Figures from our places who fought for female suffrage

Women for fought for suffrage

Many of our places were home to impassioned people who campaigned for female suffrage. Some were members of the leading suffrage groups, taking part in marches and protests, whilst others used theatre and literature to champion female empowerment.

Discover their stories as we mark 100 years since some women were granted the right to vote:

Mother and daughter united: Agnes Pochin and Laura McLaren

Bodnant Garden, Conwy

Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren
Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren

Bodnant Garden was home to Laura McLaren who was almost certainly inspired into activism by her mother, Agnes, an early campaigner. Agnes was one of the key speakers at the 1868 meeting of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage, a starting point for the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain. Laura, then a teenager, was in the audience.

Mother and daughter both campaigned for women’s rights and suffrage, as did Laura's mother-in-law, Priscilla Bright McLaren. Laura passed on the baton to her two suffragist daughters Florence and Elsie.

Laura became part of the executive committee of the newly formed National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872. She later led a group to Downing Street to confront Prime Minister Asquith about his opposition to women’s rights, but rejected militant tactics. She argued that women’s changed positions during the First World as workers and heads of households made it crucial their voices were heard.

Shaping the garden at Bodnant

Spring reflected in the Skating Pond at the Far End, Bodnant Garden
Reflections of clouds and trees in a lake at Bodnant Garden

The now world-class garden at Bodnant was transformed by Laura and her political career. Laura was an acclaimed gardener who expanded and improved the garden, work which was later continued by her son Henry. Henry in turn sponsored many plant-hunting trips to bring in new, exotic plants to Bodnant after Laura handed him the management of the garden so she could concentrate on political life.

 

Theatre and violence: Edith Craig and Christopher St John

Smallhythe Place, Kent

Edith Craig as Miss Hickson in Liberty Hall
Edith Craig as Miss Hickson in Liberty Hall

Smallhythe Place was home to Edith Terry, daughter of the acclaimed actress Ellen Terry. Like her mother, Edith was immersed in theatre. She directed plays on women’s rights and said: ‘Plays have done such a lot for the Suffrage. They get hold of nice, frivolous people who would die sooner than go in cold blood to meetings. But they watch plays, and get interested, and then we can rope them in for meetings.’ 

The 17th century barn theatre at Smallhythe Place
The 17th century barn theatre at Smallhythe Place

Edith co-founded the feminist bookshop, the International Suffrage Shop, and sold the Votes for Women newspaper on the streets of London.

The use of force

Edith’s partner, feminist playwright Christopher St John (born Christabel Marshall) wrote pro-suffrage plays including How the Vote Was Won. She joined a march to the House of Commons in 1909, and was arrested for setting fire to a postbox.

 

Campaigning for suffrage and joining the war effort

Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Mount Stewart, County Down

Edith Vane-Tempest Stewart, Lady Londonderry
Lady Londonderry

Few defied expectations of women as completely as Edith, Lady Londonderry who lived at Mount Stewart. ‘A young hound running riot’, is how a fiercely anti-suffrage Theresa, Marchioness of Londonderry, dubbed her wayward, pro-suffrage daughter-in-law.

Edith moved in powerful circles and used her influence to empower others, including as Colonel-in-Chief of the Women’s Volunteer Reserve during the First World War. Not content with how the Reserve was run, Edith formed a breakaway organisation – the Women’s Legion in 1915. Three years later the Legion was providing female cooks for the military, ambulance drivers, mechanics, clerks and canteen workers.

Pushing boundaries

Edith even dared suggest that women wear breeches instead of skirts for farm work. She became the first Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1917 in recognition of her war efforts.

Edith campaigned for suffrage for what she called ‘duly qualified’ women. Edith influenced her political husband, who in 1910 is said to have pushed the government to discuss women’s suffrage.

Shaping the gardens of Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart house overlooking the Italian Garden
Mount Stewart house overlooking the Italian Garden

Edith loved Mount Stewart and her passion for exotic plants helped create its renowned gardens, some of the most celebrated and original gardens of the 20th century. Taking advantage of the mild climate of Strangford Lough, Edith was able to amass an unrivalled collection of plants from across the globe, and experiment with bold planting schemes.

Reminders of the Women’s Legion are emblazoned on her garden pots and even her butter stamps.

 

George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Shaw

Shaw’s Corner, Hertfordshire

Playwright George Bernard Shaw was at the height of his fame as the women's suffrage movement was at its strongest.

Shaw in his early days as a playwright
George Bernard Shaw sits cross-legged with a notebook

In 1906, when he moved to Shaw’s Corner, he was one of the most famous men in the world. He and his wife Charlotte enjoyed Shaw’s Corner for almost 40 years.  He moved in suffrage circles for years but refused to speak at meetings, saying: ‘Every time you ask a man to appear on your platform, you consent the insufficiency of women to plead their own cause.’ Instead, Shaw gave suffrage a voice in his plays, which feature strong, independent women. One of his best-known suffrage plays, Fanny’s First Play, ran for more than 600 performances. 

Equality regardless of class

Shaw believed in suffrage for all women – not just the wealthy ones with property. He supported the cause, but social equality more broadly across gender and class was more important to him. He and Charlotte were committed socialists and part of the Fabian Society, whose members believed that capitalism produced an unequal society. Charlotte lobbied for suffrage as part of the Fabian Women’s Group.

Photo of Emily Langton Massingberd

Women and Power: Emily Langton-Massingberd

As part of the National Trust’s commemoration to mark a hundred years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act when most women over 30 got the right to vote, we celebrate the life of Gunby's political and social pioneer Emily Langton-Massingberd.

George Curzon, Rudyard Kipling and Octavia Hill

Figures from our places who fought against female suffrage 

Learn more about some of the key figures in the anti-suffrage movement and the reasons why they opposed female suffrage.