Posts Tagged actresses’ franchise league

Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 14 July 1914

 


On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.

Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John has a room along Claverton Street, at number 11.

Tuesday July 14th 1914

Felt much better. what a relief – I was bubbling over with the joy of life. John came in before I  had finished dressing but as I had to go out I left him at work on his Typewriter finishing something for the afternoon, and I went off to the Office, taking my dress for the afternoon with me.

Helped arrange things for the afternoon – and John came and he helped. Then when I could get away I changed and he and I went out to lunch and then back at 2.15 for the Summer Sale and Tea at the [ew].C[onstitutional] Hall. His work was to raffle signed photographs and mine to tie up parcels. But I never tied up one – the Palmist failed and I had to Palm – I hated it, but I really had quite a good time. Miss Lena Ashwell opened the Sale and though there did not seem many people we made quite a lot of money.

Mr Grein came straight from the Haymarket Theatre and the first Public Performance of ‘Ghosts’ as it has now been Licensed and had his hand read. But it was really very funny as he seemed to want to talk more about me – told me to go and see him – gave me his card, and said he liked my ‘eye’.

Gladys [Wright] was quite put about, ‘of course you will be leaving us now’ etc. She is quaint. But I do think the vain little man took rather a fancy to me and I imagine he is always on the look out for people likely to do him credit. I played up rather a game with him, but he quite took it all in. John was awfully upset.

John and I had tea together, and I think he enjoyed himself – he wore a new suit which was quite a success. We left soon as we could – rushed home and just tidied ourselves but no time for much – then out – no time for dinner – but straight to the Haymarket Theatre – Balcony stalls to see ‘Driven’. I enjoyed it immensely – beautifully produced and Alexandra Carlisle looking a perfect picture and greatly improved in her art and Owen Nares a fine actor – simply delightful in a most difficult part. Aubrey Smith as usual but good. The last act is idiotic, of course. John and I are certainly leading the gay and reckless life.

To supper at the Corner House. Waited for the last bus, but must just have missed it. Then found we had missed the last to Victoria – so made for the Underground. It had started to pour with rain by then and John in his new suit. We just caught the last train 12.20 and had to walk from Victoria, but fortunately the rain had not reached this district.

Burberry shop, Knightsbridge. The offices of the NCS were inside this building

Burberry shop, Knightsbridge. The offices of the NCS were on the ground floor inside this building. An arcade originally ran through – with the entrance just about where the bus is in this photo. Off the arcade were a number of small shops and offices

The New Constitutional Society’s Hall was close to their Office, inside Park Mansions Arcade in Knightsbridge. This is now the site of the Burberry Menswear Department (see ‘Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Frye and Knightsbridge’  ). Kate had developed her skill as a Palmist in her youth – in lieu of the more conventional accomplishments expected of a young woman – such as piano playing, singing, or reciting. In her early involvement with the women’s suffrage movement she had often, as a volunteer, provided palm-reading entertainment at bazaars and dances. (See ‘Palmist at the Women’s Freedom League Fair).

Lena ashwell

Lena Ashwell was a leading member of the Actresses’ Franchise League and, over the years had opened many a suffrage bazaar and fair.  A month from now she would be the instigator of the Women’s Theatre Camps Entertainments and of the Women’s Emergency Corps.

J. T. Grein - a photograph taken in 1898

J. T. Grein – a photograph taken in 1898

On Sunday 26 April 1914 Kate had been in charge of the box office  at the Court Theatre (later the Royal Court) when J.T. Grein staged a private performance of Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ as a fund-raising event for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. This, of course, was before the Lord Chamberlain had removed his censorship of it by, as Kate explains, granting the play a performance Licence. Dutch-born Grein was a champion of European theatre.

‘Driven’, on the other hand, was a rather English comedy by E. Temple Thurston. The play’s run at the Haymarket came to an abrupt end at the outbreak of war – but in December was staged on Broadway, with Alexandra Carlisle again in the cast. The producer was Charles Frohman, with whose company Kate had had her first professional engagement ten years or so previously.

See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.

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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: ‘Votes for Women!’ At The Royal Court, April 1907

Kate Frye photographed in costume for her part in J. M. Barrie’s ‘Quality Street’ – on tour in 1903

Kate Frye, besides being a life-long diarist, had a life-long devotion to the theatre, for a few years at the beginning of the 20th century even putting herself on the stage. However, on this afternoon in April 1907, it is her experience as a theatre-goer that she records. Her growing interest in women’s suffrage, which had been instigated by her new friends, Alexandra and Gladys Wright, was stimulated by a visit to the Royal Court Theatre to see Votes for Women!  – a play by the American actress and author, Elizabeth Robins.

