Hastings & St Leonards had attracted a lot of wealthy widows and spinsters in the 19th century. When women's struggle for the vote became a popular movement between 1905 and 1914, many of them joined the various women's rights organisations.

Hastings residents Barbara Leigh Smith and Bessie Rayner Parkes played a large part in beginning a movement in the 1860s to obtain the parliamentary vote for women. After forty years of using the correct and proper, peaceful means to get the law changed, the patience of many women had run out, and sheer frustration with the system led them to turn militant and use violent means to get their demands heard. During the early 20th century campaign for votes for women, the national leaders of suffrage societies held rallies in Hastings and St Leonards, which were later the scene of two riots and a devastating arson attack which destroyed an MP's house. Later, the famous suffragist Muriel Matters stood for election to Parliament here (and later died here); and the infamous suffragette Mary 'Slasher' Richardson retired to Hastings, where she lived in anonymity until 1961.

Suffragettes fight with police, 1910.        A badge of the militants.

In 1866, Hastings resident Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon had drafted and promoted a petition for votes for women, thus sowing the seeds of a nationwide movement for votes for women.

Over the next forty years, suffrage groups sprung up all over the country. The first in Hastings & St Leonards was the London National Society, which was began in the 1870s-80s and later came under the umbrella of the NUWSS. There was also a Hastings Association for the Promotion of Women's Rights which, in 1876, presented MP Thomas Brassey with a suffrage petition, which he took to Parliament. In 1890 Brassey married Sybil De Vere Capell and, as Earl and Countess Brassey, they later became NUWSS activists.

Around 1908 a branch of the militant suffragettes, the WSPU, was established. There were also branches of the Tax Resistance League, the Free Church League for Women's Suffrage (Chairman: Mrs Jane E. Strickland), the Catholic Women's Suffrage League (Secretary: Miss Isabel Willis), the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, the Women's Suffrage Propaganda League (secretary: Mrs Eliza Darent Harrison)and the Women's Freedom League.

The societies in Hastings were very active: each held weekly meetings plus ad hoc talks and lectures. Plays, films and church services were attended and sometimes interrupted.

Open air meetings were held in Wellington Square and on the beach in front of the De Luxe Cinema, Pelham Place. Public rallies with famous national speakers drew huge crowds to the Public and Metropole halls. There were poster-parades, processions, and self-denial weeks to raise funds. Women chalked the pavements to advertise forthcoming events and sold copies of The Suffragette and Votes for Women in the streets. Some very prominent local people and clergy lent their support.

A meeting in Havelock Road, Hastings, turned into an anti-suffrage riot!

When Mary Sophia Allen took over the Hastings branch in 1912 she had already achieved national fame (or notoriety). She introduced herself to local suffragettes by giving a talk at the WSPU at 8 Trinity Street describing her window smashing raids on Government buildings in London and Bristol, three terms of imprisonment, her hunger strike and force-feeding.

In February 1918 female householders aged over 30 were granted the vote, 62 years after Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon's petition.

Two post-suffrage items of local interest are included on this site: former suffragette Muriel Matters ran for election as Hastings' MP in 1924, and the notorious militant suffragette Mary 'Slasher' Richardson retired to Hastings and died here in 1961.

Barbara Bodichon

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Marianne North

Dr Sophia Jex Blake

Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Eiloart

Dr Anna Kingsford

Eliza Harrison

Jane Strickland

Elsie Bowerman

Mary Allen

Muriel Matters

Mary Richardson

Dora Montefiore

Mabel Capper

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