Oldham Historical Research Group

Full Transcripts of the Oldham Women's Suffrage Society AGM Reports

Oldham Women's Suffrage Society
Non-Party ..................... Non-Militant

Introduction, and Extracts from the AGM Report, November 1911
for November 1910 to November 1911

There had been some earlier attempts to form women's suffrage societies in Oldham but, for whatever reasons, women had been enthused, come together and then faded away. However, Oldham might not have been over-active on the suffrage front but there was support for women's rights, women trade-union activists and social reform groups, and they just needed the right spur to become active in the campaign for women's suffrage.

During the flurry of NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) suffragist activity around the proposed Conciliation Bill, and the drive to form more groups and recruit new members, Millicent Garrett Fawcett came to speak in Oldham, in November 1910,. Subsequently, the Oldham Women's Suffrage Society was formed and Marjory Lees became its president. She was already secretary of the Oldham Branch of the National Union of Women Workers, of which her mother, Sara Ann, was president. She was a generous patron of the Manchester University Settlement Project in Ancoats [Manchester] with which organisation Esther Roper was also associated. When the Manchester Suffrage Society lost its drive after the death of Lydia Becker in 1890, and its membership fell away, it was Esther Roper who revitalised the society; could the two women have known each other through their connection with the settlement?

The first Annual Report, from the Society, in November 1911, gives an account of how the society came into being,

"About the middle of September, 1910, Miss Robertson, BA, began a campaign with the object of trying to form a branch here. She was assisted during the whole time of her visit by the lady who is now our President, and by several others whom she enlisted. Meetings were held in the dinner hour outside the large workshops, and very good work was done. One meeting, organised by Miss Dornan, was held on September 15th, 1910, at the Park Gates, and addresses were given from a lurry, which served as a platform, by Miss Marjory Lees (who presided), Miss Robertson, BA, Miss Helen Ward and Mrs. Fletcher.
The audience was invited to a meeting to be held in Unity Hall, on November 8th, 1910, at which it was hoped a Society would be formed.
The meeting was held on the date arranged, and was proof of the interest which had been aroused. Mrs. Councillor Lees presided, and Mrs. Fawcett LLD., and Miss Robertson, BA., were the principal speakers.
The platform was representative of all shades of public opinion. The result of the meeting exceeded all previous attempts which the Manchester Society had made, for 130 persons gave in their names as wishing to become members of an Oldham Society"

The Oldham Suffrage Society was formed only days before the first Conciliation Bill was refused further time to progress through parliament and which was followed by the infamous 'Black Friday'.

The following month, in December, there had been another General Election but there was no change. The Liberals remained in government, with Asquith as PM and still needing the support of the Irish Nationalist MPs. I suppose it might be thought cynical to wonder if the Conciliation Bill was just another 'Asquith' ploy to 'bribe' the suffragettes into a calmer state, and present the Liberals as a party in control of the situation, as one working towards an accommodation with the Suffrage Movement.

The committee of the new Society was comprised of :

President: Miss Marjory Lees.

Vice-Presidents: Mrs. Bodden, Dr. Claydon, Mrs. Claydon, Mrs. McGowan, Mrs. Perry-Gore, Miss I .T. Rowntree, Mrs. J.W.Taylor, Mrs. Waddington.

Hon Secs: Mrs. Bridge, Mrs. Siddall.

During the first year of the society's existence the members were kept pretty busy. At their first meeting they were challenged to a Public Debate by Mr. Beaumont, a Manchester anti-suffragist. The 'gauntlet' was picked up by Dr. Olive Claydon and the date set for January 26th at the King Street Co-operative Hall. Interestingly, the Report says,

"There was a large audience. No resolution was submitted to the meeting in deference to Mr. Beaumont's wishes. The large increase of membership speaks for itself' "

In the early Spring, with a second Conciliation Bill being introduced, members of the Oldham Group threw themselves into canvassing women householders and getting signatures in support of the new Bill. By the 4th May they had the signatures of 1,826 women householders [those who would, potentially, be enfranchised] on a petition which was sent to the MP, Mr. Barton, to be presented in Parliament. Leaflets explaining the conditions of the Bill were distributed.

There was hope and anticipation in the air and on May 3rd the Oldham Secretaries went to a Great National Convention in London, before the 2nd Reading of the Bill. which it passed with a majority of 255 to 88.

The following month, on the 17th June, twenty three Society members, taking with them their newly painted banner and wearing sashes in the Union colours, joined 50,000 other women in the Great Suffrage Procession, in London. The procession was to celebrate the Coronation of King George and Queen Mary, [the following week], The press photographs give some idea of the scale of it and the report adds,

"The tremendous crowds all along the route gave our contingent a hearty reception, though from their remarks, they were obviously disappointed that we did not appear in shawls and clogs."

Back in Oldham and the work of meetings, discussion and persuasion went on.The report ends on the hopeful note that,

"After Mr. Asquith's pronouncement, a further letter was addressed to the candidates asking whether their pledge to support the Conciliation Bill would apply equally to an ammendment on those levies to the Reform Bill, and all three replied in the affirmative."

No hint is given as to whether or not the committee felt that suffrage was again slipping through their fingers, or if nervousness was creeping in as the alternative franchise bill was proposed as an enticing option, but one fraught with uncertainty. With hindsight we know that they were doomed to disappointment as militancy escalated, antagonising both the public and Parliament, and leaving both Bills without the necessary support.

The Oldham Women's Suffrage Society would have to continue the fight.

Full Transcripts of the Oldham Women's Suffrage Society AGM Reports

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