Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Celebrating the 1,499 women who signed the 1866 Women's Suffrage Petition

1,499 women were contacted by their friends and relations in May 1866 and asked to sign a petition asking that certain women could have the vote in Britain. This was 40 years before the Suffragettes. The signatures was collected by members of the Kensington Society, a discussion group, and deliverd to MP John Stuart Mill by Emily Davies, founder of Girton College and Elizabeth Garrett, later an early woman doctor.

When the petition was presented to Parliament, it was greeted with amazement and contempt However the women who signed, many of whom were working to support their families, had also had their names and addresses published in a pamphlet distributed to the press and MP.

In 1990 visiting Girton College archives, I found a copy of this list of names and addresses, and started to seek out and celebrate these remarkable brave women. I completed a PhD in 1995 (Generous and Lofty Sympathies...) but then I had only traced about 600 of the women who signed.

Nearly twenty years on- and with the internet and famil y history resources available now- I have traced nearly all the women, and in many cases can put together their life stories . Now I want to tell these stories to celebrate these (often) forgotten lives.

.This blog will be a diary of my progress starting with some of those women whose surnames start with A. Here are two women who were brought up modestly in the country- one of whom became wife of a businessman, and the other who was a servant.
Mary Allbright, Lancaster
Mary Knipe was brought up on a farm of 26 acres at Slyne with Hest Bolton le Sands, Lancashire. Her father and mother Sarah did not have live in servants, or labourers to help on the farm. In 1851 they had several teenage and adult sons and daughters, all of whom may have helped run the farm. Mary married Joseph Albright, a druggist in Lancaster in 1853. By 1861 she had two young sons and a baby daughter. By 1871 her son Joseph P was at a boarding school in Church Street, Lancaster, while her daughter was still at home. She died in 1872 and her husband remarried a couple of years later. The shop where she lived was in Great John Street, Lancaster.

Allen, Eliza 37 Kensington Place London, W
In 1861 Eliza appears to have been servant in sole charge of a house 19 Kensington Place Terrace. Eliza was born in Batcombe Dorset in 1842, daughter of an agricultural labourer By 1851 the family were living in Somerset. She is one of very few domestic servants to sign the petition.

Annie Elizabeth Ackworth, Elfinswood Cuckfield, Sussex

Annie Ackworth first came to my attention early in my research- I found her in The Amberley Papers-Letters and diaries of Lord and Lady Amberley edited by their son Bertrand Russell. Lady Amberley signed the petition herself, and later caused a stir by speaking at public meetings demanding the vote. In January 1873 Lord Amberley recorded in his journal that he and his wife had visited Annie for a seance . There is a full description of Annie at work as a medium. .
Annie Elizabeth Ackworth was born in 1841.(Anne Andrew Elizabeth Shaw) Her husband Edward Acworth MD was 31 years her senior., and she married him in 1864 in Ashford, Kent. He died in 1874, the year after the Amberley’s visited them at Elfinswood for a spiritualist session which they describe in the Amberley Papers (pp 533-536) Annie did not remarry, and died in Cuckfield in the middle of 1903. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Essex, Herts, Middlesex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, 1867 records Edward Ackworth MD resident at Elfinsward. In the same volume he is also recorded as resident in Regency Square, Brighton The Amberley’s mention that she was a relative of Mrs Green- Could be Green Betsy Matilda Pelham nee Acworth who married George C Green in 1844, or Catherine Ackworth Green- both signed in Camberwell- Catherine may have been sister of Mr Green or married and widowed daughter of George Ackworth of Medway.

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