Who was Violet Ann Bland?
Violet Ann Bland (1863-1940) was the Dudmaston kitchenmaid who became a suffragette hunger-striker. A participant in ‘Black Friday’, a large suffrage event held in November 1910, Bland later received four months’ imprisonment for window-breaking in 1912, joining a major hunger-strike in Aylesbury prison.
Early life and career
Bland was born in Bayston village, near Shrewsbury, the daughter of William Bland, a labourer, and Violet. She worked as a kitchen maid at Dudmaston Hall.
By the 1900s, Bland was running a Ladies’ College of Domestic Science and a hotel at ‘Henley Grove’, an eight-bedroom mansion with twenty acres of grounds. Between 1910 and 1935 she ran a West End guest house.
In 1915, following her sister’s death, Bland became foster mother to her four very young children.
A militant suffragette
Bland joined the Bristol Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), and guests at Henley Grove included other prominent suffragettes such as Annie Kenney, Elsie Howey, Vera Wentworth, and Mary Phillips.
A participant in ‘Black Friday’, she was arrested alongside 116 other women and two men. Bland later spent four months’ imprisonment in Aylesbury following window-breaking in March 1912. She joined the Aylesbury hunger strike and was forcibly fed.
" They pinched and clutched my nose unmercifully, and at the end of the assault, when I did not rise quickly from the chair because of my helpless and breathless condition, they snatched the chair from under me, and flung me on the floor…"
The first hunger-striking suffragette was Marion Wallace Dunlop, a socialist and member of the Fabian Women’s Group. Until 1909, hunger-striking prisoners were released, but forcible feeding was then introduced. Over a thousand women were force fed, through the throat, nose, and in a few cases, the rectum.
In a 1912 article which also featured Emmeline Pankhurst, Bland was interviewed about her experiences of forcible feeding. Working-class women like Bland were treated the most brutally:
'During the strike the wardresses were transformed into inhuman brutes and fiends…It is said some of the wardresses are nurses. I say it is a parody on nursing, and the places where such nurses are produced should be instantly closed…they twisted my neck, jerked my head back, closing my throat, held all the time as in a vice. I gasped for breath, and suffered tortures mentally lest the food which they were trying to pour down my throat should go into my lungs. They do not expect, or intend, one to swallow the food, but pour it into one’s stomach as through an open water-pipe…there was really no possibility of the victim doing much in the way of protesting, excepting verbally, to express one’s horror of it.'
Bland died in London on the 21st March, 1940.