Sunday, 22 August 2010

Three Spinsters in Margate

At Burleigh House ,13 Cecil Street, Margate, there was a girl's school run by two sisters, Josephine Theakston Waude and Helen Waude. With their older step sister Isabella Theakston they signed the petition. In 1866 they were 36 and 32 years old. They had 24 boarders in 1861. They were interested in improving the standard of the education they could offer their pupils, because in 1864 Josephine had signed the petition to the Syndics of Cambridge University asking that girls should also be permitted to take the University Local Examinations. This petition was successful and by 1867 girls from across the country were taking the exams. However by 1871the sisters were on the move and their step-sister Isabella Theakston ( Who dwelt with them , but lived off her own means) had moved to stay with her elder sister Martha Sprunt .

These are single women who were in the fortunate position of being well provided for. They were able to start a school, but were not dependent on it for a livelyhood. Their mother Sarah had married twice, both times to coach builders in the [Old?] Kent Road, Southwark. By her first husband John Theakston she had Martha and Isabella and a boy John who had only lived 7 weeks. Martha was the only sister to marry- her husband was publican of the Coach and Horses in Greenwich Market , then worked as a clerk for a gas company before becoming a Licenced Victualler.
John Waude's two daughters were born in Southwark and their father died in 1850. He appears to have been a very successful coach maker, working in fine materials (there is an Old Baily trial where he gives evidence when his stock was stolen) The girls moved to Rose Hill, Ash near Canterbury and in 1851n census are described as Independent Proprietors of houses. By 1881 Helen, Josephine and Isabella moved to Westmoreland.

The three women lived out the rest of their lives at Raven Bank, Staveley near Kendal. The house still exists and is a substantial stone house in leafy grounds, built in 1851. Isabella died first, then Josephine- each leaving several thousand pounds to their sisters. The last sister to die left over £17,000 to a Mr Thorp.

These unmarried sisters appear to have been unusual, in that they were well provided for. Their widowed mother had made a prudent second marriage, and Mr Waude, and possibly Mr Theakston also, had invested in property which provided an steady income for the girls. They had run a school for a number of years- was this in lean times when rents were low perhaps. But unlike many of the single women who signed the petition in 1866, their lives for the next five decades were comfortable and secure (Or did they shiver in their Lakeland home, huddling in one room, economising on everything, property rich but income poor???)

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Elizabeth Wilmshurst French and other Kent women

I have been asked by a friend to give her a list of women who signed the petition in East Sussex and Kent. She belongs to a local W.I and will ask around among her friends there who will be interested. I started the job yesterday and at once got sidetracked by the women I bumped into on the way.

The hamlet of Collier Street near Maidstone was the first. The three women who signed there represent a cross section of those who would benefit from the Vote. Eleanor French was a farmer, a widow with young children who ran her hop farm of 40 acres employing 8 men and 4 boys in 1861. She was fortunate not to be a tenant farmer in an area where the landlord was also the MP relying on her for her vote. Farmer's widows would routinely loose their tenancies and living if this was the case. As it was she ran the farm for many years until her son took it over.
Mrs Elizabeth Worsley was the wife of the village grocer and wheelwright. In 1861 she had 6 children at home, as well as two boarders and one servant. Her eldest daughter aged 20 was working in the grocer's shop. Unmarried, Miss Wilmshurst French lived at Den Farm with her widowed father. I knew more about Miss French than many of the women, but that little knowledge is tantalising. Imagine a small collection of scattered cottages along a winding lane- a small church about half way along, in an agricultural landscape that in 1866 consisted of apple orchards and hopfields. The churchyard is overgrown, and Elizabeth's tombstone, (when I returned for a second visit to photograph it) had been turned on its face by vandals. She was born in 1832 and died on October 11th 1869. She published a book called "Pebbles and Shells" in 1858 (Now unavailable?) And she was one of the hundreds of forgotten women whose voice has survived... Buried in the Mill Taylor papers in the LSE are two letters from her to JSMill's stepdaughter Helen Taylor, and a draft of a reply .

On March 28th 1868 she responds to a request for signatures for a new petition by apologising for the fact that she has no friends to ask...." hetrodoxy of all sorts is so plainly written on my mere appearance that everyone is on his guard against me....My offence is in the fact that I wear trousers, a useful garment..." She has been wearing bloomers for many years. Helen Taylor in her draft reply says that 'fine dress is our armour' and apparently encouraged by a supportive response in the second letter Elizabeth advocates birth control as a way in which women can take control of their own well being. Elizabeth French had also sent a one woman petition to Parliament in 1867 asking for women to be included in the Franchise bill which John Stuart Mill had presented to the House. When writing to Helen Taylor she mentioned that she was unwell and her death followed shortly afterwards.

