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.
In autumn 1907 Caroline Phillips led a contingent of Aberdeen women in a grand procession of all suffrage societies through Edinburgh to demand the vote for women. While some women walked, the majority were in carriages and char-a-bancs, festooned in banners. The distinguishing colours of the procession were white and red, with marchers wearing rosettes, sashes, badges and armbands and carrying bannerettes. The afternoon was sunny, but with a stiff breeze, which caused problems for those ladies wearing fashionably large hats.