Mary Gawthorpe

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Mary Gawthorpe (c. 1909)

Mary Eleanor Gawthorpe (1881-1973) was a British suffragette, socialist, trade unionist and editor,[1] described by Rebecca West as "a merry militant saint".[2]. She was born to John Gawthorpe, a British leatherworker, and Annie Eliza (Mountain) Gawthorpe. Her mother, Annie, at a very young age worked at a mill until her older sister offered her a position as an assistant. Mary Gawthorpe had four siblings, the baby and eldest sister died within a year of each other due to pneumonia when Mary was seven years of age, and the other two, Annie Gatenby and James Arthur, survived to adulthood. [3]

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. In 1905, she joined the WSPU; then in 1906, she left teaching to become a full-time, paid organiser for the Women's Social and Political Union in Leeds. One of her first assignments within the WSPU was to join Christabel Pankhurst in Wales, where she drew upon her own working-class background and involvement in the labor movement. At the meeting in Wales, organized by Samuel Evans, who was up for reelection as Welsh representative in Parliament, Mary Gawthorpe, in perfect Welsh, had worried Evans by putting questions to him in his own language at his own meetings. [4] The chairman at the meeting started the Welsh National Anthem, but Mary turned this to her advantage by leading the singing in her rich voice which "won the hearts of the people still more." [5] Due to Mary's beautiful singing and powerful oratory skills, Samuel Evans left the meeting in anguish, which caused his friends to never mention Mary Gawthorpe to him, and his wife kepti him at home the next time there was a suffrage debate at the House of Commons.

Mary also spoke at national events including a rally in Hyde Park in 1908 attended by over 200,000 people.[6] In the spring of 1907, Mary organized an open-air meeting during the Rutlland by-election campaign. While standing on a wagon - accompanied by several other ladies - while a crowd of "noisy youths began to throw up peppermint 'bull's eyes' and other hard-boiled sweets." [7] Undeterred by the rowdy children, due in part to her time as a schoolteacher, she retorted "Sweets to the sweet," with a smile on her face and continued her argument until a pot-egg, thrown from the crowd hit her on the head and she fell conscious. She was carried away but returned the next day, like a "true Suffragette," quite undaunted and the incident and her "plucky spirit, made her the Heroine of the Election." [8]

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.[9] Before the 1909 incident, in October of 1906, she was arrested following a demonstration at the House of Commons because she refused to keep peace and was sentenced to two month's imprisonment. [10] After being released from prison, Mary was arrested for another House of Commons demonstration in February of 1907 and was "badly knocked about and could not appear at court" and the case was dismissed the following month. [11] Several months later, in November of 1907, she was yet again arrested, but this time with Dora Marsden and Rona Robinson at Manchester University, due to asking Lord Morley about the imprisoned women at Birmingham. [12] The three women were ejected from Lord Morley's meeting and were violently arrested by the police. 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.[13]

Along with Dora Marsden she was co-editor of the radical periodical, 'The Freewoman:A Weekly Feminist Review, which discussed topics such as women's wage work, housework, motherhood, suffrage movement and literature. However, its notoriety and influence rested on its frank discussions on sexuality, morality and marriage, and urged tolerance for male homosexuality. Unfortunately, due to poor health and disagreements with Dora, Mary resigned from her duties as co-editor. Her final publication was dated March 7, 1912. [14]

Gawthorpe emigrated to New York City in 1916[15] 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.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  2. ^ Houlton, Sandra Stanley (1996). Suffrage Days: Stories from the Women's Suffrage Movement. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 0-415-10941-8. 
  3. ^ Gawthorpe, Mary (1962). "Up HIll to Holloway". University of Michigan. pp. 6–7. 
  4. ^ ""The Woman's Tribune: Correspondences"". 1906. 
  5. ^ ""The Woman's Tribune: Correspondences"". 1906. 
  6. ^ "NYU Tamiment Library Archives". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  7. ^ Pankhurst, Sylvia E. "The Suffragette: The History of Women's Militant Suffrage". p. 22. 
  8. ^ { cite book | last = Pankhurst | first = Sylvia E. | title = "The Suffragette: The History of Women's Militant Suffrage" | pages = 22 | }}
  9. ^ "Spartacus Educational". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  10. ^ Women's Who's Who. p. 248. 
  11. ^ Women's Who's Who. p. 249. 
  12. ^ Clarker, Bruce (1996). "Dora Marsden and Early Modernism: Gender, Individualism, Science". University of Michigan Press. p. 50. 
  13. ^ Manchester Guardian Feb 15 1910 "Southport Polling Day Scene"
  14. ^ "General Introduction to the Marsden Magazines". Retrieved 2017-06-07. 
  15. ^ "NYU Today". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  16. ^ Gawthorpe, Mary Eleanor (1962). Up Hill to Holloway. Traversity Press. 

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