Tag Archives: suffrage

Guest post: In search of a scientist – and a suffragist?

This guest post comes from Sue James, a History teacher at Sutton High School, Greater London, who has been researching the life and career of one of their former students, Alice Embleton. As well as attending Sutton High, Alice was one of the first women to study sciences at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. As part of our celebrations for International Women’s Day 2018, we’d like to share her story.


I came across Alice Embleton’s name quite by accident. It was on one of the honours boards here at Sutton High School, but this particular one had been covered over by a stage curtain. With the curtain pinned back on an inset day, Alice’s name was clear to see, and next to it was written: 1900 winner of the 1851 Exhibition Science Research Scholarship. Spurred on by the support of our Biology Department, and knowing that Alice may make an inspirational story for current students in an upcoming school science assembly, I started my research.

Honours board at Sutton High School

Our school magazines, which date from 1895, have been digitised so it was quite easy to make a start, and her name appeared a number of times in the early editions. Alice was cited as being at Aberystwyth University, but the archivist there told me that this was a mistake, and that she was at Cardiff instead.  I was not too surprised at the error, as the school register records that Alice had left Sutton High early, at the age of 15, due to ‘pecuniary reasons’. It is a measure of the academic prowess that Alice showed that the school followed her progress, even if they did not always get the details right.

The archivist at Cardiff University was also enthusiastic about Alice. She quickly found out that Alice was one of the first cohort of women studying for a science degree; there were 5 women and 16 men on her course between the years 1895 and 1899. Alice won scholarships which paid for the course, and graduated with a Baccalaureus in Scientia, first class.

Alice Embleton’s entry in Sutton High School’s admissions register.

This degree was just the start of Alice’s academic success. The archivist at Aberystwyth had affirmed that Alice was an interesting subject and she also pointed me in the direction of Welsh Newspapers Online. There were several references to Alice, and it became apparent that she had won a number of awards and scholarships in the scientific world. There were also references to her achievements being considered ‘firsts for a woman’, which made it very exciting. I knew I was on to a scientist of note, perhaps even a trailblazer.

Awarded in 1900, The Great Exhibition Science Research Scholarship granted Alice £150 a year for two years, unusually extended to three. She used the money to work at the Balfour laboratory at Newnham College, Cambridge, followed by a further period of study at the Sorbonne. She was the first foreigner and the first woman to study under Professor Marchal. In 1904, Alice won the Mackinnon studentship of the Royal Society for research into Biological Sciences, which was described as a ‘unique distinction for a woman’. There is also a reference to Alice being sub-editor of the Zoological Record, and working at the South Kensington Museum, before furthering her research in Scandinavia.

Alice’s focus, and the reason for all the awards, was her research into pesticides to help increase crop production. Welsh Newspapers Online pointed to Alice having a link to the prestigious Linnean Society in Burlington House in London.

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 26 June 1903, p. 5.

She was among the first women to be admitted to the society and, in 1911, became its first female speaker. Her paper was entitled: ‘Anatomy and Development of a Hymeropterous Parasite of a Scaly Insect (Lecanium Hemisphoericum)’. The archivist at the Linnean Society was very helpful and sent me copies of Alice’s correspondence with the Society, a link that lasted from 1905 until 1917, when she resigned.

At this point I had enough information for an assembly in honour of Alice, but there then appeared a twist in the story. The 1911 census showed that Alice was a visitor at the home of Alderman Charles Wray and his daughter Cecilia, in Fairfield House, Barnsley. Alice gave her occupation as working in cancer research, while Cecilia had described herself as ‘getting votes for women’. This had been crossed out, presumably by the enumerator, and replaced with ‘no occupation, private means’. The evidence seemed to indicate that Cecilia was a suffragist and provided the possibility that Alice was too. The L.S.E. Women’s Library has a photograph of a group of women entitled ‘Campaigners for Women’s Suffrage in Barnsley, January 20th1910’. An ‘A.J. Embleton’ is in the line-up with C. Wray. Although J is recorded  as a middle initial, rather than the L that appears in school records, it is reasonable to deduce that this is our Alice, especially as her connection with Cecilia was strong. The two appeared again in the 1939 census, and the Barnsley Chronicle of July 31st 1909 recorded a meeting of the Barnsley Women’s Suffrage Society, in which secretary Cecilia Wray presided over the passing of a resolution moved by ‘Miss Embleton’. Additionally, the L.S.E. has some correspondence between Celia Wray and Alick Embleton and Vera (Jack) Holme, the chauffeur of Emmeline Pankhurst, which strengthens the case for Alice being a suffragist.

Miss AJ Embleton, Miss O Royston, Miss C Wray, Miss M Fielden and Miss E Ford, photographed outside the offices of the Barnsley Chronicle, 20 January 1910.

