Ethel Moorhead

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Ethel Moorhead (c.1870-1955) was a British suffragette and artist.

Early life[edit]

Ethel Moorhead, suffragette and artist, was born in Maidstone into the Irish Catholic family of an army surgeon, and spent her early years abroad. Her parents settled in Dundee in 1900 and Ethel returned to care for them after training as an artist in Paris.

Suffragette Campaigning[edit]

There is no record of her views on suffrage during her earlier years, but after her father’s death in 1911, Ethel 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 (Edith Johnston, Margaret Morrison, Mary Humphreys) 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, 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.

Ethel Moorhead was imprisoned several times and released under the Cat and Mouse Act. She became the first Scottish suffragette to be forcibly fed, in February 1914, in Calton Jail, Edinburgh. Having become seriously ill with pneumonia after this, she was released into the care of Dr Grace Cadell. Her experience – duly related to the press – caused much protest at the cruelty involved.

It did not stop her activity, however, and it is more than likely that she was the woman who escaped when her friend Frances Parker was arrested in July 1914, trying to blow up Burns’s cottage in Alloway.

Other Campaigning & Later Life[edit]

During the war, Ethel Moorhead took on more organisational responsibilities. Along with Fanny Parker, she helped run the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) National Service Organisation, encouraging women to find the right work.

In the 1920s, she travelled in Europe and edited an arts quarterly journal. She seems to have been supported by her family in her later years, and died in Dublin.


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