Teresa Billington-Greig

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Teresa Billington-Greig (15 October 1877, Preston, Lancashire – 21 October 1964) was a suffragette who created the Women's Freedom League. She left another suffrage organisation the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) as she considered the leadership too autocratic.


Teresa Billington-Greig was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1877 and brought up in Blackburn in a family of drapers. Although from a Roman Catholic family, Billington-Greig became an agnostic whilst still in her teens. Having left school with no qualifications she was initially apprenticed to the millinery trade. However, she ran away from home and educated herself well enough at night classes to become a teacher. She worked as a teacher at a Roman Catholic school in Manchester, studying at Manchester University in her spare time, until her own agnosticism made this impossible. From there Billington-Greig joined the Municipal Education School service where her religious beliefs brought her into conflict with her employers. However, through the Education Committee there she met Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 who found her work in a Jewish school, while that same year she became a member and organiser of the Independent Labour Party. In Apr 1904 she was the founder and honorary secretary of the Manchester branch of the Equal Pay League within the National Union of Teachers.

In either late 1903 or early 1904, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and became one of their travelling speakers. She was sent to London with Annie Kenney to foster the movement there and to create a London-based organisation, which eventually became the headquarters of the Union. This was done on a small financial budget. The following year she was asked to become the second full-time organiser of the group in its work with the Labour Party and in this capacity she organised publicity and demonstrations as well as building up the group's new national headquarters in London. In Jun 1906, Billington-Greig was arrested in an affray outside of H. H. Asquith's home and later sentenced to a fine or two months in Holloway Prison. She was the first suffragette to be sent to Holloway Prison although an anonymous reader of the Daily Mirror paid the fine. Later in the same month, Jun 1906, she was sent to organise the WSPU in Scotland and it was here that she married Frederick Lewis Greig in 1907. However, growing differences with the Pankhursts led to her resignation as a paid WSPU organiser, though she remained in the group as a member until Oct 1907.

In Oct 1907, Mrs Pankhurst suspended the constitution and took over government of the WSPU with her daughter Christabel Pankhurst. Several prominent members left the WSPU, including Billington-Greig, Edith How-Martyn and Charlotte Despard who together went on to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL) on the basis of organisational democracy. Billington-Greig was initially appointed the National Honorary Organising Secretary for the League. However, Billington-Greig once more resigned in 1910 when the WFL undertook a new campaign of militancy after the defeat of the Conciliation Bill.

Although she did not immediately join another organisation Billington-Greig continued to write and carry out public speaking engagements - activities she continued throughout her life. She also cared for her daughter, born in 1915, and supported her husband's billiards table company. Her only organisational work until 1937 was in the field of sport. Then she once more joined the Woman's Freedom League working for its Women's Electoral Committee. After the Second World War this became the Women for Westminster group with which she remained involved. Subsequently she took part in the Conference on the Feminine Point of View (1947–1951) and after 1958 she was a member of the Six Point Group while writing her account of the Suffrage Movement.

She had a keen interest in the history of the suffrage movement, as well as her writings on the subject she compiled many biographies. Some of these were created for obituaries for the Manchester Guardian. Her writings on behalf of the women's cause (but to some extent in criticism of it) included 'The Militant Suffrage Movement', published in 1911. Other writings cover a wide range of topics of social and feminist interest. She wrote innumerable articles for a variety of journals. Her interests were wide and she was involved in a large number of women's organisation. In 1904 she had formed the Manchester Branch of the Equal Pay League. She held strong views on a variety of subjects of public interest, but especially equality between the sexes in education and in marriage. She died in 1964.

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The archives of Teresa Billington-Greig are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 7TBG

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