Silver City Suffragette

100 years since women's suffrage Aberdeen Women's Alliance member Fiona Rennie remembers a formidable but forgotten suffragette.

Submitted by EmmaBrown on 20-11-2018 12:09:32

Aberdeen Women's Alliance Remembers Silver City Suffragette

2018 marks 100 year since some women in the United Kingdom were granted the right to vote.

The vote was a hard-won triumph for the women of Britain who began campaigning for suffrage in the 1860s.

 

The women who fought for the vote were from all walks of life, some believed in peaceful protests to have their cause heard, while others took a more militant stance.

While most only now remember the famous suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding, Aberdeen has its own campaigner whose work deserves to be remembered.   

 

In our heritage walks the Aberdeen Women’s Alliance has a stop where we speak about the suffragettes and I ask those on the tour to name any of the famous campaigners who come to mind. Mostly people say the names mentioned previously. It’s then I get to share the story of local suffragette Caroline Phillips.

Caroline was a journalist for the local paper Aberdeen Daily Journal where she mainly wrote the ‘Women’s Features’, articles on cooking, fashion and other ‘suitable’ topics. This was at a time when there were only 66 female journalists in the whole United Kingdom.

 

In 1907 she became the Honorary Secretary of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) when she was just 36 years old. This role saw her regularly corresponding with the Pankhursts with most of the letters delivered to the offices of the Journal and sometimes on the newspaper’s headed notepaper.

 

Caroline organised for the Aberdeen branch to take part in national Scottish women’s suffrage procession and demonstration in Edinburgh 5th October 1907. The march was organised in alphabetical order, so it was the suffragettes from Aberdeen who headed the procession.

While it sounds like just an ordinary story but it wasn't plain sailing for Caroline. Her boss gave her a letter warning it had been noticed she was corresponding and conducting WSPU business within working hours.

 

As the long campaign wore on the Pankhursts became more militant and called for a disruption of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Henry Asquith's speech at a Liberal meeting at Aberdeen’s Music Hall.

 

Caroline knew the people of Aberdeen how they supported the WSPU but believed they would be turned off by a protest. She was told the local Liberal association was considering banning all women from the meeting to avoid any suffragette disruption. In a series of letters she wrote to Emmeline Pankhurst she shared these concerns about all the Liberal women, including suffragettes, being banned and asked for the disruption to be called off.

 

Emeline ignored this and sent a telegram to Caroline stating that her daughter Sylvia Pankhurst would be coming up to take over from Caroline.

From that day there was never a local women in charge of the Aberdeen branch of the WSPU again. Sylvia came up and yes, there was militancy at the Music Hall.

 

Caroline resigned from the WSPU.

 

In December 1912 left her post as a journalist and inherited the Station Hotel in Banchory.

 

Caroline never spoke about her role in the women’s suffrage movement.

On her death the family were clearing her writing desk drawer and found over 40 items including the correspondence with the Pankhursts from between 1907-09.

 

They donated these to the Aberdeen Art Gallery and they can be viewed in the Watt Papers, named after the family member who donated them.

 

When Caroline was first mentioned in 2013 to be part of our walk nobody knew about her. Now in 2018 people are starting to know who she is and what she did.

The Aberdeen Women's Alliance plaque group have been successful in getting a plaque on 41½ union street Aberdeen, marking the site were the WSPU held their meetings.

 

Caroline Phillips
Christabel Pankhurst's telegram to Caroline Phillips stated “Sylvia Pankhurst arrives thursday morning to take charge local work. Thursday's meeting had better be abandoned.”

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