‘Tuesday April 16th 1907 [London: 25 Arundel Gardens, North Kensington]

..Changed my dress before lunch. Agnes and I had to leave at a quarter to two and went up to Notting Hill Gate. There met Mrs Wright, Alexandra and Gladys. They had asked us to join them in a theatre party to see ‘Votes for Women’ at The Court – but Mrs Wright told us it was her party and wouldn’t let us pay for a thing. They took us first-class to Sloane Square and in the Dress Circle – second row right – in the centre – to see the piece. It was a most enjoyable and interesting afternoon. I loved the piece – it is quite fine – most cleverly written and the characters are so well drawn. Needless to say the acting was perfection as it generally is at the Court Theatre and the second act – the meeting in Trafalgar Square – ought to draw the whole of London. I was besides myself with excitement over it – so were the Wrights – we all loved it. It was a jolly afternoon – and most awfully kind of them to take us like that. Gladys was very keen to know if it would have any effect on people. I can’t tell – people are not so easily influenced, I fear, except in isolated cases. I wanted to know what the men were thinking of it.

Miss Wynne Matthison was fine – really great, I thought – as Vida. Dorothy Minto was good and I liked Jean Sterling Mackinlay.  Aubrey Smith was just the man for the part and played it well. Lewis Casson, Holman Clark were good too and Edmund Gwenn was fine and so amusing as a ‘Labour Member’. Miss Maud Milton, Miss Frances Ivor, Miss Gertrude Burnett and Agnes Thomas all played well and added to the complete success of the piece. The papers have not done it credit, I think – they have only seen the novelty of the idea and situations – not the cleverness in writing and construction. It was pouring when we came out. Mrs Wright took us to a tea shop and gave us tea and then we all came home by train together.’

Votes for Women! (n.b. the exclamation mark that Kate omitted) was first performed on 9 April 1907, directed by Granville Barker. The title had been changed from more the rather more anodyne ‘The Friend of Woman’.  The Pankhursts were in the audience on the first night.

Nearly 100 years later, on 19 March 2003, Samantha Ellis wrote a most interesting piece on the play and its production for guardian.co.uk. See here for the whole article.

She notes that, like Kate, the critics loved the second act,

‘which had 40 actors, a plastercast base of Nelson’s Column and two huge ‘Votes for Women’ banners. For the Sketch it was “the finest stage crowd scene that has been seen for years”; to the Observer, it was “a marvel of verisimilitude akin to that which might be achieved by a joint use of megaphone and cinematograph”. Beerbohm, writing in the Saturday Review, felt that Dorothy Minto, playing one of the speakers, “caught exactly the spirit of her part – the blithe spirit of the budding platformist”. The Illustrated London News praised Agnes Thomas, playing a speaker identified in the script only as “A Working Woman”, for having “just the rasping Cockney tones, the termagant attitude, that are required” but carped: “There never were such speeches in Trafalgar Square.”

Edith Wynne Matthison

The play’s heroine, Vida Levering, a militant with a mysterious past, who may have been based on Christabel Pankhurst, was played by doe-eyed Edith Wynne-Matthison. Her casting affronted some reviewers; the Times’s critic sniffed, “The cause would make much more headway than it does if all its advocates were as fair to look upon and as beautifully dressed as Miss Wynne-Matthison,” and wondered: “Why, by the way, does Miss Levering take such care to make the best of her good looks and pretty figure and wear such charming frocks? Is it to please other women?”

He also cast doubt on the play’s polemical power: “Whether … the cause Miss Robins has at heart is likely to be advanced by hanging it on to other questions of seduction, abortion, and infanticide is perhaps doubtful.” He was not the only one to dislike the plot, in which Vida is revealed as the quintessential fallen woman, who hates men because an ex-lover forced her to have an abortion. Beerbohm claimed that he “yawned outright” when the ex-lover’s perfidy was revealed by the creaky device of a dropped handkerchief.

At the final plot twist, “when the ex-lover became a born-again suffragette”, even the Stage’s critic became distressed: “Except to those who have the Cause at heart … this might have seemed a rather lame and impotent conclusion.” For the Illustrated London News’s critic, the “play proper [was] not so interesting; its melodramatic story … [was] far too long and … far too thin”. But the suffragettes did not care. Robins gave them a quarter of her royalties, and in 1909 the play was staged in New York and Rome, selling the feminist message far beyond London. It also converted its leading lady, Edith Wynne-Matthison, to the cause; she and Robins founded the Actresses’ Franchise League in 1908 “ensuring that men like the Times’s critic could never again imply that suffragettes could not be glamorous”. ‘

Elizabeth Robins

As far as I remember Kate Frye, although she became a member of the Actresses’ Franchise League very soon after it was founded and was very proud to walk with the AFL in the 1911 Coronation Procession, makes no mention of seeing any of the short plays written to be performed by members of the suffrage societies. Some of these plays – such as How The Vote Was Won by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John – have been collected in The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays, edited by actress and researcher Naomi Paxton, recently published by Bloomsbury. See here for details.

