Kitchen Maid to Suffragette: Violet's story emerges
Violet Ann Bland was born in Shrewsbury in 1863 and worked at Dudmaston as a Kitchen Maid once she left school. She went on to become a passionate member of the Women's Social and Political Union. Arrested in 1910 for her activisim in the name of women's suffrage, she endured a hunger strike in prison and was force fed.
Little is known about Violet's time at Dudmaston but details of her life are beginning to emerge. Following the launch of our programme to mark the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote, we can now share more of her remarkable story and our first photograph - kindly provided by her family.
Violet Ann Bland was born on 17 December 1863 in Bayston Hill, Shropshire, to William Henry Bland (a railway fitter) and his wife Violet. She came to Dudmaston when she left school and we know little of her time here.
Violet’s story seems unusual for the times, however, as she went on to run first a ladies’ college and subsequently several hotels. It was during her time as a hotelier in Bristol, early in the 20th century, that she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, a militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage (the right to vote in political elections). Several prominent suffragettes stayed at the hotel and she hosted fundraisers there.
After a move to London, Violet’s involvement became more active, first arrested and released for her part in the ‘Black Friday’ demonstration in 1910, then arrested in 1912 and sentenced to four months. She joined a hunger strike in Aylesbury prison and was force-fed. Like all hunger strikers, she received a medal and commendation from Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragettes.
" They twisted my neck, jerked my head back, closing my throat, held all the time as in a vice."
Violet died on 21 March 1940. Although unmarried, she has family through her seven younger siblings who have been proud to share her story, photographs, medals and letter of commendation with us here at Dudmaston.
This year, Dudmaston is hosting 'Shaken and Stirred', a participatory project that looks to mix up our collections and help us to see objects in new ways. This involves working with artist Faye Claridge to test a selection of property stories, asking our visitors for feedback to find which stories they are most interested in. Violet’s story will be included and no doubt prove a favourite in this centennial year.
Throughout 2018 we're hosting events, exhibitions and installations at places across the country to bring to life the stories behind the fight for female suffrage. Visit our Women and Power hub page to find out more.