Mabel Henrietta Capper (23 June 1888 – 1 September 1966) was a British Suffragette. She gave all her time between 1907 and 1913 to the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) as a 'soldier' in the struggle for women's Suffrage. She was imprisoned six times, went on hunger strike and was one of the first Suffragettes to be forcibly fed.
Much of her life was devoted to the struggle against bad luck and discrimination.
She was born in Brook's Bar, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. Her father, William Bently Capper was a Chemist and an Honorary Secretary of the Manchester branch of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage. Her Mother, Elizabeth Jane Crews, whose own father, a Chemist had died when she was nine years old and whose siblings were subsequently divided between foster homes and the Muller Homes Orphanages, was a member of the WSPU.
A brother, William Bently Capper was born in 1890.
When the children were still young the family moved to 21 Oxford Street, Chorlton on Medlock, now Picadilly, Manchester.
Capper's WSPU activities 1907–1913
- She joined the WSPU in 1907 and worked as an Organiser for the Manchester Branch. In 1908 she was living in London and giving her address as 4 Clements Inn, the same address as the Pethick Lawrence's.
- In October 1908 she took part in the Rush on the House of Commons, together with Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst and other Suffragettes. She appeared in the Dock "wearing a costume composed entirely of the colours of the WSPU, together with a sash, waistbelt and hatband bearing the words "Votes for Women" ". She spent one month in Holloway (HM Prison) for refusing to pay the fine that was imposed.
- In July 1909 she, together with Mary Leigh, Emily Wilding Davison and others were charged with assault and obstructing the police while disrupting a meeting at the Edinburgh Castle, Limehouse, addressed by David Lloyd George. She was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment.
- In July 1909 she went on Hunger Strike and was released after six days.
- In August 1909 she was in Birmingham Police court with Mary Leigh and others charged with being disorderly, assaulting the police and breaking windows at a meeting addressed by the Prime Minister Asquith. She was remanded in Winson Green Prison.
* In September 1909 she went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed at Winson Green Prison.
- In September 1909 Capper was in Birmingham Police Court with Mary Leigh and others charged with assault on the police, breaking cell windows and disorderly conduct at a meeting addressed by Asquith at Bingley Hall Birmingham. She refused to pay the fine imposed and was imprisoned at Winson Green.
- In November 1909, with Selina Martin, Laura Ainswaorth, Nellie Hall, Gladys Mary Hazel, Brett Morgan and others, she was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction at a meeting addressed by Asquith in Victoria Square, Birmingham. The police asserted that she had mounted a Statue of Queen Victoria and refused to comply with the Deputy Chief Constable's direction to come down.
- In February 1910, together with Dora Marsden and Mary Gawthorpe she brought charges of assault against three men. The Suffragettes alleged that the men; 'well dressed hooligan's', had attacked them at a Polling Station which they were picketing. However the charges were dismissed.
- In November 1910, together with many others, she was in Bow Street Police Court on charges of smashing the windows of the Colonial Secretary in Berkeley Square. She was described by the presiding Magistrate as 'quite a child'.
- In November 1911 Capper was imprisoned for smashing Bath Post Office windows on the occasion of Lloyd George's visit there.
- In March 1911, together with Emily Wilding Davison she wrote to the Manchester Guardian concerning Churchill's refusal of an enquiry into the treatment of Suffragettes by the Police. She stated that their complaints of mistreatment were 'dismissed as the hysterical ravings of excited women'
- In July 1912, together with Mary Leigh, Lizzie Baker and Gladys Evans she was charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and malicious damage and to cause an explosion at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. The Theatre was the venue for a meeting of 4,000 Irish Nationalists to be addressed by PM Asquith. The Prime Minister was warmly received and, in his speech, he invited suggestions for incorporation in the draft Home Rule bill. Cries of 'Votes for Women' were followed the sound of an exploding handbag and a fire in the cinema projection room. It was reported that one of the defendants later threw a hatchet into the carriage containing the Premier. Capper was remanded in prison during the trial, however, the charges against her were ultimately withdrawn.
During World War I and afterwards
Her writing and her play
She wrote: "-there is no reason in denying the rights of citizenship to women on these grounds. – When our men set out to battle they do not go alone. They are accompanied by an army of women, whose duty it is to tend those stricken in the fight. They endure the same hardships, undergo the same risks. Is their work less noble? Does the State owe them a lighter debt?"
A few years later this point was reinforced by the heroic work of Mabel Anne St Clair Stobart's Women's Convoy Corps and afterwards the Women's National Service League and Stobart's 1913 book War and Women.
In October 1912, her play The Betrothal of Number 13 was produced at the Royal Court Theatre. "of working class life, written with a certain amount of sympathetic insight and character" it concerned the stigma imposed by imprisonment, even on the innocent.
She maintained her interest in feminism and the lot of the underprivileged throughout her life. In 1963 she wrote of her friend Mary Gawthorpe 's father and: "- what it meant to be born into a North Country working class family (in) the eighteen-eighties. – doomed by the caste system of (the) day to be a leather worker in an age when a stiff fight had to be made against competition from America."
In her 1963 review of Gawthorpe's book Up Hill to Holloway, Capper described how, in 1904, Mary was called to make her first speech entitled The Children under Socialism – "concerning the propriety of providing suitable food and clothing for poor children of the unemployed and needy during the winter"
It was a time of economic depression and, "from the Labour point of view, the aftermath of the South African War." Recruiting for that war "had afforded the usual discoveries of poor physiques, underfeeding and bad teeth." Capper noted that, by 1963 it was difficult to realise "how grudging was the welfare in those days. It all depended on a voluntary basis and funds were exhausted in that winter of 1905. By February a total of 323,414 dinners had been provided. – Strictest economy was necessary, and lentils, at about one halfpenny a meal, appear to have been the basic diet."
- The Women's Suffrage Movement, Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London & New York, 1999, P95, ISBN 0-415-23926-5
- Private family papers, Late Lt Col S Brock
- Manchester Guardian, September 1909, Suffragists and the Premier
- Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1908, Suffragist Leaders in Court, Charge of inciting to Riot, P4
- Manchester Guardian, 2 August 1909, Women Suffragists
- Manchester Guardian, 15 September 1909, Ten women charged at Birmingham
- WSPU Hunger Strike Medal, 30 July 1909, Fed by Force bar 17 September 1909, Private collection of late Lt Col S Brock
- Observer, 19 September 1909, Suffragette Riots, Women with axes at Birmingham, Fight on a housetop.
- Manchester Guardian, 26 November 1909, Suffragette Disturbances
- Manchester Guardian, 15 February 1910, Suffragettes allegations of assault
- Manchester Guardian, 25 November 1910, Militant Suffragists Fined
- Manchester Guardian, 24 November 1910, Suffragettes in Court
- Observer, 26 November 1911, Early morning demonstrations of the Suffragettes
- Manchester Guardian, 14 March 1911, Correspondence, Page 12, Suffragists and the Police
- Manchester Guardian, 20 July 1912, The Dublin Outrages by Women, Fire and Explosives at the Theatre, P9
- New York Times, 20 July 1912, Irish Rush to Duck Suffragettes
- Votes for Women, Roger Fulford, Faber and Faber, London, 1958
- Manchester Guardian, 18 December 1908, Letters
- Votes for Women, Roger Fulford, Faber and Faber, London, 1958.
- Guardian, New Writers for the Stage, 10 October 1912
- Calling all Women, News Letter of the Suffragette Fellowship, Review of 'Up Hill to Holloway' by Mabel Capper, February 1963