Time as a Suffragette

Selina became a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) at the time of the Prime Minister, Mr Asquith's meeting in the Drill Hall in Lancaster, in January 1908, just 500 yards away from where she lived on Sun Street.  The WSPU became known as ‘suffragettes’  to help distinguish their militant protests from more peaceful suffragists.

Tuesday 13th October 1908 was the day when the suffragettes rushed parliament, when over 60,000 people rallied in Parliament Square and groups of suffragettes tried to force their way past police lines. Thirty-seven people were arrested, including Selina. She was found on a wall near the Houses of Parliament. She refused to accept the conditions of her bail to keep the peace, and was sentenced to one month. Miss M.A Redhead, also from Lancaster, recieved a sentence of two months at the same time. While awaiting removal to Holloway, Selina sent the following letter to her parents:

"Dear Mother, 

We are sitting in the prisoners' waiting room. Mrs and Miss Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond are being tried, but we do not know how they are going on. Mary A and I had a splendid time last night. We had the unemployed with us all the time. We, with two others, were told off on the other side, and just walked about till it got 7.45 p.m, and wherever we went the people went with us, shouting for the women.

Holloway cell (sketched by Katie Gliddon, 1912)
But we kept them quiet till then. Then I turned round to face the police, and said 'Boys, they've refused your deputation; now we want you to take us to the House and defy the police and carry us through? Well, we got a good way among the horse and foot police, but, of course, I knew we'd be driven back eventually. But I led two ugly rushers. Then we turned up the Horse Guard's Avenue, and I called on our supporters not to let us be arrested; and I gave a speech off as well. The mounted police turned round the corner, so I asked them were they going to be ridden down like dust or be men and drive the police back, and we had about four thousand with us, you can understand how they would shift the police a bit. Mary A. got crushed between the wall and a horse; but the lot around me never let the police come near me, only when we got ridden down, and I was under the horses many a time. Eventually after holding two more meetings in the street I got tired and surrendered; but even then they had to make a barricade around me of horse and foot, for the crowd intended to rescue me. Two men got locked up at the same time, and Mary A. was not long after. The leaders were remanded a week, and I have got a month, and I think Mary A. has got two months. "

Whilst in Holloway, she spent her time making shirts and knitting stockings for the male prisoners. The prison bell woke her at 5.30 and they had to rise at 6am. Breakfast consisted of a small cob of brown bread, supposed to weigh 6oz, and a pint of gruel. At 7.45, she was marched off to chapel. After the service the doctor, chaplain and governor visisted the prisoners, and they had to exericise and work before dinner. For two days they were supplied with 4oz of meat and a 6oz loaf. Other days they had very thin soup twice and porridge or 2oz of fat boiled bacon, but Selina as a vegetarian recieved a pint of milk and a hard boiled egg.  At 5p.m., they continued tea and supper, having either bread and cocoa, or bread and gruel. They were to be in bed by 8pm. 

She was released after a month, along with Ada Wright, Clara Codd, Mabel Capper  and Aeta Lamb. She may have been imprisoned with Emmeline Pankhurst. They were met by a large number of friends, and driven in a decorated carriage to the inns of Court Hotel. She returned to Lancaster the day after. The Lancaster Guardian said that she was rather pale after this experience, but was still 'militant' and ready to do another term if the cause required it. Selina said of this experience that 'if she had not gone to Holloway, her mother would have gone, and she could not bear to lose her or allow her to suffer the ill-effects of imprisonment.' 

Selina's next brush with the law came four months later in March 1909, when she was arrested again at the Houses of Parliament. This time, she was released on bail and charged with obstruction, along with Norah Binnie, London ; Winifred Reinold. London; Ada Braughton, Liverpool; Mary Wiseman, Manchester; Cecilia Hilton, Liverpool; Florence Feek, Pershore ; Catherine Streatfield, Sydenham; Louisa Mary Eates, Willesden. Refusing to be bound over, each defendant was ordered to find one surety in £10 for three months, or to go to prison for one month in the second division. They all elected to go to prison.

On 17th September  1909, Selina assaulted the police and a citizen during a protest in Birmingham when the Prime Minister was speaking in the Bingley Hall. When arrested, she gave her name as Mary Edwards, from Birmingham, probably because she was still bound over from her previous crime. She was imprisoned for six weeks at Winson Green Gaol. At her trial, she said: "I had the opportunity, had I chosen to take it, of seriously injuring Mr Asquith. I am now sorry I did not do so. As he will not listen to words, I think it is time that blows should be struck. In spite of the fact that the police surrounded him, I was two yards from him. I had axe and pen-knife, and I did not use them on his motor car." 

One of her first acts in prison was to remove her shoe and demolish with it all the glass and breakables within reach, as a protest against bad ventilation. Because of this, her hands were handcuffed behind her back, but she managed to escape from them. A smaller pair of handcuffs were then used, but she managed to slip these off as well, although they pinched her wrists and gave her considerable pain. Another pair of handcuffs were then used, which stopped the circulation of the blood, causing Selina to roll on the floor in agony and become almost unconscious. Her wrists were badly bruised and swollen. Selina also adopted the new tactic of the suffragettes - the hunger strike. 