When writing of her unusual costume, she said "I have been a trouble to my father, a grief to my friends, ... an object of much looking and a little pelting wherever I wend my solitary way" so I was touched when I read the inscription that father had engraved on her tombstone. "In affectionate remembrance of a beloved daughter, Elizabeth Wilmshurst French who died October 11th 1869 aged 37 years Time is short, Eternity long"

Elizabeth French is someone who has haunted me throughout the years of my research- an extraordinary woman living out and attempting to share her radical beliefs in an isolated situation.
She saw that "the men have the Bible at their tongues end from Genesis to Paul's epistles and the women are cowed and silent. I doubt if I ever knew a woman who dared so much as sign a petition without the approbation of the men , husband or other, who determined the amount of cash she had in her purse and whose temper governed her. Whether women get enfranchisement or not, they need it."

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Annette and Fanny Akroyd

These sisters were in their mid twenties when thay signed the petition. Annette went on to set up a school for girls in India. She and her sister had been students at Bedford College, and after they left, their teachers invited them to join the Kensington Society to keep up their studies. This was a discussion society- members (about 68, many of whom were teachers or students) got a list of questions to write upon. These short essays were circulated, so that even if members lived away from London, they could share their ideas. At one meeting Barbara Bodichon gave a paper suggesting votes for women, and with encoragement from J S Mill MP, the members collected a petition. Annette later became Mrs Beveridge, and her son's report in the next century led to the founding of the welfare state.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Jane Ardill

Jane Ardill was about 25 when she signed the petition from 9 Moor Street, Leeds. Her father was a farmer. and had also a business. When she was a child he had worked as a cordwainer, and later manufactured hooks and fastenings. She had trained as a teacher by being a pupil teacher, and may have heard about the petition from Mrs Heaton and Miss Ellen Heaton of Woodhouse Leeds. Mrs Heaton was the Doctor's wife, and his sister Ellen patronised the pre-Raphaelites as well as campaigning to improve the education of women. Jane may have met them through the Leeds Ladies Education Association, which offered lectures for local teachers and other women keen to improve their knowledge. By 1871 Jane was married, and had a young son.

Anna Maria Ainsworth

Anna Maria Ainsworth was only 21 when her mother Sarah Jane Oxley left her second husband after he had physically abused her. Sarah Jane was forced to return to her violent husband, but after his return to Canada and death there in 1874, she remained in Southport. Anna Maria and her sister Helena, (both unmarried), were still living with their mother in 1901.

Oops! Jane Ardill as described above was married by 1866- It was her mother Jane- born in 1820 -who must have signed the petition. By 1881 she was widowed and living with her daughter Mary and son in law John Dufton in York.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Mary and Mary Ann Ackworth

Mary Ackworth (ne Brindley) was one of the older women to sign the petition, at the age of sixty two. Her thirty three year old daughter Mary Ann signed too. They were the family of the president of Rawdon Baptist College, Bradford , James Ackworth, and lived at 3 Rawdon Villas when they signed. Even in retirement in Scarbourough in 1881 the family still kept three servants including a ladies maid to care for mother and daughter. They were inconsistent in the spelling of the surname, and may be relatives of Edward Acworth and the Acworth Greens.

Kate Fanny Ackland

The reason that I could not find Kete Ackland in the 1871 census was that she married in 1867, a few months after signing the petition. Her husband was an attendant at the British Museum, Mr Berridge, and she had one daughter, who became an elementary school teacher.

I was intrigued because at the time of the Petition, Emily Davies was also organising the London Association of Schoolmistresses. One of the many members was a Miss Berridge, who taught at Queen's College London. I have not found any connection with Kate's husband, but this could be a possibility... Teachers employed in a large successful school such as this might support the petition, but want to avoid the publicity.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Kate Fanny Ackland. Sarah Avery

I can't believe that it is so long since I wrote here. My new years resolution is to add a woman a day! If I do that I will still be going in five years' time.
My new strategy is to also enter any women whose family I can trace on a tree in and lead their ancestors to this blog to celebrate their relative.

I have not been able to find out anything about Sarah Avery of Battle, Sussex. Many of the women who signed in Battle were shopkeepers in the High Street- but no trace of Sarah- But lets remember her here as one of the few women who can not be traced.

Kate Ackland is the second woman on the list., Kate was only twenty two when she signed, and living at 14 Buckingham Street, off the Strand in central London. The 1861 census shows her at home with her parents at Birkbeck House, Archway Road, Hornsey. Her father was a parliamentary election agent and she had an elder sister and four younger siblings. The family was well to do as they had two live-in servants, Eliza Travers and Elizabeth Meredith and the seventeen year old groom who slept over the stable. In 1871 Kate no longer lived at home