Evelyn Sharp (suffragist)
Evelyn Jane Sharp (1869–1955) was a key figure in two major British women's suffrage societies, the militant Women's Social and Political Union and the United Suffragists. She helped found the latter and became editor of Votes for Women during the First World War. She was twice imprisoned and became a tax resister. An established author who had published in The Yellow Book, she was especially well known for her children's fiction.
Evelyn Sharp, the ninth of eleven children, was born on 4 August 1869. Sharp's family sent her to a boarding school for just two years, yet she successfully passed several university local examinations. In 1894, against the wishes of her family, Sharp moved to London, where she wrote and published several novels including All the Way to Fairyland (1898) and The Other Side of the Sun (1900).
In 1903 Sharp, with the help of her friend and lover, Henry Nevinson, began to find work writing articles for the Daily Chronicle, the Pall Mall Gazette and the Manchester Guardian, a newspaper that published her work for over thirty years. Sharp highlights the importance of Nevinson and the Men's League for Women's Suffrage: "It is impossible to rate too highly the sacrifices that they (Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman) and H. N. Brailsford, F. W. Pethick Lawrence, Harold Laski, Israel Zangwill, Gerald Gould, George Lansbury, and many others made to keep our movement free from the suggestion of a sex war."
Sharp's journalism made her more aware of the problems of working-class women and she joined the Women's Industrial Council and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. In the autumn of 1906 Sharp was sent by the Manchester Guardian to cover the first speech by actress and novelist Elizabeth Robins. Sharp was moved by Robins' arguments for militant action and she joined the Women's Social and Political Union.
The impression she made was profound, even on an audience predisposed to be hostile; and on me it was disastrous. From that moment I was not to know again for 12 years, if indeed ever again, what it meant to cease from mental strife; and I soon came to see with a horrible clarity why I had always hitherto shunned causes.
Evelyn's mother, Jane, concerned at her daughter having joined the WSPU made her promise not to do anything that would result in her being imprisoned. Sharp kept her promise for five years, until her mother absolved her from that promise in November 1911.
Although I hope you will never go to prison, still, I feel I cannot any longer be so prejudiced, and must leave it to your better judgment. I have really been very unhappy about it and feel I have no right to thwart you, much as I should regret feeling that you were undergoing those terrible hardships. It has caused you as much pain as it has me, and I feel I can no longer think of my own feelings. I cannot write more, but you will be happy now, won't you. (Jane Sharp, letter to her daughter (November, 1911)
Evelyn immediately became active in the militant campaign, and later that month she was imprisoned for fourteen days.
My opportunity came with a militant demonstration in Parliament Square on the evening of November 11, provoked by a more than usually cynical postponement of the Women's Bill, which was implied in a Government forecast of manhood suffrage. I was one of the many selected to carry out our new policy of breaking Government office windows, which marked a departure from the attitude of passive resistance that for five years had permitted all the violence to be used against us.
First World War resistance
Unlike most members of the women's movement (a notable exception being Sylvia Pankhurst who also rejected the nationalist line), Sharp was unwilling to end the campaign for the vote during the First World War. When she continued to refuse to pay income tax she was arrested and all of her property confiscated, including her typewriter. A pacifist, Sharp was also active in the Women's International League for Peace during the war. She would later record:
Personally, holding as I do the enfranchisement of women involved greater issues than could be involved in any war, even supposing that the objects of the Great War were those alleged, I cannot help regretting that any justification was given for the popular error which still sometimes ascribes the victory of the suffrage cause, in 1918, to women's war service. This assumption is true only in so far as gratitude to women offered an excuse to the anti-suffragists in the Cabinet and elsewhere to climb down with some dignity from a position that had become untenable before the war. I sometimes think that the art of politics consists in the provision of ladders to enable politicians to climb down from untenable positions.
Sharp was an active member of the Women Writers' Suffrage League. In August 1913, in response to the government tactic of keeping prisoners that would hunger strike until they were too weak to be active by means of the Cat and Mouse Act (Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913), permitting their re-arrest as soon as they were active, Sharp was chosen to represent the WWSL in a delegation to meet with the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna and discuss the Cat and Mouse Act. McKenna was unwilling to talk to them and when the women refused to leave the House of Commons, Mary Macarthur and Margaret McMillan were physically ejected and Sharp and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison.
After the First World War
After the Armistice, Sharp, now a member of the Labour Party, worked as a journalist on the Daily Herald. She wrote two studies of working-class life, The London Child (1927), illustrated by Eve Garnett, and The Child Grows Up (1929). In 1933 Sharp's friend Margaret Nevinson died. Soon afterwards, aged 63, she married Margaret's husband, Henry Nevinson, by then aged 77. Their love affair had lasted many years withstanding complications of friendship and marriage.
Sharp died in a nursing home in Ealing on 17 June 1955.
- Reforms can always wait a little longer, but freedom, directly you discover you haven't got it, will not wait another minute.
Sharp's papers, including Diaries of Evelyn Sharp, 1920–37, 1942–7, are in the care of the Bodleian Library.
- "'Behind the locked door': Evelyn Sharp, suffragette and rebel journalist", Angela V. John, Women's History Review, Volume 12, Number 1, March 2003, pp. 5–13
- John, Angela V. [Oxford Dictionary of National Biography], Oxford University Press 2004, online edn October 2009. Retrieved on 6 February 2013.
- The Spartacus Educational article
- Review of Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Woman, 1869–1955 by Angela V. John and Unfinished Adventure by Evelyn Sharp, A. S. Byatt
- Evelyn Sharp, Unfinished Adventure, 1933
- Papers of Sharp in the Bodleian
- Anthony Arblaster, Honouring The Democrats, Red Pepper, March 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- Faber Finds, Unfinished Adventure
- Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, A&C Black, 2000 ISBN 0-8264-5814-9 (p. 476).
- England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1955. "NEVINSON Evelyn Jane of Methuen Nursing Home 13 Gunnersbury-avenue Ealing London widow died 17 June 1955 Administration (with Will) London 6 October to Joan Sharp spinster. Effects £7641 4s. 9d."
- Evelyn Sharp (1933, John Lane, London), Unfinished Adventure: selected reminiscences from an Englishwoman's life
- Angela V. John (2006), War, Journalism and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century: The Life and Times of Henry W. Nevinson
- Angela V. John (2009, The University of Manchester),Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Woman, 1869–1955