Rosa May Billinghurst

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Rosa May Billinghurst (31 May 1875-29 July 1953) was a suffragette and women's rights activist.[1]

Early life[edit]

She was born in Lewisham, London. As a child she suffered total paralysis which left her disabled throughout her adult life. However, this did not prevent her becoming active in social work in a Greenwich workhouse, teaching in a Sunday School and joining the Band of Hope. She later recovered from her injury (paralysis) and so damaged letterboxes for the WSPU's to get their protest heard. She was arrested for this and persisted damaging peoples letterboxes and in total, harvested 8 months of prison for herself. But she cheated her way out of it all.


She was also politically active in the Women's Liberal Association before becoming a member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1907. She took part in the WSPU's march to the Royal Albert Hall in June 1908 and also helped run the group's action in the Haggerston by-election the following month.

Two years later, she founded and was the first secretary of the Greenwich branch of the WSPU and that same year she took part in the 'Black Friday' demonstrations where she was thrown out of her adapted tricycle and arrested. She was arrested several more times in the next few years culminating in a sentence of eight months for damage to letterboxes. She went on hunger strike and was force-fed along with other suffragettes. The experience led her to be released two weeks later on grounds of ill-health.[2]

She was able to speak at a public meeting in West Hampstead in March 1913 and took part in the funeral procession of Emily Wilding Davison two months later. She supported Christabel Pankhurst's campaign to be elected in Smethwick in 1918 and the friendship with the Pankhursts seems to have survived into the 1920s. However, she later joined the Women's Freedom League and became part of the Suffragette Fellowship.


Although having contracted polio as a child she lived in the garden house of her property "Minikoi", Sunbury, Surrey (but then in Middlesex), with her adopted child, "Beth". Her brother was, Alfred John Billinghurst, an artist (see Who Was Who) whom she regularly visited at Christmas time.

She died on 4 September 1953.

See also[edit]


The archives of Rosa May Billinghurst are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 7RMB