Commonwealth League, member of the executive committee of the Family Endowment Society and chairman of the Association of Moral and Social Hygiene. Margery Corbett Ashby was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1967.



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Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Mary Macarthur

Today, 21 November 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

The first is:

Mary Macarthur (courtesy of Working Class Movement Library)

Mrs W.C. Anderson (Miss Mary Macarthur) who was standing for the Stourbridge (Worcestershire) constituency as a Labour candidate. With the enabling bill passed so close to the election most political parties had already selected their candidates. However Stourbridge Labour party was one of the few organisations that had taken the chance that women would become eligible to stand for election and had already selected Mary Macarthur as their candidate. She was a heroine in that area, having in 1910 led the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath in their battle for better pay. She was, of course, much better known as Mary Macarthur, but it was her married name that appeared on the ballot paper, doubtless leading to confusion among some voters.

Scots-born Mary Macarthur (1880-1921) had been secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League from 1903 and during the pre-war suffrage years had supported the cause of universal adult suffrage rather than the limited women’s suffrage advocated by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the Women’s Social and Political Union.

In her 1918 Election Address Mary Macarthur promised:

  1. I will fight for Free Speech – a Free Press – Free Trial – for Social Economic and Political Freedom.
  2. A Man’s Pay for a Man’s Work. It should be illegal to employ a woman on the same work as a man for less pay. The stand of life must not be lowered by unfair competition.
  3. A Fair System of Taxation.  We shall have a war debt of £7000 million. Those who can best afford it must pay. I am against all taxes on food. The Income Tax limit should be raid and further relief given in respect of family responsibilities. Super Taxes and Death Duties should be increased. I am in favour of a Capital Levy exemption possessions under £100 and pressing lightly on possessions under £5000.
  4. Public Good Before Public Profit. Land, Railways, Canals, Coal and Iron Mines, Life Assurance, Banking, Electricity, and similar monopolies should be made public property, run for public good and not for private profit. Equitable compensation should be given to existing owners and shareholders.

Although defeated, as were all but one of the women candidates – and, indeed, many leading male Labour politicians, Mary Macarthur polled a very creditable 7835 votes at Stourbridge.

In the remainder of her short life, Mary Macarthur continued to work for the Women’s Trade Union League and campaigned to set up the International Labour Organisation.

A memorial to Mary Macarthur in the form of  three holiday homes where ‘tired working women’ could go for a rest, was launched in 1922 and still operates today – now as the Mary Macarthur Holiday Trust. 


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Kate Frye’s Diary: Armistice Day 1918

Kate Frye had worked as an organiser for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage from 1911 until the summer of 1915. In January 1915 she had married her long-time fiancé, John Collins, an actor who had for many years been a member of the Territorial Army. Now an officer, John was stationed at Shoeburyness with the Essex and Suffolk Royal Garrison Artillery until shipping out for France in December 1916. He spent the next two years on the Western Front and in June 1917 was awarded the Military Cross. His letters home to Kate are held by the Imperial War Museum.

One of the pages from her diary in which Kate describes her wedding day. It was she who attached the photographs of herself and John

Letter from John 1 Nov 1918


So it is all over or practically so I wonder what happens next. Please to look for a flat for us duckie. I am longing now to get home to my dear one for good. Oh, won’t it be lovely.

It is a very wet day and I have been running about all day expecting anything but I don’t think we shall ever move again except to go home. There is practically no great excitement here over this morning’s news. Everyone seems to take as a matter of course. It feels just like the end of a term at School where one does not quite know the time the train goes home or how to employ ones time until that is known. It is a most peculiar feeling. I expect the feeling will suddenly burst out however. I wonder how the people at home are taking it. Oh dear Muzz you don’t know how lovely it is to think I shall soon be home with you. It is almost unthinkable after all these years but it’s going to come true after all. I am quite well and safe and fancy I have heard the last shell burst that I shall ever hear. I am now thinking of getting up some of the plays and a concert. What about my mustache – shall I take it off yet, or when I get home? There used to be a German Captain in this house. He was in charge of a German Dog School and he had an English wife who was here with him. The old party who owns the house says that his wife hated the Germans much more than the Belgians did. They left one Doberman behind a great big wolf dog not a bad party but a bit wild. Well dearest there is no more news except that I do love you ever so much.

