Mary Gawthorpe, Alice Stone Blackwell and Florence Pethick Lawrence: Three Inspirational Women from the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Todays blog post comes from MA students Sophia Lambert, and Rebecca Illidge who are volunteering with Leeds Libraries to index the Gawthorpe Papers.

The Mary Gawthorpe Papers are an incredibly valuable and rich resource and are available to view on microfilm at the Leeds Central Library.

A photograph of a young Gawthorpe, taken from the Mary Gawthorpe Papers.

Mary Eleanor Gawthorpe was born in Woodhouse, Leeds, on January 12th 1881. She worked as a schoolteacher in Leeds until 1906, after which she became actively involved in the Independent Labour Party and the Women’s Labour League. She grew to be a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement through her activism, campaigning alongside women such as Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst. Gawthorpe worked for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and later became its Chairwoman. She frequently targeted the Liberal Government for its refusal to enfranchise women. Her activism was fierce and often militant – in October 1906, she was arrested for her demonstrations outside of parliament.

In 1916 Mary Gawthorpe emigrated to America where she continued her suffrage work. She first worked as a Field Organiser and then Head Organiser for the Brooklyn branch of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Party. It was here that she wrote her autobiography, Uphill to Holloway.

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History month, we would like to remember the invaluable contributions and activism of Mary Gawthorpe and the women she worked alongside. Those within the suffrage movement demonstrated how much women can achieve when they work together and how important the bonds between women are. 

Mary Gawthorpe worked alongside Alice Stone Blackwell, who was the daughter of Lucy Stone Blackwell. Lucy had previously headed the call for the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in Massachusetts in 1850. She started the Women’s Journal, which Alice later worked for over a period of 30 years as assistant editor and subsequently as editor-in-chief.

A photograph of Alice Stone Blackwell from the Mary Gawthorpe Papers.

Though not clear from the materials she kept of Blackwell how the two met, the materials kept start from 1947, and it is clear that the two had a close relationship; Gawthorpe kept numerous biographical materials of Stone, hinting at their relationship – Blackwell obviously meant a lot to Gawthorpe for her to keep so many documents and preserve them so well. Gawthorpe kept an article by Blackwell published in The Woman’s Journal, on which Gawthorpe’s name is handwritten. Again this hints at their relationship, with Alice Stone Blackwell sending a personalised copy to her friend. Even more personal, Stone Blackwell also wrote and sent several ‘Easter Greetings’ as well as ‘Christmas and New Year Greetings’ to Gawthorpe. 

Alice Stone Blackwell passed away in 1950 at the age of 92, and Gawthorpe kept a letter sent from the Blackwell Fund Committee about her passing. The letter also contained a plea for memorial contributions, and Gawthorpe donated $5 in response. In today’s money, that is the equivalent of around $58, which is a substantial sum of money and indicates how highly Gawthorpe valued Blackwell. In another display of her admiration, the collection also includes a handwritten note by Gawthorpe about the life of Blackwell. Also included in the collection is a contribution from Blackwell of Gawthorpe’s invaluable contribution to the women’s suffrage movement in America after a dispute between her and Sylvia Pankhurst whose book overlooked Gawthorpe’s involvement, demonstrating that the admiration was reciprocated both ways.

The Mary Gawthorpe papers available at the library include even more materials kept about Alice Stone Blackwell which are incredibly interesting. For instance, the collection contains a tribute written by the Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) – a civil rights organisation – hinting at the alliance between the women’s and black movements. When we view the life and work of Alice Stone Blackwell and Mary Gawthorpe together, we gain insight into a community of women who worked in alliance for a common goal.

Another woman Mary Gawthorpe worked alongside was Florence Pethick Lawrence.

A photograph of Mrs Pethick Lawrence taken from the Mary Gawthorpe Papers.

Mrs Florence Pethick Lawrence was the Honorary Treasurer of the WSPU and joint Editor of the Votes for Women Magazine and campaigned alongside Mary Gawthorpe for women’s suffrage. The balance sheets for the WPSU in the Gawthorpe Papers indicate Florence’s important role in raising money for the WSPU from just a few shillings in 1906 to over £34,000 in 1908. As part of their roles in the NWSPU, Florence and Mary Gawthorpe organised weekly meetings, including ‘At Home’, where members of the organisation were invited to discuss topics related to the women’s suffrage campaign. Both women spoke at these weekly meetings alongside other suffragettes. Florence also attended several public meetings across Britain during her time campaigning as a suffragette, including at a NWSPU meeting in 1909 which the famous suffragette Emily Davidson also attended.

The Mary Gawthorpe Papers contain several photographs and documents that provide a valuable insight into Florence’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement as well as her close relationship with Mary Gawthorpe. The collection includes photographs of Florence campaigning with other suffragettes. Even after Mary emigrated to America, she remained lifelong friends with Mrs Pethick Lawrence. The collection contains several letters that they sent to each other, one of which has several photographs enclosed which show the Lawrence family on holiday in 1933. 

It is important to remember the contributions of women like Mary Gawthorpe, Alice Stone Blackwell, and Mrs Pethick Lawrence on International Women’s Day. The papers of Mary Gawthorpe are freely available at the library, which contain 17 reels of valuable insight into her personal life and her involvement in the women’s suffrage campaign. They form part of the library’s special collections so you will need to bring your library card to view them.  

Up to date information on Leeds Libraries opening times and access can be found here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/libraries or you can contact the library directly:

localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk or 0113 378 6982.

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