1st December 1943

Death of women’s rights campaigner Agnes Brown

Agnes Brown was born in Edinburgh to a father who strongly supported women’s rights and their equality with men. In 1912, she walked from Edinburgh to London with five other women, all of them wearing brown coats, which led to the quintet being known as the Brown Women. Along the way, they petitioned for women’s rights and gathered supporters’ signatures.

Five week march

“Preceded by their one-horse van which contained their luggage for the five weeks’ march and the valuable petitions for signatures, the little band of heroic women, dressed in neat brown costumes, with hats to match, arrived in Alnwick shortly after five o’clock on Friday evening,” said the Alnwick Mercury of 26 October 1912. They explained to the crowd who gathered to hear them that “they had come out with the object of stopping the white slave traffic, to abolish sweated labour, and to save the children. But until they got the vote they were powerless to help their sisters.”

They generated significant interest all along their journey, and the Newcastle Daily Chronicle of 23 November 1912 belatedly reported their departure from Newcastle “as they proceed on their walk of 400 miles from Edinburgh to London,” by which point their number had grown from the five who set off from the Scottish capital, to twelve. “In resuming the march they were headed by the Pipe Band of the Newcastle and Gateshead Veterans’ Association [and] followed by about forty local sympathisers under the banner of the Suffrage Societies’ Union.”

Popular campaign

Earlier in the month, on 8 November, the Daily Herald told how “when they arrived at Tuxford they found the Market Cross surrounded by shows, but the showman very kindly stopped his shows for an hour and allowed them to hold a meeting from one of his merry-go-rounds, and again many signed the petition [which they would deliver to the prime minister once they reached London]. A few days afterwards the same showman, who was taking his shows to Doncaster, met the women on the road, and told them they had gained the sympathy of all in Tuxford, no Suffrage meeting having previously been held there.”

Ignored by the Prime Minister

Unfortunately, when they reached Downing Street, the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, didn’t deign to meet the women, despite the considerable support they’d demonstrated existed within the country. Nonetheless, they handed over their petition to his secretary and emphasised that the signatures were collected only from those who had been at hand along the route of the march; it had not resulted from a thorough campaign across the country.

The law was changed in 1918 so some women over the age of 30 would be allowed to vote, but this still didn’t put them on an equal footing with men. It would take another 10 years until both men and women over the age of 21 could vote in elections. This resulted in the somewhat absurd situation in which Jennie Lee had been elected to Parliament, and could thus vote in debates in the House, even though she was still too young to vote in an election.

In subsequent years, Agnes Brown founded the Edinburgh Women Citizens Association and produced a large body of written work, while continuing to support the cause of women’s right to vote.



Other events that occured in December

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