Fondest love


On the day the War ended Kate was at home in her cottage at Berghers Hill in Buckinghamshire and wrote in her diary:

Monday November 11th 1918 [Berghers Hill]

I was thinking and wondering every inch of the morning, and could not settle to anything. Was cleaning a collection of shoes about 11.30 in my room, the windows were open – I sat up and listened. Boom-Boom-Boom – then a Hooter and then I thought it time to bestir myself and went in to Agnes then downstairs to Kathleen [the daily maid] and out to listen to the various sounds proclaiming that the Armistice has been signed. And thank God for our many and great mercies. Mother was down the hill and had called at the Manor House – the news was all over the green and soon up here – and the remarks of the hill were marvellous. As soon as I could settle to anything I sat me down and wrote to John. Is he safe, and will he really be spared to come home to me? [She eventually manages to buy a copy of the Daily Telegraph] ‘Yes, the glorious news, as announced ‘Surrender of Germany’ Armistice signed at 5 a.m. Cease fire at 11 a.m. The D.T. has news of Abdication of the Kaiser and Crown Prince, and flight to Holland. The whole of Germany is seething with revolution. It seems as if it will be a second Russia.

Sunday November 17th 1918 [Berghers Hill]

A fine day, though cold. Woke up at 7 and went off to Church as a beginning to my day of Thanksgiving. I did wish I could have had a letter from John but I tried to give a whole hearted thanksgiving for our many and great mercies….[After Church] When I got in the Postie has just been bringing me a letter from John, written on the 11th. Oh I was thankful and feel indeed to have a grateful heart. He is safe and well and of course very very pleased and looking forward to coming home. [In afternoon] Mother, Agnes and I off to the special service of Thanksgiving at 3 o’clock. The Church was just packed, every one there including Sir John and Lady Thomas. Such singing and the reading of that wonderful and extraordinary lesson from Isaiah – a nice sermon from the Vicar and the singing by him more or less of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Kate wrote many plays during her lifetime but the only one published, Cease Fire!, was set at the Front, in a cellar of a ruined house ‘Somewhere in France’, during the final hour before the Armistice was declared. One of the main protagonists is clearly based on John, the character’s military career following the same somewhat idiosyncratic pattern as had his, his deep love for his wife driving the plot. Published by Samuel French in 1921, ‘Cease Fire!’ reads very well today.

You can read more about Kate – and John – in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary  and Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Both books are drawn from Kate’s voluminous diary, now held by the archives of Royal Holloway College

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Suffrage Stories: ‘Woman And Her Sphere’ At Buckingham Palace


Yesterday was surreal – as I found myself at Buckingham Palace to receive an OBE for ‘Services to Education – in particular for promoting knowledge of the women’s suffrage movement’. This was an event so far removed from my expectations from life that to mention ‘wildest dreams’ would be to give it too firm a reality.

However it was a most interesting occasion – wonderfully orchestrated – ceremonial and yet convivial – and I was delighted that the history of the women’s movement should be honoured in this way..

After bidding farewell to the gilt, crystal, and red velvet, to the Beefeaters, the Gurkhas, and the Guards, to numerous paintings of the royal family through the ages, and, noted in passing, to a Jan Steen, a de Hooch, and a Vermeer, I and my family party of 12 enjoyed a merry, afternoon-long lunch.


Suffrage Stories: Mrs Pankhurst’s Statue – UPDATE 22 October 2018

This statue of Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, erected by her admiring and loving followers, will remain THE memorial to her at Westminster.

I reported on 15 September the very welcome news that, as a result of a vigorous public protest, Sir Neil Thorne and the Emmeline Pankhurst Trust had withdrawn the planning applications they had made to Westminster Council to remove the existing statue of Emmeline Pankhurst and resite it in Regent’s Park.

They had made these applications in order to make way for a new statue of Mrs Pankhurst that they had commissioned, for reasons that are not entirely clear, and intended to place on Canning Green to the west of Parliament Square.

The planning application came up for consideration at a meeting held on 2 October 2018, the minutes of which were issued on 15 October 2018. Perhaps unsurprisingly the decision was:

That the application be refused on the grounds that it is contrary to the Council’s Saturation policy for the reasons set out on page 18 of the agenda and due to the presence of a second statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in the vicinity.

