Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Spotlight On...Mr and Mrs F W Rogers of Bristol

Frederick William Rogers (1859–1927), who ran a firm of Bristol stone masons, and Blanche Mary Rogers (1866–1951), were married at St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol in 1889. They were supporters of the non-militant Bristol and West of England Women’s Suffrage Society. On one occasion, Mrs Rogers went to a meeting at the home of the Misses Duncan at 16 West Mall when she read a sketch by Miss M Duncan with the intriguing title “Latest intelligence from the planet Venus”.  

However, when Annie Kenney came to Bristol to set up the Bristol and West of England branch of the WSPU in 1907, Mrs Rogers was one of the many Bristol suffragists who offered practical and financial support to the WSPU. Annie Kenney held a meeting in Mrs Rogers’ house in August 1908. When the Bristol WSPU put on two suffragette plays at Princes Theatre in 1910 – How the Vote was Won (by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John) and A Pageant of Great Women by Cicely Hamilton – Mrs Rogers played Madame Christine in How the Vote was Won, and Mr Rogers played an attendant to Catherine the Great in the Pageant.  

Prince's Theatre, Bristol

The Rogers participated in the Census Protest in 1911, when Mrs Rogers joined census evaders in Bath. Mrs Mansel, the Bath WSPU organiser, had taken an empty house at 12 Lansdown Crescent for the occasion. Twenty nine women gathered, and entertained one another with music, recitations, and a lecture on clairvoyance. Mrs Rogers gave a recital but left at midnight. According to their census form, the Rogers’ home in Clifton was unoccupied that night so it seems Mr Rogers also evaded. The census enumerator, who recorded that there were two daughters, obtained her information about the family from a neighbour.

Mrs Rogers gave recitals and violin performances for a number of other good causes, including the Workers’ Education Association, the Women’s Total Abstinence Union, and children’s charities. She was involved with a group called the Folk House Players in the 1920s.

She was chair of the Bristol Women’s Citizen Association, and a founder member of The Venture Club, a women’s club formed by the Rotary Club in Bristol in 1920. The Bristol Club inspired the formation of other Venture Clubs around the country. It later amalgamated with the Soroptimists group, which was originally formed in California in 1921, to form the International Soroptimists. Membership of the Venture Club was open to women engaged in honorary social or philanthropic work. Mrs Rogers is listed in 1922–1923 as “Elocutionist: Kensington Villa, Royal Park”.[1]

In 1923 Mrs Rogers was a member of the Bristol branch of the Women’s International League (WIL). She gave a recitation at a WIL garden party for foreign students in June 1923. In December 1923 she reported to a WIL meeting about a visit she had made to Czechoslovakia. She was still involved with WIL in 1932, when she chaired a meeting at Bristol Folk House.  

Mr Rogers was the honorary secretary of the Bristol Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. The branch was founded in 1908 and its address was the Rogers’ home, 2 Kensington Villas in Clifton. In June 1909 Mr Rogers chaired a Men’s League meeting on Durdham Down. In July 1910 he chaired a meeting of the Bristol Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage at one of the four platforms of a WSPU meeting on Durdham Down; the meeting was nosily heckled by a group of young men.  

Frederick William Rogers died in Derby Royal Infirmary in February 1927. Mrs Rogers died in St Mary’s Hospital, Clifton in January 1951, leaving two daughters.

[1] The listing for Mrs Rogers was provided by Marion Reid, who is researching the local Soroptimists. 

Men's League for Womans Suffrage image: Women's Library on Flickr; No Known Copyright Restrictions.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mercedes Gleitze: Pioneering Sportswoman

I was delighted to be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival last month to interview Doloranda Pember, the author of In the Wake of Mercedes Gleitze: Open Water Swimming Pioneer, a biography of her mother who was the first British woman to swim the English Channel in 1927. Mercedes was a young working woman with an immigrant background who, without any sponsorship or financial backing, carried out some astonishing long distance and endurance swims. During her sporting career, she was a household name.

Mercedes was an independent woman who set her own goals and never gave up, in spite of obstacles and set backs. She challenged prevailing stereotypes about women – many of which still linger today – proving by her exploits that women could be fit and strong. She also defied the pressures on women to conform to restrictive notions of body image. In her day, it was the craze for boyish figures, but as the Dublin Evening Mail noted, her lead was “certain to be welcomed by women, who are weary of the rigours of dieting”.

Now, I’m not particularly interested in swimming, or any other sport for that matter. But I recommend this book because even if, like me, you think sport isn’t really your thing, Mercedes’s story is one that will inspire anyone to make their dream a reality, whatever that dream may be.

Find out more about In the Wake of Mercedes Gleitze: Open Water Swimming Pioneer by Doloranda Pember at The History Press website.

The Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival is a one day festival that takes place every April in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. Make a date for HULF 2020, when the Festival will take place on Saturday 25 April. Find out more at the HULF website.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Treasure Trove in Books: Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence

I’ve recently started reading Vera Brittain’s biography of Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Pethick-Lawrence: A Portrait. It’s part of the research for the biography of Millicent Price (née Browne) I’m writing. Millicent had fond memories of the Pethick-Lawrences. It was Frederick who gave her the nickname “Militant Browne”. 

Imagine my surprise on opening the book to discover a veritable treasure trove! First of all, the book has a dedication by Esther Knowles.

Esther Knowles was one of Frederick Pethick-Lawrence’s two secretaries. As Vera Brittain mentions, Esther first came into contact with the Pethick-Lawrences when she went to stay in the holiday home they had provided for poor London children near their home in Holmwood, Surrey. During the militant campaign, Esther worked at WSPU headquarters. She was the youngest worker there and later said that she found it all quite exciting. During one police raid, she prevented the seizure of WSPU funds by hiding the contents of the cash box in her knickers. She worked in one secret location after another as the WSPU staff moved around to evade the police. After the Pethick-Lawrences left the WSPU, she continued working for Frederick Pethick-Lawrence until he retired in 1959, and remained devoted to him and Emmeline.

But that wasn’t all. Tucked inside the book were the following items.

Memories of Fred and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence 

Published in 1963 by the Pethick-Lawrence Memorial Committee, the booklet includes tributes to Frederick Pethick-Lawrence given in the House of Lords by Viscount Hailsham, Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough, Lord Layton, Earl Attlee and Baroness Summerskill, along with a report from The Surrey Advertiser of 11 July 1962 of the memorial ceremonies on 7 July 1962 at Peaslake and Dorking.

On that day the suffragette colours – purple, white and green – flew in Peaslake village, and in the Village Hall Baroness Summerskill unveiled a portrait of Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. Another portrait was unveiled by the Earl of Longford in Pethick-Lawrence House in Dorking, headquarters of the Dorking Labour Party.

Many people subscribed to the Pethick-Lawrence Memorial Appeal Fund, amongst them Margaret Thatcher MP.

An unsigned Christmas Card 1949

 An unsigned Christmas Card 1951

An unsigned Christmas Card 1961 

When he was ill, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence requested that this card be sent after his death.

All in all, these items make my copy of Vera Brittain’s biography very special.

Vera Brittain, Pethick-Lawrence: A Portrait (London: George, Allen & Unwin, 1963

You can find out more about the Pethick-Lawrences in my Suffrage Spotlight Archive, opens as a pdf.doc from my website.