How amazing that a hidden name on an honours board could lead to a tale of scientific excellence and a timely connection with women’s suffrage. Alice could have been a forgotten student, but instead she has become an inspiration and a personification of at least part of our school’s motto: ‘Fortiter, Fideliter, Feliciter’ (bravely, faithfully, happily). She did feature in the science assembly, and there is now a proposal to rename the school biology prize, ‘The Alice Embleton Biology Prize’.


Cardiff Women’s Suffrage Society banner comes home


Copyright: Local Studies, Cardiff Public Library

On Saturday 13 June 1908, the newly-formed Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society were returning from a mass demonstration in London to demand equal voting rights. On the journey back to Cardiff, their coach was intercepted by police. The vehicle was searched, and all propaganda material was confiscated and set alight in a nearby field.

One item escaped the fire – a large canvas banner, featuring a hand-stitched red dragon motif and the Society’s name. One of the suffragists, Irene Protheroe, concealed the item from police in her clothing, and brought it back to Cardiff in one piece.

Special Collections and Archives was recently contacted by Irene’s granddaughter, now living in London. She told us that a women’s suffrage banner had been passed down through her family. She knew that it had been taken to London and back for a march, and saved from destruction, but had no more specific details. Seeking a safe home for its long-term preservation, Irene made a final London-to-Cardiff trip with the banner, and kindly agreed to donate this very special piece of Cardiff’s history to the archives.

Seeking further information on the march mentioned by the donor, we enlisted the help of Beth Jenkins, PhD candidate in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion. Her research examines women’s professional employment in 19th and 20th century Wales. She immediately recognised the banner from photographs of the 1908 march, which have been reproduced here with the kind permission of Local Studies, Cardiff Public Library. Below, Beth summarises her research on the details of the march and its wider context.


In June 1908, over 10,000 women marched from Embankment to the Royal Albert Hall, where a large meeting took place. The procession was organised by the ‘constitutional’ wing of the women’s suffrage movement and led by Millicent Fawcett, leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. It included women from all classes, parties, and areas of Britain. Provincial detachments marched behind the leaders in alphabetical order. Each contingent carried a banner made for the march by local branch members, or designed by the Artists’ League for Women’s Suffrage. These banners used regional or national emblems: a leek for Llandudno and a dragon for Cardiff.


Copyright: Local Studies, Cardiff Public Library

The years preceding the First World War were the pinnacle of activity in the struggle for women’s parliamentary franchise, and campaigners used both constitutional and militant means to promote their cause. Banners were an important element of the spectacle in the suffrage marches and helped to distinguish groups – even though contemporaries did not always do so. The participants of this march displayed their non-militancy in the colours they wore: the red, white and green of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, rather than the purple, white and green which would be used by the Women’s Social and Political Union in their Hyde Park rally the following week. Participants with degrees also wore their academic robes to demonstrate the respectability of their supporters and women’s suitability for citizenship.

Formed in June 1908, this march would have been one of the Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society’s inaugural activities. The society began with a membership of 70, and rapidly grew until it became the largest branch outside of London in 1912-13. Its membership peaked at 1,200 on the outbreak of the First World War.

The branch’s co-founder was Millicent Mackenzie, Professor of Education at the University (formerly the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire). Mackenzie became the first female professor in Wales and the first female professor in the United Kingdom appointed to a fully chartered university in 1910. She also stood as the only female parliamentary candidate in Wales in 1918 – the first election in which women could vote, and be voted for.

Following the Representation of the People Act in 1918, the Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society reconstituted itself as a Women Citizens’ Association, and continued to campaign for women’s franchise on the same terms as men. This was eventually achieved in 1928.


Back in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Professor Bill Jones brought his Culture, Society and Identity in Wales 1847-1914 undergraduates into Special Collections to see the banner. The impact was palpable: following a stunned silence, the group broke out into discussion: how was it made, who would have carried it, what did they talk about while it was being sewn, how far through the sewing were they before they realised that the dragon was facing the wrong way…? Some questions will never be answered, but thanks to the University’s research community, we now know much more about the history of this important item.

Lunchtime workshops: women’s history and gender studies

Special Collections and Archives’ series of lunchtime workshops continues in December with sessions on women’s history and gender studies sources. The workshops are intended to raise awareness of the breadth of material available to support research in this area, and as a general introduction to using Special Collections and Archives.

The second workshop on women’s history sources will be led by Assistant Archivist, Alison Harvey. Topics will include: biography; children’s literature; conduct/advice manuals; crime; diaries and autobiographies; education; fashion; health and medicine; international affairs; journals and magazines; literature and journalism; music; newspapers; politics, suffrage and the labour movement; travel; University history; witchcraft; and women’s societies.

Workshops will be held in Special Collections and Archives, on the lower ground floor of the Arts and Social Studies Library, Corbett Road, Cardiff. The women’s history workshop is scheduled for 12-1pm on Thursday 6 December, and will be repeated at 1-2pm on Friday 7 December.

Workshops are open to all, but places are limited, so if you would like to attend either session, please email HarveyAE@cf.ac.uk, stating your preferred time.