You can read the minuted report here – https://tinyurl.com/yahasea2.

I won’t begin to wonder how much money and time has been spent on this project – or why. You may each have your own views.

The result seems to be a victory for both historical – and common – sense.




Suffrage Stories: The Prison Diary of Annie Cobden-Sanderson

One of the many new books I have enjoyed in this suffrage centenary year is The Prison Diary of Annie Cobden-Sanderson, edited by Dr Marianne Tidcombe.

This postcard is for sale – item 153 in my Catalogue 198 https://wp.me/p2AEiO-1qO. Item 154 is another, unusual, photographic card of Annie Cobden Sanderson, published by the Women’s Freedom League.

Annie Cobden-Sanderson, daughter of the eminent Liberal politician, Richard Cobden, and wife of Arts and Crafts bookbinder and printer, T.J. Sanderson, was one of the first suffragettes to go to prison in London. The diary covers her imprisonment, 1-23 November 1906. The fact that Cobden’s daughter was serving time in Holloway made the headlines and sent a frisson through the Liberal establishment.

The following year she went on a US speaking tour and her prison credentials engendered handsome publicity for her friend Harriot  Stanton Blatch’s Equality League.

The book contains both a facsimile of the diary (the original is held at LSE) and a transcription, together with extensive notes by Dr Tidcombe on the characters and events mentioned and a biographical introduction giving a full description of Annie’s life.

Annie Cobden-Sanderson was arrested again in 1909 – on the occasion shown in the photograph above – but that time her fine was paid without her knowledge, depriving her of another short prison term.


E2.8. The Prison Diary, with a Facsimile: Cobden-Sanderson (Annie)

This beautifully produced and illustrated book, published by Libanus Press, is available from all bookshops and from  Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/y7asmw8g

 ISBN 978-0-948021-11-4.


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Suffrage Stories: Save Mrs Pankhurst’s Statue: UPDATED 15 SEPTEMBER 2018

A planning application has been made to Westminster Council to dismantle this statue of Mrs Pankhurst – which stands as close as possible to the Houses of Parliament.

The plan is to banish this statue to the grounds of Regent’s University, a private university, in Regent’s Park. See the planning application here.

The group behind the application calls itself ‘The Emmeline Pankhurst Trust’ but has no connection with the other Pankhurst Trust that is working to restore the Pankhursts’ home in Nelson Street, Manchester. Nor does it have any connection with the Pankhurst family. Rather, it is a mysterious group led by a former Conservative MP (for Ilford South), Sir Neil Thorne, whose wife, according to a newspaper report, was walking her dog through Victoria Tower Gardens when she encountered Mrs Pankhurst’s statue and, knowing nothing of its history, thought it might be better placed elsewhere.

This statue was funded by the Pankhurst Memorial Fund set up following Emmeline’s death in 1928 and championed by fellow suffragettes Kitty Marshall and Rosamund Massey. Flora Drummond was the chair of the group and Lady Rhondda the treasurer. A fund of £2500 was raised, the statue commissioned, and in 1930 it was unveiled by the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, with Dame Ethel Smyth conducting the band. See Pathe newsreel of the occasion here.

In the 1950s works in Victoria Tower Gardens endangered the statue but, thanks to the dedication of her surviving friends, it was moved even closer to the Houses of Parliament, to the present site. Ever since 1930 it has been the scene of commemoration, not only by former suffrage campaigners, but by hundreds of thousands of members of the public who have invested their memories in this site. Here is a 1955 newsreel item of former suffragettes meeting by the statue (then in its original position in Victoria Tower Gardens) in celebration.

Sir Neil Thorne and his group propose to create a new statue of Mrs Pankhurst and site it on Canning Green, which is a rather forgotten stretch of grass separated from Parliament Square by a very busy road. Those campaigning for the statue to Millicent Fawcett were at least able to claim for her a site in Parliament Square itself. This proposed new statue to Mrs Pankhurst would be way in the background – separated from Parliament by two main roads and the whole of Parliament Square. What is the sense in that when at the moment she is closer than any figure (other than Oliver Cromwell!) and when photographs of the statue (and the memorial to Christabel Pankhurst at the base) also capture the Mother of Parliaments? If Sir Neil Thorne’s group had their way she would be very lonely, stranded with George Canning on a meaningless piece of grass and all the history invested in the original statue forgotten

Because, unsurprisingly, Westminster Council won’t countenance two statues to Mrs Pankhurst within a short distance of each other, Sir Neil Thorne’s group has had to find a way of removing the original statue, which at the moment is Grade 2 Listed.

