On 20 June 1914 one of the first deputations of suffragettes met with the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. Contrary to the popular view of suffragettes it was a group of six working class women.
These women were part of the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) that had been annexed from Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) for, among other things, its pacifist stance. The ELFS radically supported the vote for all men and women irrespective of class. Emmeline’s daughter Sylvia Pankhurst had founded the organisation to mobilise working class women in East London in support of the franchise, but also to campaign on other factors effecting women’s lives, such as working conditions and the realities of poverty.
A month previously Sylvia had been arrested under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, otherwise known as the Cat and Mouse Act, when attending a public procession from Bow to Westminster accompanied by thousands of federation members. Her police file from this time contains many newspaper cuttings including this one recording her re-arrest in The Daily Herald, edited by the sympathetic politician George Lansbury. Her time in prison was again marked by hunger striking. Her Home Office file, like so many others concerning suffragettes, constantly assesses her health, both mentally and physically.
At 11 am on 18 June 1914 the daily prison report notes: ‘Had a restless night, has had some retching, with a little blood-stained mucous, looks pinched, as she has had no food since the 10th instant further abstention is unadvisable”. 1 By 17.32 that day the Cat and Mouse Act came into force and Sylvia was consequently released to cheering crowds.
- 1. HO 144/1558/234191 ^