On the 16 July 1909, Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John’s play ‘How the Vote Was Won’ was performed at the Dover Town Hall. First performed in London in April 1909, and set in the home of a married couple in Brixton, ‘How the Vote Was Won’ follows Horace and Ethel Cole on the day of a women’s worker strike. Initially the couple are against women’s suffrage, but as more and more women quit their jobs, relatives of Horace begin to insist upon living with him arguing that they will stay out of work until their right to vote is recognised by the government. As the women of the family arrive, Horace and Ethel begin to realise the importance of the Suffrage movement.
The cast list of the play:
Horace Cole: Mr. E. Chitty
Ethel Cole: Miss Adams
Winifred (Ethel’s sister): Mrs Jellicoe
Agatha Cole (Horace’s sister): Miss Crookewit
Molly (his niece): Miss Bishop
Madame Christine (distant relative): Miss Marchant
Maudie Spark (his first cousin): Miss Fry
Miss Lizzie Wilkins (his aunt): Mrs. Carson
Lily (the maid): Miss Villiers
Gerald Williams (a neighbour): Mr Wigley1
Like Virginia Woolf, Hamilton believed sexual stereotyping and economic discrimination were more basic issues than disenfranchisement. However, unlike Woolf, Hamilton was active in the Suffragette Movement and co-founded the Women’s Writers’ Suffrage League. Additionally, Hamilton was persuaded by Edy Craig to write the script for ‘The Pageant of Great Women’ which is considered one of the most important pieces of suffrage propaganda, as well as writing the lyrics to Ethel Smyth’s suffrage anthem ‘The March of the Women’.
The Maison Dieu was a hub for suffragette meetings at a time when the campaign for women’s rights was just gaining traction after Emmeline Pankhurst’s founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the motto ‘Deeds not words’.
Whilst we were at the Maison Dieu we came across a Victorian polling booth and ballot boxes, which some of Dover district’s first women voters would have used, such as Vice President of Dover Women’s Suffrage Society, Alice Barlow . Her letter, written with two other local suffragists, was published in the Dover Express in 1909 arguing the ridiculuous nature of disqualifying women from voting on the grounds of sex. You can find her name on a plaque in the Stone Hall at the Maison Dieu, alongside Annie Brunyate and Lorna Bomford.
As well as these connections, the Maison Dieu also accommodated many suffrage meetings with visitors such as Lady Frances Balfour, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Frances was at the forefront of women making changes to political roles within government. Her immense influence made her an important visitor to Dover as she resented her political exclusion within her own family.
We found this image from a mass rally held in Dover in June 1911. In this image the suffragists are wearing medieval costumes, which was a common image throughout the suffrage movement. This was intended to make the issue appear more distant and so that women did not seem like a threat to contemporary gender roles.
The Representation of the People Act finally gave women the right to vote in 1918, although it wasn’t until the 1928 Equal Franchise Act that the right to vote became entirely equal.
Godfrey, J. ‘Suffragettes of Kent’ ↩