Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Newspaper notice advertising Glasgow meeting of the United Suffragists, 28 Oct 1915

image from Red Clydeside collection

In the years leading up to the First World War many suffragists had gradually been expelled from the WSPU, usually for criticising the dictatorial style of the Pankhurst sisters within the WSPU. Many formed new groups like the Women's Freedom League, the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and the United Suffragists. Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, expelled by Emeline Pankhurst for disagreeing with plans for a WSPU fire bomb campaign, had founded the United Suffragists in 1914.

Helen Crawfurd joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1910, fully endorsing the militant tactics adopted by the WSPU leadership towards securing the vote for women. Helen herself became active in militant politics in 1912, breaking the windows of the Liberal Minister of Education's residence in central London. This episode proved to be the beginning of Helen's career as a militant suffragette and in 1913 she was arrested for attacking police officers who were attempting to arrest the suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst at a public meeting in St. Andrews Halls in Glasgow. Although released later that night without charge, Helen was promptly re-arrested the following night for smashing the windows of the army recruiting offices in Glasgow, and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment in Duke Street prison in Glasgow.

On her release Helen remained undaunted by her prison ordeal and continued to campaign for women's suffrage, becoming one of the most popular platform speakers in the Scottish suffragette movement. Helen was again arrested twice in the summer of 1914, firstly for making inflammatory comments, then, more seriously, with mounting a bomb attack on the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow's West End. Helen received a prison sentence of two years but as before went on hunger strike, her third in less than two years, and was once more released under the conditions of the 'Cat and Mouse Act'. Helen's involvement in the WSPU ceased shortly after the outbreak of the first world war because of the pro-war stance of Emily Pankhurst and the WSPU leadership.

Source: Gallacher Memorial Library, Glasgow Caledonian University Special Collections and Archives