Kate Frye did, however, have a starring – if silent – role in the first production, directed by Edith Craig, of Christopher St John’s controversial play, The Coronation. You can  read her full diary entries relating that experience in 

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – elizabeth.crawford2017@outlook.com  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops.

‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

For much more about Kate Frye’s life as an actress see Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette  by Elizabeth Crawford  for details see here

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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Two Days in April 1908

Kate Frye was a devoted theatre goer. She had trained as an actress and had toured for two or three years from 1904 and joined the Actresses’ Franchise League as soon as it was founded. 

A scene from ‘Diana of Dobson’s’ – an article in ‘The Sketch’, 10 February 1908. Courtesy of the V & A

 ‘Diana of Dobson’s, a romantic comedy that also criticized the ‘live-in’ conditions that Edwardian drapery stores imposed on their staff, was written by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952)  actress, author, and active suffragist. Lena Ashwell (1862-1957) was both the leading actress in the production and the manager of the Kingsway Theatre. ‘Diana of Dobson’s was the second play in Ashwell’s first season at the Kingsway. She was later a vice-president of the Actresses’ Franchise League and a tax resister. Dennis Eadie, in the ‘elderly character part’ was then only 33 years old.

The walk from Tottenham Court Road to the  Kingsway Theatre in Great Queen Street, to the west of Kingsway, would have taken the Fryes through the still relatively unsavoury St Giles and Seven Dials area.

Wednesday April 8th 1908

Mother, Agnes and I left just before 2 o’clock and went by bus to Tottenham Court Road and walked to the Kingsway Theatre just before 3 o’clock and we went in to the reserved seats to see ‘Diana of Dobsons’. It is nearly a month since I got the seats. We very much enjoyed our afternoon. The play is most interesting and amusing and sad too – underneath it all. Lena Ashwell, though her voice sounded tired, was very good – so was Hollard – and Dennis Eadie excellent in an elderly character part. It is quite a novel sort of play and I don’t wonder it is popular. It ought to make people think. The scene of the first act must be a revelation to lots of people.

The next day’s ‘Suffrage Discussion’ was organised under the aegis of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – a constitutional society. Although it was to be several years before the founding of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, there was obviously already an interest in the subject among the Jewish community.

Mrs Gertrude Spielman (1864-1949) born in Germany, was the wife of Meyer Spielman, who was later knighted. She was actively engaged in educational and other forms of social work, particularly with the Norwood Jewish Orphanage and was, in 1912, to be a founder of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage. 

Aylmer Maude (1858-1938) translator of Tolstoy, Fabian, was renowned as a persuasive lecturer. 

Mrs Campbell Lethbridge (1873 -1945), a woman of mystery, was born Sybil MacGregor Allen, in 1894 married William Lonergan, but by 1901 had become Sybil Campbell Lethbridge, a popular and prolific author. Find out more about her here.

Israel Zangwill, Jewish novelist, was always a great favourite of Kate’s.

Israel Zangwill, photographed in 1905

Thursday April 9th 1908

Agnes and I left in a cab at 8 o’clock to Mrs Spielman, 38 Gloucester Square. Got there with Alexandra and Gladys [Wright] and some of the other stewards and we all went up together. There was nothing for us to do at first except make the people sit tight – such a pack it was – hundreds – nearly all Jews except our own friends. It was a Suffrage Discussion – Mr Aylmer Maude in the chair – Mrs  Campbell Lethbridge spoke, Miss Spielman (oh! that was  painful) and Mr Zangwill. He, of course, was beautiful – but I am much afraid too frivolous to do any converting. He was so funny he made me laugh until the tears ran down my face. The discussion was most amusing – such weird people got up and said things. Afterwards we went up and talked to people. I got five members and did better than anyone – but it was hard work. I didn’t give myself any rest and kept straight on – while Agnes looked after our guests and saw they got something to eat. We came back in a hansom. Got in at 11.45 and then had supper. It was past one before John [her fiancé] departed and 2.30 before we got off to bed. I was tired.

 

 

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – e.crawford@sphere20.freeserve.co.uk  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

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