International Women’s Day: West Sussex Women and the Centenary of Suffrage

Between the centenary of the Representation of the People Act on 6th Feb 2018, which granted the first women the right to vote, and International Women’s Day on 8th March, we have been using Twitter and Instagram to share some of the notable West Sussex women involved in the campaign for suffrage. Using the tag you can follow our ongoing effort to highlight the roles of women with links to our county in the fight for political and societal equality. Here we have collected together some of the individuals that we have included in our series, those who stood up during a period when society actively  discouraged and barred them from doing so. Some may be instantly recognizable names, others lesser-known, but all equally instrumental in the fight for women’s suffrage.

Jane Cobden (1851-1947)Cobden MS 802 - Jane Cobden Unwin

Jane Cobden of Heyshott was a Liberal politician, National Society for Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Franchise League member, supporter of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, and the first women elected to the inaugural London County Council. Find out more about the Cobden archive held at the Record Office in a previous blog post.

Lady Gertrude Denman (1884-1954) Lady Denman - Garland N22143


Lady Gertrude Denman, originally from Cowdray, established the HQ of the Women’s Land Army at her home in Balcombe when she was Director in WW2. She was also elected to the Executive of the Women’s Liberal Federation, was the first President of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, first Chairman of the Family Planning Association, President of the Ladies Golf Union, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Land Settlement Association. Find out more about Lady Denman in last year’s International Women’s Day post.

Ellen Chapman Obit picEllen Chapman (1857-1925)


Chapman was the first woman to serve on a town council in West Sussex, and to be elected to WSCC Council. She was also Worthing’s first women Alderman, the first woman president of the Worthing Boy Scout’s Association, and the first woman magistrate. She also founded the Worthing Women’s Franchise Society (WWFS), a branch of Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s law-abiding National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), and was Chairman of the Worthing branch of the West Sussex Women’s Agricultural Committee.

Evelyn Cecil (1884-1947)

The Hon Evelyn Gladys Cecil was the second female Evelyn Cecil Bognor Obs 26 Feb 1919WSCC Councillor. Cecil was elected for the St John’s Ward at Bognor in March 1919 with 522 votes, defeating Mr H L Staffurth, who had held the seat for 6 years, who received 185 votes. Mrs Cecil was married in 1910 to Hon W Amherst Cecil, an officer in the Grenadier Guards who was killed in action in 1914 after being awarded the Military Cross.

Mary Neal croppedMary Neal (1860-1944)

Social reformer and collector of English Folk dance, Neal founded the Esperance Girls Club, a dressmaking cooperative, and established the Green Lady Hotel in Littlehampton as a holiday home for female workers. She also formed the Association for the Revival and Practice of Folk Music. Mary Neal took the minutes at the inaugural meeting of the WSPU, held at the home of Sylvia Pankhurst, and later served on its committee. Her services to the English folk song and dance movement led to her being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1937.Eleanor Higginson

Eleanor Higginson (1881-1969)

Eleanor Higginson was arrested for window-smashing and imprisoned at Holloway Prison, where she undertook a hunger strike. The photograph of her resisting arrest became a well-known image of the militant Suffragettes. After the war she became a magistrate and lived with another Suffragette, Beth Hesmondhalgh in Bognor.


Florence De FFlorence De Fonblanque (1864-1949)


Suffragette, member of NUWSS and WSPU, she organised the famous Edinburgh to London march. Served on the committee of the West Sussex Branch of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association. Founded the Qui Vive Corps of Suffragists, who’s headquarters were 60 High Street Horsham. They once marched to Turners Hill and took tea with Viscountes Cowdray.


Anne Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926)Anne Cobden Sanderson


Anne Cobden-Sanderson, of Heyshott, founded the Doves Press, and was a member of the Labour Party, gave a course of lectures in 1880s on ‘Openings for Women’. Anne joined the WSPU, WFL, and co-founded the TRL, and led the famous Black Friday March. She was arrested 3 times, and as the daughter of an eminent statesman, brought huge publicity to the suffrage movement.

Lady (Elizabeth) Maud Parry (1878-1959) 


Lady Parry, who’s husband wrote the music to William Blake’s Jerusalem which later became the Women Voter’s Hymn, led the Littlehampton Suffragist parade in July 1913, Lady Maud Parry leading Suffrage march in Littlehamptonand chaired the Littlehampton NUWSS meeting in April 1918 at which Millicent Garret Fawcett spoke. Chairing the meeting, Lady Maud Parry argued that although some people may say there was nothing else to do, they were only just beginning. Find out more about Lady Maud Parry’s involvement in the suffrage movement in a previous blog post by Local Studies Librarian, Amy Perry.

Throughout Women’s History Month, we are running an exhibition at the Record Office displaying original material relating to the fight for women’s suffrage in West Sussex. This also includes some records of the Anti-Women’s Suffrage League, as well as those individuals and organisations supporting the cause.


In addition to the exhibition space, in the public searchroom you will find a display of Black Cat cigarette cards depicting the various roles of women during WW1. The cards, which have been temporarily and generously loaned to the Record Office, present a fascinating contemporary view of the changing roles of women in society, and the impact of war work on both sexes.

Cigarette cardsJOINED

If you would like to find out more about the women of West Sussex and their roles in the fight for political equality, come along to my talk in November, ‘West Sussex Women: A Centenary of Suffrage’. More information regarding tickets, and other upcoming events at the Record Office can be found on our website.

Lauren Clifton

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