From protecting children in WW2 to the suffragette movement and becoming a pioneer in patriarchal fields we take a deep dive into four stories of the most phenomenal inspiring women from our county and beyond to celebrate Women’s History Month in Cumbria.
Catherine Marshall- The suffragist and pacifist who led the suffragette movement in Keswick.
Catherine Marshall was born in Harrow on the Hill, Greater London in 1880.
Marshall’s parents were supporters of the Liberal Party and from a young age she had always been enthused by politics:
“Ever since I was old enough to think about politics at all I have been a Liberal” – Catherine Marshall
Growing up Catherine became acquainted with the work of John Stuart Mill a liberal philosopher and MP who drafted the first Women’s suffrage petition in 1866 for the first debate on votes for women. The first person to sign the petition was Mary Somerville.
“I was profoundly impressed by John’s work” - Catherine Marshall
Catherine later became the secretary of Harrow’s Women’s Liberal Association and by 24 became a member of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.
Catherine’s dad retired and the family relocated from Harrow to Hawse End, Derwentwater.
This is when Catherine’s career as a women’s activist began and alongside her mother and father, they formed the Keswick branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Society (NUWSS), the Keswick Suffrage Society (KWSA).
Caroline, Catherine’s mother was the president of the KWSA and Catherine’s role was as honourable organising secretary where she would write letters, organise rallies and run a stall in the town that sold pamphlets.
Catherine’s aims and methods were simple:
“Our work was to consist of spreading the principles of Women's Suffrage by means of meetings, Ietters to the press, and distributing literature on the subject”
The KWSA would tour Cumberland to spread the message of the suffragette movement in the county. They even inspired the people of Kendal to form their own branch of NUWSS to represent the neighbouring county of Westmorland.
Documents from Cumbria Archive Centre revealed the impact KWSA had on the young women in the county during their open-air speaking events. A letter from Mrs Elizabeth Wilson of Seascale written to the KWSA in 1909 showed the influence of their work:
‘My little girls were extremely proud that you spoke to them, and they came home quite ardent suffragists’.
Catherine as one of the key leaders of the KWSA wanted to reach a more national audience and in 1910 alongside other delegates from across Cumbria’s boroughs, attended a suffragists demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London.
Despite their efforts, nothing came of the protest and so in 1913 the people of the KWSA decided to join the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage to London to protest PM Herbert Asquith.
Along eight routes, people from the KWAS marched from all over the country through towns and cities.
Again, Asquith opposed the suffragettes' demands for equal votes and in 1916 his government drew up an Act to give all men the vote and suffragists lobbied persistently against this new Act.
As a result of suffragists' efforts, the Representation of the People Act in 1918 finally gave some women the vote.
In a bizarre twist, Asquith began to support votes for women only after he left office in 1917.
During this period in 1914, Catherine had moved back to London just before WW1. Catherine was an ardent pacifist and anti-conscriptionist and in a letter to Mrs Oliver Strachey she wrote about her feelings on war:
‘I do not consider it within our province to conduct a campaign on any questions totally disconnected from the Suffrage question, but I consider that questions of peace and war are intimately connected with Women’s Suffrage.’ – Catherine Marshall
Millicent Fawcett widely renowned feminist and president of NUWSS was in support of the war effort and suffragist activities were suspended in support of the war effort.
Catherine no longer wanted to be aligned with the NUWSS for this reason and wrote a letter of resignation to Millicent after a meeting where ten members of the NUWSS resigned because the decision was made to not support the Women’s Peace Congress at the Hague.
Dutch suffragist Aletta Jacobs invite suffrage members from across the globe to join the International Congress of Women at the Hague in Holland and despite the government’s efforts during war-torn Britain to block routes of travel to attend the meeting Marshal and other British women joined their cause.
In 1916 Catherine Marshall fell in love with Clifford Allen, the chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship an organisation that encouraged men to refuse war service and because of his involvement with the organisation he was imprisoned for not going to fight in World War One.
During the late years of Catherine’s life, she joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and even helped refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. She remained an active member of the Labour party up until her death in Hampstead, London.
Catherine Marshall was a remarkable woman who shaped the suffragette movement in Cumbria. Without her work, many women in the county wouldn’t have been exposed to the movement and by all accounts has left a lasting legacy in Cumbria and Nationally is recognised as one of 58 women’s suffrage supporters with her name and picture on the statue erected of Millicent Fawcett in 2018 to mark 100 years of the suffragette movement.
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