Feature Articles - The Life of Evelina Haverfield - The Women's Suffrage Movement
Evelina was active in the women's suffrage movement for many years, first joining the moderate suffragists who patiently pursued legal avenues open to them, and later the militant suffragettes who got the public's attention by waging war on the government.
She participated with the militants for about four years, and took part in a number of street battles with the London police, one major court battle, and a giant street parade. During those years she was arrested, imprisoned, and fined a number of times for obstructing and assaulting the police, and for leading the police horses out of their ranks.
If she believed in a cause, she would support it with unstinted effort.
She was involved in a legal attempt to effect a meeting with Prime Minister Asquith on June 29,1909. This event became known as the Bill of Rights March because Mrs. Pankhurst, leader of the militant suffragettes, led a deputation of eight well-known and respected ladies in an effort to reach the House of Commons.
Each lady carried a copy of a petition based on an ancient Bill of Rights statute. Evelina was one of this group. They were followed by a large number of other suffragettes each carrying a copy of the petition.
All were blocked by the police from entry in to the House of Commons. In the subsequent confrontation with the police, more than one hundred women, including all of Mrs. Pankhurst's group, were arrested and removed to the police station.
They all appeared in Police Court the following morning. Mrs. Pankhurst and Evelina were put in the dock together, and were treated as a test case for the dozens of others arrested. Evelina was defended by Counsel who claimed that she had been wrongfully arrested in the exercise of a constitutional right.
Because of the strength of her defence, the Government felt some uncertainty on this point of law, and delayed their reply. In the end, the Government fined both women, but the case brought to a wider public's attention the prejudice of the Asquith administration, and the justice of the women's petition.
The following December, Evelina presided at a suffragette public meeting
in Yeovil, Somerset. When she opened the meeting there were about one
hundred people present, but outside the hall there were hundreds more
trying to get in. When she rose to speak, she was greeted with singing and the noise of rattles.
She made a few opening remarks against continual interruption, finishing with "we are not even asking for women to sit in Parliament". This evoked an uproar, and a voice from the back shouted, "we have enough old women there now".
The speaker who followed Evelina endured booing, catcalls, the singing of popular songs, and laughter interspersed with fireworks explosions. The surging crowds outside rushed the doors, and the efforts of the police were quite futile to stop their entry.
Like wild animals they poured in to the hall which became crowded almost to suffocation. Someone hoisted a card on a pole bearing the words "blokes for women" and this caused considerable merriment. Several spectators began throwing pieces of coal, apples, and bundles of wet paper at the suffragettes on the platform, but they skilfully dodged the missiles.
As the situation worsened, some women in the audience left the meeting, and others moved on to the platform for safety. An element in the audience who were trying to turn the meeting into a complete riot, attempted to storm the platform where there were several men trying to protect the suffragettes from personal injury.
In the chaos that ensued, several chairs were broken and those on the platform had to beat back the hooligans with sticks. Several times, those around her appealed to Evelina to close the meeting. Each time she adamantly refused, determined to carry on. Fortunately, the police intervened, quickly cleared the platform, and closed the meeting. Because of the potentially dangerous situation which resulted, the police had to escort the suffragettes to their lodgings.
In June 1910 the suffragettes staged an enormous parade in London; 10,000 women marched from the West End to the Albert Hall. The demonstration was in support of the Women's Suffrage Bill which had been introduced in the House of Commons only the previous week.
All the London papers reported details of the two-mile long procession, most with pictures. These included two mounted marshals smartly attired in close-fitting habits and top hats, riding astride. One of them was Evelina.
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