Disclaimer: the author Frances Bevan is my mother and I received a free copy of this book.
If you’d asked me as a teenager, some twenty years ago, to name women of note from Swindon I’d have said the actress Diana Dors, glamour model Melinda Messenger and pop-singer Billie Piper. If you’d asked me about Swindon’s history I’d have told you about Brunel and the Great Western Railway.
Ask me now and I will obviously wax lyrical about Edith Bessie New, militant suffragette, who was born and grew up in Swindon. After training as a teacher Edith moved to London to teach and in 1908 became an organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union. She was one of the first to chain herself to railings, smash windows, and go on hunger strike in Scotland. Imprisoned multiple times in Holloway she made the national and local newspapers several times and her name would have been known nationwide.
Ask me to name someone else, go on!
Emma Louisa Hull (née Alley) aka Louisa Smith. Louisa moved to Swindon with her family when she was ten years old. She married and moved to Bournemouth and went on to become an active member of the Women’s Freedom League. She was also arrested and imprisoned several times for protesting and obstruction. On one occasion, she was arrested alongside four other women for chaining themselves to a police station and all five gave their surname as Smith or Smyth. Louisa returned to Swindon in 1947 where she would give talks about her work in the campaign for Votes for Women and died in a nursing home in Bournemouth aged 100.
How about May George? The first woman to hold the office of Mayor of Swindon in 1935, she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women and children in her adopted town.
Have you heard of Mary Slade awarded the MBE for her work on the Swindon Prisoners of War Committee? She and her team of fellow teachers co-ordinated supplies of groceries, bread, clothing and books from local shopkeepers, schools and Swindon families to Wiltshire men interned at Gottingen and Munster.
These are just a few of the women featured in ‘Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality’, a clear, concise and easy-to-read account of the period 1850-1950, concentrating on the overlooked women in a town with a rich and varied history. Focusing on education; work; love and marriage; health care and motherhood; and the Votes for Women campaign this book celebrates and commemorates their work and achievements and should be a source of pride for Swindonians and beyond.
You can order or buy a copy of the book at the following:
Pen and Sword Books
Swindon Library Shop (inside Central Library at Regent Circus)
Ask your local independent bookseller to order – in Swindon that’s Bert’s Books