Feminists of Hastings|
23 June 1888 ~ 1 Sept 1966
Suffragette and socialist
Mabel Henrietta Capper was born in Brook's Bar, an area within Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. A member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, she joined the militant suffragettes in Manchester at age 19 in 1907 and worked full-time as (in her words) ‘a voluntary soldier’ for the cause until 1913.
Between 1908 and 1912 she was imprisoned six times, went on hunger strike and was one of the first suffragettes to be forcibly fed.
Her father was Hon. Sec. of the Manchester branch of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage. Her brother,
William was born in 1890. (Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst was registrar of births and deaths for their area from 1898, a few years after Mabel and William were born.)
The family appears in the 1891 and 1901 census living at 21 Oxford Street, Chorlton on Medlock (now Picadilly, Manchester) and Mr Capper was working at home firstly as a drysalter and later as an oil and colour merchant so they probably lived above the shop. Mabel's mother, Elizabeth Jane nee Crews, was a member of the WSPU and was a census resister: her husband appears on the 1911 census at 21 Oxford Street, but she does not.
Mabel Capper's WSPU activities 1907–1913
From 1907 she worked as an Organiser for the Manchester Branch. In 1908 she was living in London and giving her address as 4 Clements Inn, the home of the Pethick Lawrences.
In October 1908 she took part in the rush on the House of Commons, together with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes. She appeared in the dock "wearing a costume composed entirely of the colours of the WSPU, together with a sash, waistbelt and hatband bearing the words Votes for Women."
She spent one month in Holloway Prison for refusing to pay the fine.
In July 1909 she, together with Mary Leigh, Emily Wilding Davison and others, was charged with assault and obstructing the police while disrupting a meeting addressed by David Lloyd George at the Edinburgh Castle pub,
Limehouse. She was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment. In July 1909 she went on hunger strike and was released after six days.
In August 1909 she was in Birmingham Police court with Mary Leigh and others charged with being disorderly, assaulting the police and breaking windows
at a meeting addressed by Prime Minister Asquith. She was remanded in Winson Green Prison.
In September 1909 she went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed at Winson Green Prison.
In September 1909 she was in Birmingham Police Court with Mary Leigh and others charged with assault on the police, breaking cell windows and disorderly conduct at a meeting addressed by Asquith at Bingley Hall Birmingham. She refused to pay the fine imposed and was imprisoned at Winson Green.
In November 1909, with others, she was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction at a meeting addressed by Asquith in Victoria Square, Birmingham.
The police asserted that she had mounted a statue of Queen Victoria and refused to comply with the Deputy Chief Constable's direction to come down.
In February 1910, together with Dora Marsden and Mary Gawthorpe, she brought charges of assault against three men.
The women alleged that the men: "well dressed hooligans", had attacked them at a polling station which they were picketing. However the charges were dismissed.
In November 1910, together with many others, she was in Bow Street Police Court on charges of smashing the windows of the Colonial Secretary in Berkeley Square.
She was described by the presiding magistrate as 'quite a child' (she was 22).
In November 1911 she was imprisoned for smashing Bath Post Office windows on the occasion of Lloyd George's visit there.
In March 1911, together with Emily Wilding Davison, she wrote to the Manchester Guardian concerning Churchill's refusal of an enquiry into the treatment of suffragettes by the police.
She stated that their complaints of mistreatment were 'dismissed as the "hysterical ravings of excited women".
In July 1912, together with Mary Leigh, Lizzie Baker and Gladys Evans, she was charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and malicious damage and to cause an explosion at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. The Theatre was the venue for a meeting of 4,000 Irish Nationalists to be addressed by PM Asquith. The Prime Minister was warmly received and, in his speech, he invited suggestions for incorporation in the draft Home Rule bill. Cries of 'Votes for Women' were followed the sound of an exploding handbag and a fire in the cinema projection room. It was reported that one of the defendants later threw a hatchet into the carriage containing the Premier. Capper was remanded in prison during the trial, however, the charges against her were ultimately withdrawn.
During World War I and afterwards
Following the declaration of war and the suspension of suffragette militancy, Mabel Capper joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment.
Later she became involved with the pacifist and socialist movements, and worked as a journalist for the Daily Herald .
In 1921, aged 33, she married the writer Cecil Chisholm, (the author of Retire and Enjoy It, a book that sold 20,000 copies). They were to have no children.
Her writing and her play
In 1908 Capper wrote to the Manchester Guardian to counter the objection to women's enfranchisement on the grounds that they would not be subject to conscription into the armed forces.
She wrote: "there is no reason in denying the rights of citizenship to women on these grounds. – When our men set out to battle they do not go alone. They are accompanied by an army of women, whose duty it is to tend those stricken in the fight. They endure the same hardships, undergo the same risks. Is their work less noble? Does the State owe them a lighter debt?"
A few years later this point was reinforced by the heroic work of Mabel Anne St Clair Stobart's Women's Convoy Corps and afterwards the Women's National Service League and Stobart's 1913 book War and Women.
In October 1912, her play 'The Betrothal of Number 13' was produced at the Royal Court Theatre. It concerned the stigma imposed by imprisonment, even on the innocent.
She maintained her interest in feminism and the lot of the underprivileged throughout her life. In 1963 she wrote of her friend Mary Gawthorpe's father and "what it meant to be born into a North Country working class family (in) the eighteen-eighties. – doomed by the caste system of (the) day to be a leather worker in an age when a stiff fight had to be made against competition from America."
In her 1963 review of Gawthorpe's book Up Hill to Holloway, Capper described how, in 1904, Mary was called to make her first speech entitled The Children under Socialism – "concerning the propriety of providing suitable food and clothing for poor children of the unemployed and needy during the winter"
It was a time of economic depression and, "from the Labour point of view, the aftermath of the South African War." Recruiting for that war "had afforded the usual discoveries of poor physiques, underfeeding and bad teeth." Capper noted that, by 1963 it was difficult to realise "how grudging was the welfare in those days. It all depended on a voluntary basis and funds were exhausted in that winter of 1905. By February a total of 323,414 dinners had been provided. – Strictest economy was necessary, and lentils, at about one halfpenny a meal, appear to have been the basic diet."
She moved to Windrush Cottage, Fairlight near Hastings in 1946. Her husband, who died in 1962, left £200 to Fairlight Village Hall.
In the last ten years of her life she was crippled by osteoarthritis and required full-time nursing care. Her brother lived nearby at 62 West Hill, St Leonards (he died in 1958).
She died at Leolyn Nursing home, 63 Pevensey Road, St Leonards, in 1966.
In the photo below, Mabel is in the centre of the picture, holding the bundle of documents.
Mabel Capper (centre)
Votes for Women 25th November 1910
Miss Capper's hunger strike and force-fed medals
Signed photo of Mabel in her WSPU days.
Thanks to Wikipedia.