Selina said of her experience: "I have never had such a rotten time in my life as I've had then, first in handcuffs, flung into a cell, and left with great hairy spiders for company. Then dragged out there with aching arms and shoulders, wrists and hands all bruised and swollen with tight iron bands, forced into a chair, tied down. This after three days' fast! A swarm of women to hold me, and two men called doctors tearing at my jaw to force my mouth open at the same time half suffocating me by holding my nose. Then after a long struggle during which they douched me with eau de cologne to keep me conscious, they passed a nasal tube on me. As both doctors were amateurs in the use of it, you'll probably have a little idea as to what pain it would cause. Then I was put to bed, on a mattress with lumps in it like Clough's Pike, on the floor. That and the bed clothes constituted the furniture of my brick vault, by courtesy a cell. Then it was found that to keep heat in me, hot water bottles had to be applied. Despite this, I was never warm from entering the prison till I left." 

She also stated that her mouth was pulled from ear to ear at midday for a fortnight in an attempt to pour a spoonful of beef extract down her throat, but they came to the conclusion that it was taking too much of her strength and just fed her morning and night. The Birmingham WSPU did what they could to capitalize on the prison's notoriety: parades were organised to march around outside and the women sang to offer encouragement to the inmates.

She was released on 2 November 1909, and was taken to a nursing home on Harbourne Road in Birmingham in a weak and exhausted state. She had been forcibly fed by means of a nasal tube during the whole time she had been in prison. She stayed in the nursing home for at least two weeks. She described herself as 'so thin you can hang clothes on some of the points I have developed by fasting in gaol.' 

Six weeks later, she was in trouble once again, and this time gained a lot of publicity for women's suffrage. On 20 December 1909, Selina, along with Leslie Hall, approached the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith as he was leaving his motor car, and tackled him on the subject of women's rights. He didn't answer the ladies, prompting Selina to throw an empty ginger beer bottle into the empty car. Some sources say that she smashed the windows of the car.

Both women were at once arrested, and were afterwards remanded in custody for six days. Bail was refused, though Selina promised that both she and Leslie would refrain from militant action until their trial. The women were removed to Walton Gaol, and were there treated as though they were convicted criminals. They protested by hunger striking. Selina also barricaded her cell, but the officials forced their way in, pulled her off the bed and flung her on the floor, shaking and striking her unmercifully.

Shortly afterwards her cell was visited by the deputy medical officer, who ordered that she should get up and dress. She explained that she had been wet through by the snow storm on the previous day and that her clothes were still saturated, for no attempt had been made to get them dry, but she was forcibly dressed and, with her hands handcuffed behind her, was dragged to a cold, dark punishment cell and flung on the stone floor. She lay there in an exhausted state for some hours, being unable to rise without the aid of her hands and arms, which were still fastened behind her back, until, at last, a wardress came in and lifted her onto the bed board. The irons were kept on all night.

On Friday, the third day of her imprisonment, Selina was brought up before the visiting magistrates. She protested against the way in which she was being treated, pointing out that she was still an unconvicted prisoner, but she was told that the officials were quite justified in all that they might do. The same evening several wardresses entered her cell and ordered her to go to the doctor's room to be forcibly fed. "I refused," she says, "and was dragged to the foot of the stairs with my hands handcuffed behind. Then I was frog-marched, that is to say, carried face downwards by the arms and legs to the Doctor's room. After a violent struggle I was forced into a chair, the handcuffs removed, my arms being held by the wardresses, whilst the doctor forcibly fed me by that obnoxious instrument, the stomach tube. Most unnecessary force was used by the assistant medical officer when applying the gag. The operation finished, I walked handcuffed to the top of the stairs but refused to return to the punishment cell. Then two wardresses caught me by the shoulders and dragged me down the steps, another kicking me from behind. As I reached the bottom step they relaxed their hold and I fell on my head. I was picked up and carried to the cell." 

Next day she was forcibly fed and afterwards again refused to return to the dark cell, but she says, " I was seized by a number of wardresses and carried down the steps, my head being allowed to bump several times."

On Monday, December 27, the women were again brought into court, when Leslie Hall was ordered one month's imprisonment with hard labour, and Selina two months. On returning to prison both the women refused to wear prison dress and recommenced the hunger strike. Each one was then clothed in a straight jacket and placed in a punishment cell. Forcible feeding was continued and they both grew rapidly weaker until February 3, when they were released. Emmeline Pankhurst had spent a morning with her and Elsie Howey. "Selina Martin's story is a dreadful one. They are both much shaken by the horrible experience."

As of yet, there seems to be no trace of Selina during any WSPU action after early 1910.

No comments:

Post a Comment