Monday, November 10, 2014

Spotlight on Suffragette Florence Feek (1877 – 1940)

The latest Suffragette Spotlight On looks at the work of Worcestershire campaigner, Florence Feek...

On 31 March 1909, thirty suffragettes attempted to get into the House of Commons to speak to Prime Minister Asquith. Nine of them were arrested after a struggle with the police. Amongst them was Florence Eliza Feek of Pershore. Florence was the daughter of Julius Harnworth Feek, who was the minister of the Baptist church at 2 Broad Street for thirty one years until his retirement in 1903. He was also on the Board of Guardians, and a district and parish councillor. The family lived at Myrtle Cottage, Pershore.  

Florence was a civil servant who worked in the General Post Office at St Martin Le Grand in London, and was also involved in social work with women and girls. It was that social work, she said, that made her a militant, for it “confirmed her in the belief that much of it under present economic conditions must fail”. She became a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union after hearing Mrs Pankhurst and Mrs Emmeline Pethick Lawrence speak in Hampstead in 1907.  

In Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on 2 April 1909, the arrested women were charged with obstruction. They were all sentenced to a month in prison. In court, Florence refused to be bound over and protested that she was not a criminal, but a political prisoner.  

When the nine were released on 30 April, the WSPU held a reception for them in London. The From Prison to Citizenship banner hung on the stage behind Christabel Pankhurst, and Florence and the others spoke about their prison experiences. She said that “the words of the Women’s Marseillaise’ had haunted her in prison (the song included the lines “For what they loved the martyrs died/Are we of meaner soul?”). She added that "it was more than a reward for the time she had spent in prison to know that her two brothers and a man friend had entirely changed their views on the militant methods.” 

Florence was born on 26 December 1876 with a twin brother, Harry. A promising artist, Harry died around 1899. The brothers she converted to the cause were Arthur and Percy. Arthur Julius Feek was born in Redditch in 1869 four years before his father moved to Pershore. He was educated at Tettenhall College, Staffs, and later qualified as an accountant. He married Miss Annie E Milburn in 1920, and died in 1935. Florence attended his funeral. 

The pastor’s youngest son was Percy George Feek, who was also born in Redditch. He studied at Evesham Grammar School, and then the University Colleges of Bangor and Aberystwyth. He was the Director of Education for Derby until his retirement in 1933. At this time, their 86 year old mother, Mary Ann Feek, was still living in Myrtle Cottage in Pershore and Percy went to live with her. He never married, spent his leisure time boating, and in 1910 published The Navigation of the Avon, with Notes on the Worcestershire Bridges and Mills. Like his father, he undertook a number of civic roles including membership of the Board of Guardians. 

Norfolk-born Mary Ann Feek died in 1939 aged 92, leaving Percy and her daughter. Florence was described by the Worcester Journal 16 December 1939 as “a retired civil servant in London, [and] an active advocate, with other very prominent members of the movement, of women’s franchise”.   

I have not been able to find any information about the “man friend”!  

However, Florence moved away from the WSPU as suffragette militancy escalated. She devoted her spare time to working in Canning Town Women’s Settlement. With her friend Miss Laura Stead she founded the West Ham Home and Hostel for Girls.  

Although her brothers remained Baptists (Percy was a deacon of Osmaston Road Baptist Church in Derby), Florence became a Quaker and was secretary of the Wanstead Friends Meeting. She retired from the Post Office in 1936. She continued her social work and went to the County Hostel most weekends.  

In September 1940 London endured a week of almost non-stop bombing, with nearly forty raids and 2,000 bombs dropped. Tragically, Florence was amongst the civilians killed during these air raids when the County Hostel at 35 High Street, Plaistow was almost destroyed by a bomb on 15 September 1940. She was taken to Whipps Cross Hospital and died later that day. Her funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 28 September 1940. 

In October 1941 Florence Feek was memorialised by the provision of two extra room for the County branch of the West Ham Home for Girls at Jordans Village, Buckinghamshire, a Quaker settlement founded in 1919. Over a hundred people attended, including Laura Stead who was Superintendent of the Home. Her brother Percy was in the chair. On the following Sunday during the service at Jordans Friends’ Meeting house there were further tributes to Miss Feek and “her life of useful work”.

You can read previous entries in the Spotlight On Archive at lucienneboyce.com.