Both wings of the movement, the moderate National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Suffragists) and the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (Suffragettes) were active in the town. From 1903 the Pankhurst sisters, national leaders of the Suffragettes, urged their followers to disrupt the meetings of other political parties and civic dignitaries as a means of gaining publicity for their cause, even if this led to disturbances. In Southampton, meetings were indeed disrupted, most notably in 1907, when then Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, addressed a Liberal Party gathering in the town. He was heckled by Suffragettes, some of who were ejected from the hall.
The next time a government minister gave a speech in the town, Walter Runciman in 1909, the government had banned women from attending public meetings, and the suffragettes had to restrict themselves to lobbying outside.
The first reference to a Southampton WSPU branch appears in Votes for Women in February 1910.
Little headway appears to have been made until the autumn of that year. Emmeline Pankhurst (image 2) was due to speak at the Palace Theatre in November and a number of preparatory meetings were held around the town in October, some of them quite well attended. The meeting had to be postponed however due to Mrs. Pankhurst’s arrest in London. It was eventually held in February 1911 and was attended by a large crowd of mainly women. In March 1913 Annie Kenney, Christabel Pankhurst’s closest associate, spoke at a meeting in Shaftesbury Hall, Ogle Road. This meeting was disrupted by a group of all-male Hartley College students.
Nationally, the WSPU adopted more militant tactics after 1912, usually window breaking and pillar box arson, but the Southampton branch does not appear to have been involved in such activities. The more moderate NUWSS were also active in the town and their activities were regularly reported on in the local press. Their methods included holding meetings, peaceful marches and letter writing. There was considerable mutual sympathy between the two groups, probably because the Southampton branch of the WSPU was much less militant than in other towns. This closeness is epitomised by Lucia Foster Welch (image 1), the town’s first woman mayor and its most prominent suffragette, who belonged to both organisations, although she was possibly more active in the NUWSS.
Activity virtually ceased after 1914 as women of both organisations turned their attention to the war effort.

1. Lucia Foster Welch

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Portrait in oils by Frank Brooks, 1928, now in Southampton Art Gallery

2. Emmeline Pankhurst

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Photograph, c.1913

Further reading:
Suffragettes, Suffragists and party politics in Southampton 1907-14 by Pamela Johnston, in Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, volume 39, 1983, pages 201-11. (H/f)
History of Southampton Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p136-138. (HS/h)


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