There was an attempt to try and move it to her grave in Brompton Cemetery, but that came to nothing. So now their idea is to remove it to the grounds of Regent’s University in far off Regent’s Park, with which Mrs Pankhurst has no association whatsoever. Sir Neil Thorne, however, does – in that he is a member of the Steering Group Committee for the British Chinese Armed Forces Heritage project, a collaboration between the Ming-Ai (London) Institute and Regent’s University. Presumably this association is not unconnected to the offer by Regent’s University to remove the problem of the original statue. Who do you think will see it in the shrubberies of Regent’s Park?

Here is the planning application for the erection of the statue in the grounds of Regent’s University. It contains a spurious attempt to link the fact that the buildings now occupied by Regent’s University were erected by Bedford College – once a woman-only college – and that, therefore, this is a suitable home for Mrs Pankhurst’s statue. This is nonsense – as Mrs Pankhurst was never involved in any campaign to advance women’s education. Such a meretricious elision of historical truth.

Finally, you can read the planning application for the new statue here. You will note that when it was first presented in 2017 it received a number of comments in support. On reading them I think you will get the sense that those supporting the new statue don’t seem to know anything of suffrage history, far less the fact that Emmeline Pankhurst already has a statue.

Of course, if this ‘Pankhurst Trust’ had wanted to erect a new statue to Mrs Pankhurst that did not involve casting the original aside as though it was of no consequence, I would have no objection. But I feel very strongly that we should honour the intention and actions of those who committed their time and money to setting Mrs Pankhurst in such an excellent position next to Parliament. If the group behind these planning applications would like to honour the memory of Mrs Pankhurst they would do better to support the original ‘Pankhurst Trust’ , which is attempting to create a museum in the Pankhursts’ former Manchester home, rather than wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on an unnecessary piece of statuary and in the process destroying a valuable site of suffrage history.

Time is running out. If you do not agree with these three plans:

  1. to dismantle the existing statue of Mrs Pankhurst from its existing site  – OBJECT 
  2. to re-erect  the original statue in the forecourt of Regent’s University – OBJECT
  3. erect a new statue of Mrs Pankhurst on Canning Green – OBJECT

Updates: 22 August 2018

1. A couple of online petitions have been started – and one, hosted by 38 Degrees – see here – has attracted thousands of signatures. This is pleasingly popularist but, if you live in the UK, is NO SUBSTITUTE  for making comments on the 3 planning applications that are being put to Westminster Council. It is imperative in planning matters to go through the proper channels. I have asked the originator of the petition to include links to the planning applications, but nothing has yet been done. UPDATE:  A LINK HAS NOW BEEN INCLUDED

The Westminster officer in charge of the case has a responsibility to read all comments made and take notice of them when writing his/her report to the Planning Committee. Even if he/she knows of a petition there is no obligation to take any notice of it.

I am worried that those who only sign the petition will feel they have ‘done their bit’ but will actually have wasted a very real opportunity of making their views known to the Planning Committee. 

There is no difficulty in registering objections to the planning applications – hundreds have already done so. No suffragette would have been deterred!

2) The Curator’s Office at the Palace of Westminster has commissioned a very thorough report into the plan to remove Mrs Pankhurst’s statue from Victoria Tower Gardens – published today (22 Aug 2018). Read it here. It makes extremely interesting reading but, to cut to the chase, the verdict is definite.  ‘The proposal to move the memorial, therefore, should not be granted planning permission or listed building consent.’ (Page 37)


The proposals to remove Mrs Pankhurst’s statue and re-erect it in the grounds of Regent’s University have just been WITHDRAWN.

The planning application to erect a new statue of her on Canning Green is still ‘Pending’.

Hoowever, we would be wise not to be too complacent…this may be some kind of tactical move. Be vigilant.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.