Fighting for our rights

February 23 2018

To celebrate 100 years since women were granted the vote, Jane Duffus has written a book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here we look at some with a Bishopston connection.

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To celebrate 100 years since women were granted the vote, Jane Duffus has written a book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here we look at some with a Bishopston connection.

 

IN Bristol, you can’t move for references to the men who helped to shape our city… but what about the women? 

When all but one of the statues in the city feature men (and the solitary female statue is of a goddess, not even a human woman!) and there are some history books about Bristol that barely even mention women, you would be forgiven for thinking there were no notable females in Bristol’s past. But you’d be wrong!

“Which is why in The Women Who Built Bristol, I have compiled a compendium of 250 wonderful women who helped to shape the city we know and love today,” said Jane.

 “ From the better known names such as reformer Mary Carpenter and suffragette Annie Kenney, to the more obscure such as fruit seller Jane Martin and haematologist Janet Vaughan… I’ve tried to leave no stone unturned in my quest to represent women from all walks of life who contributed something - no matter how small - to the Bristol we live in today.

“In Bishopston, you should be proud of Bertha Ayles, a suffragist and trade unionist who moved to Bristol with her Labour MP husband Walter in 1910. Their former home at 12 Station Road is now acknowledged with a blue plaque.”

On arrival in Bristol, Bertha and Walter wasted no time in getting involved in the city’s socialist scene. Bertha became a Part-Time Organiser, and Walter became Secretary, of the Bristol Independent Labour Party (ILP), and together they ensured that the ILP and the Women’s Labour League (WLL) had women’s suffrage at the top of their agendas. The WLL had been rather slow on the uptake regarding women’s suffrage until Bertha arrived in Bristol, but once in the city she worked hard to engage working women and trades unions in the suffrage campaign.

Thanks to trades unionist Annie Townley coming to Bristol in 1913 and her work with the East Bristol Women’s Suffrage Society, Bertha and Walter finally had a focus for the WLL’s suffrage energies. East Bristol was a key area because at that time the sitting MP was the Liberal Charles Hobhouse who was strongly opposed to women’s suffrage and the ILP worked hard to try and oust him. Mabel Tothill, who had worked with Bertha and Walter at the Barton Hill University Settlement, already had strong links to East Bristol and stood in opposition to Hobhouse.

As soon as Walter had established his plans for a socialist local council in Bristol, Bertha wasted no time in organising a South West one-day conference to try and improve housing conditions for dockers and factory workers. This was followed by a women’s public meeting the same evening, where Bertha spoke on the subject of municipal lodging houses for women.

For the full story on Bertha, and all 250 women profiled in the book, snap up a copy of ‘The Women Who Built Bristol’ from bristolwomensvoice.bigcartel.com. All profits go straight to the charity Bristol Women’s Voice and to better benefit the charity please buy direct.