THE Essex Record’s Office’s monthly blog has recently focused on the amazing life of a suffragette who fought stoically to secure the vote for women.

The blog charts the story of Amy Hicks, who on Wednesday September 16, 1908, spoke at a suffrage meeting held at the Co-operative Hall in Colchester and declared that campaigners for women’s suffrage were ‘neither freaks nor frumps’.

This was the third of three suffrage campaign meetings that took place in Colchester that week, reported in the Essex Newsman on Saturday September 19. The first meeting took place on Monday night in the High Street, where the speakers were ‘subjected to some humorous banter, and were “booed” by some small boys. The feeling was generally adverse to the suffragettes’. When Miss Hicks spoke at the meeting on Tuesday night at St Mary’s school room, she said that the campaigners were ‘not at all disheartened by the noisy reception’.

Amy’s story inspired us to trawl through our historic newspaper folios to look for more suffragette stories across Essex. We found that on December 16, 1911 - three years after Amy Hicks spoke in Colchester - the Grays and Tilbury Gazette reported how a similar meeting was taking place - this time in Stanford-le-Hope, Thurrock.

A ‘woman’s suffragette meeting’ was held at the Stanford schoolroom and saw a “Mrs Braiford” give an address to around 50 women on behalf of the local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

According to the article Mrs Braiford explained to the crowd why she had joined the movement and mocked an anti- suffragette article, written by a wealthy London woman, who after watching a demonstration in the capital remarked how the suffragettes all looked well fed and questioned what else they could want from life? Mrs Baiford then received riotous applause when she passionately asked if women have to obey laws, why should they not have a say in how those laws are made?”

By 1911 women had been fighting for the right to vote for several years. In 1897 Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage.

Fawcett believed in peaceful protest and warned that violent action would only make women seem unworthy of the vote.

But not everyone agreed and when no changes came, the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia in 1903. The Union became better known as the Suffragettes. Although they too started off peacefully, suffragettes were prepared to use violence when necessary. They burned down churches - as the Church of England was against their cause, they smashed shop windows in Oxford Street, they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family were seen to be against women having the right to vote and they hired out boats and sailed up the Thames to shout abuse at MPs as they sat in Parliament.

A more ‘ladylike’ method of protest at this time, however, was the refusal of (mainly wealthy) women to pay tax.

In September 1911, a “Sale of Suffragette’s Goods at Southend” made the headlines when the first public auction of goods seized by bailiffs in default of payment of the ‘king’s taxes’ by a local suffragette took place.

The suffragette in question was a Mrs Rosina Sky. A member of the Southend and Westcliff branch of the WSPU and of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, Mrs Sky had refused to pay £5 tax, as required by law. As a result a “quantity of silver goods” were taken from her home in Cliff Town Road and sold at a public auction.

The Southend Standard intimated how this form of passive resistance was beginning to work. The article described how the auction chairman was happy to allow a pro suffragette representative, a ‘Mrs Kineton-Parkes’, to take to the stage to speak in Mrs Sky’s favour, saying “taxation and representation must go together.”

“Mrs Sky has paid her taxes for over 20 years and fulfilled loyally every duty of a citizen,” the auction was told. Half a dozen silver dessert spoons and some other silverware were sold off to a member of the public sympathetic to Mrs Sky’s cause, meaning the entire lot did not need to go under the hammer and could be returned to her.

Following the auction, according to the newspaper, a crowd - made up of members of the public who had attended the auction as well as representatives of the WSPU and the WTRL - marched along Southchurch Road to Southend Technical Colleges where more speeches were held. The article reported how “a lot of chaff being indulged the while” as the protesters made their way through the streets.

“The proceedings were very enthusiastic at the meeting and at the close many questions were asked,” wrote the reporter.

Essex also had its own militant suffragette, Kitty Marion.

Marion was born Katherina Maria Schafer in Westphalia, Germany, in 1871. Her mother died when she was two years old and when she was 15 she went to live with her aunt in England. In her “Little Book of Essex” author Dee Gordon describes Marion as being raised in Great Dunmow, She learnt English and fulfilled her dream to become a music hall actress.

In 1908 she joined the WSPU and began taking part in their marches on parliament. She would become one of the most militant members of the WSPU and carried out criminal vandalism and arson attacks. She was locked up for a lot of time and became famous for enduring more than 200 force-feeds in prison.

  • To read more about suffragette Amy Hicks visit the Essex Records Office Blog at