Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Spotlight on...Dorothy Pethick (1881-1970)

When Winston Churchill came to Bristol in 1909, a number of women came to the city to help Bristol organiser Annie Kenney organise protests during his visit. Actions included window breaking, heckling, and Leeds suffragette Theresa Garnett’s assault of Churchill at Temple Meads Railway station. Among the women who came to help was Dorothy Pethick, younger sister of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

Dorothy Pethick was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and then worked in a Women’s University Settlement in Blackfriars Road in London. She had been working with Annie in Bristol and the west country since at least 1908. When Annie went to speak in Weston-super-Mare in August 1908, Dorothy went on ahead to make arrangements for the meeting and advertised it by chalking the pavements.

Dorothy was one of many suffragettes who sometimes stayed with the Blathwayt family in Batheaston; Mrs Blathwayt described her as “an educated lady”. In 1911 Dorothy planted a fir tree in the Blathwayt’s Suffragette Arboretum. Colonel Blathwayt photographed most of the planting ceremonies but unfortunately no photograph of Dorothy survives, although you can see a copy of the commemorative plaque on the Bath in Time website.

Dorothy was arrested during the WSPU deputation to the House of Commons on 29 June 1909. In October 1909 she and actress Kitty Marion were in Newcastle for the visit of David Lloyd George, and were arrested for breaking the windows of Newcastle General Post Office. Kitty, who succeeded in breaking glass after two attempts, was sentenced to one month in prison, while Dorothy, whose stone failed to do any damage, pleaded “not guilty of smashing, but guilty of trying to” and got fourteen days. In all eight women were arrested in Newcastle, including Lady Constance Lytton, and they went on hunger strike.

From 1910 to 1912 Dorothy was WSPU organiser in Leicester, where she worked on the 1910 election campaign. In April 1911 she organised a local census protest: twenty census evaders spent the night at the WSPU shop and office at 14 Bowling Green Street, Leicester. (You can find out more about the Census Protest in Leicester on Woman and Her Sphere.)  She was sentenced to another fourteen days for taking part in the “Black Friday” demonstration in London on 18 November, but released when her fine was paid. She left the WSPU in 1912 when her sister Emmeline Pethick Lawrence was ejected from the organisation by Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst after a disagreement about intensifying militancy.  

Early in 1914 Dorothy was in America giving talks about women’s suffrage. Speaking in New York, she declared that the suffragettes were prepared to die for their cause. She also said that she and her sister were still in sympathy with Mrs Pankhurst and their only disagreement was about methods. Mrs Pankhurst believed in arson, but Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence did not.

During the First World War Dorothy joined the Women’s Police Force. In 1916 she joined the United Suffragists, and was also treasurer of the British Dominions Woman Suffrage Union. She later worked at the Rudolf Steiner school in Hampstead. She died at an old people’s home in Markyate, Bedfordshire.