Caroline Phillips seems to have fallen out of favour with the WSPU leadership by 1909, and her various suggestions of meetings and other events were ignored or dismissed. Instead, Christabel Pankhurst wrote complaining that not enough Aberdeen suffragettes were travelling down to London to take part in militant operations such as the smashing of glass windows.
Nonetheless it seems to have been a total shock when Phillips received a telegram on 5 January 1909 that stated that Sylvia Pankhurst was being sent to Aberdeen to take charge of the WSPU branch.
Caroline Phillips’ association with the suffragettes ended soon after Sylvia Pankhurst arrived in Aberdeen. A letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to all branch members made it clear that the local branch, with its claims to independence, was to be closed and all members would now be directly enrolled in the national organisation, and organised from headquarters. A new office was to be set up and a new organiser appointed. While there was a final sentence applauding the ‘excellent work already done by the local workers’ Caroline Phillips was not mentioned by name.
As we come to the end of 2017, and the start of 2018, the excitement surrounding the centenary of women achieving the vote is ramping up. I give you the Christmas decoration of the year - the suffragette. Available from the National Portrait Gallery.
We had a fantastic event for school pupils studying Higher History here at RGU last Wednesday. Many thanks in particular to Karen Shaw, the project administrator, and some of my fourth-year students, who dressed up as suffragettes in order to help with the organisation.
Some of the comments from schools who participated:
"We found the lecture very interesting, it was particular insightful to find out about the role of Suffragettes in Scotland and in the North East as that is not something that is covered in the Higher textbooks. We will certainly be using the knowledge we learnt and the book during the Assignment section of the Higher course work and it will also be beneficial for them during exam preparations too."
"All my pupils enjoyed the talk and said that it made the history ‘more real’, one pupil commented that she thought history happened in other places, not in Aberdeen. The presentation also helped those who had chosen to study the Votes for Women topic for their Assignment. It was also a lovely detail to have helpers dressed as Suffragettes."
It was a full house at the Aberdeen central library last week for the launch of our exhibition and the book about Caroline Phillips. In fact, the event was so overbooked that I have agreed to do another talk there in February.
Lots of good audience questions at the end, and connections made to some of the campaigns on women's issues that are happening now.
Here is a great article from the Orkney News about my talk at the library there. The journalist must have been very fast at shorthand to get all this detail!
I had a wonderful time at Orkney library on 30th October, talking to a packed room about the Scottish suffragettes. I also got a tour of the library and saw all the stars of the Library's excellent social media feeds - including the Wooden Woman, who I dressed up in appropriately suffragette style.
The Aberdeen WSPU branch appeared to be riding high, with flattering attention from key members of the national leadership; and well-attended and controversial events. However, for Caroline Phillips, this was probably the high-point of her association with the WSPU.
The first indication of the trouble to come was a letter from Helen Fraser in August 1908 explaining that she had been removed from her role as organiser of the Scottish WSPU branches after she had criticised the growing militancy of the Pankhursts. Lamenting that she could no longer work together with Phillips, Fraser described how ill she had been after her dismissal and how she had now agreed to work for the constitutional NUWSS and had been ‘caravanning for the cause’ during the summer months of 1908.
Caroline Phillips’ loyalty led to a series of high-profile visits to Aberdeen by WSPU leaders such as Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst. Many of these were in connection to appearances in the city by Herbert Henry Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a vehement anti-suffragist.
In December 1907 Asquith addressed a meeting of the local Liberal party at the Music Hall in Union Street, which was disrupted by the suffragettes, led by Mrs Pankhurst. Caroline Phillips wrote in celebration to the Aberdeen newspapers. However, behind the scenes she had actually tried to do a deal with the Women’s Liberal Association to leave Asquith alone. Believing that all women would be banned from the Music Hall for fear of a suffragette attack, Caroline Phillips privately contacted the leaders of the WLA and promised that there would be no militant action. She argued with WSPU headquarters that the Aberdeen branch needed independence and that local conditions needed to be taken into consideration. In response, Mrs Pankhurst wrote that she was coming to the city to lead the attack.
Despite the apparent harmony of the grand procession in Edinburgh, however, there was a split in the suffragette ranks. Some WSPU members, such as Teresa Billington-Greig, became increasingly concerned about the perceived autocratic domination of the organisation by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. In contrast, the Pankhursts and their supporters felt the necessity for a tighter operation in order to fight a militant campaign for the vote with no time to debate every decision with rank-and-file members.
Matters came to a head in autumn 1907 and 70 WSPU members left to form a new group called the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). Because of the high profile that Teresa Billington-Grieg and other leaders of the WFL had in Scotland, many of those that they had introduced into the movement now moved organisation. From the WFL materials in the archive we can tell that Caroline Phillips was tempted to join the WFL, but stayed loyal to the Pankhursts.