Moorhead was born on 28 August 1869 in Maidstone, Kent. She was one of six children of George Alexander Moorhead (died 1911 or 1912), an army surgeon of Irish extraction, and his wife, Margaret Humphries (1833–1902), an Irishwoman of French Huguenot extraction. She spent her early years abroad. Her parents settled in Dundee in 1900, and after training as an artist in Paris under Mucha and in Whistler's studio she returned to care for them.
There is no record of her views on suffrage during her earlier years; but after her father’s death in 1911 or 1912, Moorhead moved to Edinburgh, joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and became regarded as one of its most "turbulent" members in Scotland. She used a string of aliases (Mary Humphreys, Edith Johnston, Margaret Morrison), and carried out various acts of militancy both north and south of the border. They included smashing windows in London, attacking a showcase at the Wallace Monument near Stirling, throwing an egg at Winston Churchill and pepper at the police, wrecking police cells, and carrying out several arson attacks. She held no formal position in the WSPU, but achieved great personal notoriety.
Moorhead was imprisoned several times and released under the "Cat and Mouse Act". She became the first Scottish suffragette to be forcibly fed, while imprisoned in Calton Jail, Edinburgh, in February 1914 at Morningside Asylum. Having become seriously ill with double pneumonia, she was released into the care of Dr Grace Cadell, a fellow activist in the suffrage movement. Her experience – duly related to the press – caused much protest at the cruelty involved.
This did not stop her activity, however, and it is more than likely that she was the woman who escaped when her friend Fanny Parker was arrested in July 1914, while trying to blow up the Burns Cottage in Alloway.
Other campaigning and later life
During the First World War, Moorhead took on additional organisational responsibilities. Together with Fanny Parker, she helped run the Women's Freedom League (WFL) National Service Organisation, encouraging women to find appropriate work.
In the 1920s, she travelled in Europe and edited a quarterly arts journal, which published work by, among others, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. She married the writer Ernest Walsh, whom she outlived. She died in Dublin in 1955.
A commemorative plaque has been placed close to the site of her home in Dundee.
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- "Ethel Moorhead" (PDF). Dictionary of National Biography. 2004. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- Leneman, Leah (2004). "Moorhead, Ethel Agnes Mary" (PDF). Oxford Index. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
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- "Ethel Moorhead". dundeewomenstrail.org.uk. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
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