People of Leeds #12: Frances Rushworth

In the first of three special articles to mark our Unfinished Business exhibition focusing on Women in our collections, Antony Ramm looks at a short-but-fascinating story from Leeds’ electoral history. This article is #12 in our People of Leeds series – mini biographies of lesser-known contributors to Leeds’ rich heritage. 

The major landmarks and most important individuals in the suffragette and suffrage movements in Leeds are broadly well-known: the careers and achievements of Mary Gawthorpe, Isabella Ford, Leonora Cohen, and others; the election of Mrs. Catherine Buckton to the Leeds School Board in 1873 (the first woman elected to any post in Leeds); Maud Dightam and Gertrude Dennison becoming the first women elected as local Councillors in Leeds in 1921; the eventual election of the city’s first M.P., when Alice Bacon successfully stood in the 1946 General Election.

What is perhaps less well-known is that, in 1910, a woman – Frances Rushworth – placed a vote in that year’s General Election, some eight-years before women over the age of 30 were legally entitled to take part in Parliamentary Elections.

How did this extraordinary event come about? The answer is quite simple, if still staggering in the cause (and the effect): Frances Rushworth was mistakenly listed on the electoral roll for the Leeds East Polling Division as ‘Francis Rushworth’; a mistake which allowed Frances to slip through the polling restrictions and place her vote.

1910 Electoral Roll for Leeds, East Division, Polling District No.18

A contemporary newspaper article describes this unique incident – which, in actual fact, was not that unique, having first occurred in January of the same year:

Yorkshire Post, December 6 1910, page 7. Alderman Clarke was likely W.H. Clarke, who stood – unsuccessfully – for the Conservatives at the 1910 election

We know very little else about Frances Rushworth. She can be found on the 1891 Census living in her home city of Sheffield, before appearing in the 1901, the 1911 Census and the 1939 Register at 24 Beckett Street in Leeds, listed as a dressmaker “on her own account” – but that is all.

The 1911 Census for Leeds (c) Ancestry.com

Frances doesn’t seem to have married, and (possibly) died in early 1966, aged 84. The sum total of a life as recorded in the archives of the State – a life that, were it not for that one curious, wonderful incident in 1910, would probably not justify an entry in this People of Leeds series. But with that incident, we have an intriguing enigma, a tantalisingly punk intervention in the historical record: an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing. I wonder if Frances ever thought that, more than fifty-years after her death, she would be remembered in this way?

Please contact us on 0113 37 86982 (leave a voicemail message) or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk if you have more to contribute to Frances’ story.

I am indebted to David Thornton for bringing this story to my attention

The image on this page shows the York Road Council School – possibly the same School Frances Rushworth placed her vote at (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

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