Vanishing for the Vote
Report of talk given by Jill Liddington on 9 December 2015

Ballon postcardAfter the success of the film 'Suffragette' and this year's campaign for equal male/ female representation in parliament, it seemed appropriate to be at the Hebden Bridge Local History Society on Wednesday, when writer and historian Jill Liddington gave an interesting talk, based upon her book 'Vanishing the Vote'. This deals with a fascinating moment in history when in 1911, suffragettes urged women, still without representation at that time, to boycott the census. Many did. Some wrote 'No Vote, No Census' boldly across their schedules. Others hid in darkened houses. Emily Wilding Davison, on the night of the census, famously hid in a cupboard in the Houses of Parliament.

Jill described how this happened in a period of bitter conflict. The Liberal Government of Asquith and Lloyd George had achieved some significant health and welfare reforms, but chose to shelve modest plans for a bill on women's suffrage. This failure to act lit the fuse for the campaign and Halifax was one of many towns in Britain that joined in. Jill introduced us to the interesting local women, who were central to this initiative, including Lavena Saltonstall of Unity Street, Hebden Bridge,  Mary Taylor of Skircoat Green and Dinah Connelly and Laura Wilson from Pellon.  She then ably performed the role of Emmeline Pankhurst, speaking at the Halifax Mechanics Hall, attempting to persuade local people to take part. Members of the society played the roles of hecklers, with scripts of the real dialogue used at the event.  

However, on census night, whilst some women chose to evade the census, including 570 in a roller skating rink in Manchester, 57 in Sheffield and 10 in Bradford, many chose to comply with it. This included many suffragettes who you might have expected to have made a stand, such as Laura Wilson and Dinah Connelly. Jill asked people to consider why that was the case and many ideas were suggested.  

Vanishing for the Vote: Jill Liddington  In November 1911, Asquith received a deputation of adult suffragists. He invited them into his office and announced that he was proposing a franchise extension to every adult man in Britain. This was not what the women were campaigning for and led directly to a sustained wave of window-breaking and damage to empty buildings. From then on, the suffragette campaign became a feature of life in Britain and Jill finished by asking everyone what they would have done on census night in 1911.

There were some interesting questions at the end, one about the enumerators, who went from house to house, another about how you would know whether a husband had signed for his spouse in her absence. Also, wasn't it time for new the emergence of new suffragettes to campaign for the current demand for 50:50 men/women representation in Parliament? There was a favourable reaction to this question from some of the audience, but Jill said that the conditions today are thankfully quite different.

With thanks to Nick Wilding for this report

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