After qualifying as a teacher in her native Leeds Mary became a socialist and was active in the local branch of the National Union of Teachers. She became increasingly involved in the Women's Suffrage movement and in 1906 she left teaching to become a paid organiser for the Women's Social and Political Union in Leeds. She also spoke at national events including a rally in Hyde Park in 1908 attended by over 200,000 people.
As well as being imprisoned on several occasions for her political activities, Gawthorpe was also badly beaten, suffering serious internal injuries after heckling Winston Churchill in 1909. In January 1910 on Polling Day in Southport, Gawthorpe together with fellow suffragettes Dora Marsden and Mabel Capper, was the subject of a violent assault whilst demonstrating at the polling booths. In the following February, the three suffragettes brought charges against three men for assault. The charges were dismissed by the magistrates and outside the court, police intervened in hostilities that arose between supporters of the defendants and those of the three appellants.
Gawthorpe emigrated to New York in 1916 and was active in the American suffrage movement and later in the Trade Union movement, becoming an official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. She chronicled her early efforts in her autobiography, Up Hill to Holloway.
- "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Houlton, Sandra Stanley (1996). Suffrage Days: Stories from the Women's Suffrage Movement. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 0-415-10941-8.
- "NYU Tamiment Library Archives". Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- "Spartacus Educational". Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Manchester Guardian Feb 15 1910 "Southport Polling Day Scene"
- "NYU Today". Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Gawthorpe, Mary Eleanor (1962). Up Hill to Holloway. Traversity Press.
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