The Leeds suffragettes who valiantly fought for women’s right to vote

Leonora Cohen and Mary Gawthorpe were both advocates of the suffrage movement and their lifelong effort for rights and opportunities for women are still remembered toda
Leonora Cohen and Mary Gawthorpe were both advocates of the suffrage movement and their lifelong effort for rights and opportunities for women are still remembered toda
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This year marks 100 years since some women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote. For suffragettes, suffragists and other women’s rights campaigners, this was a huge leap forward in the bid for equal rights and opportunities for women.

Women around the country joined the fight for equal rights and strove to gain the vote for women everywhere.

Mary Gawthorpe- far left- alongside Christabel Pankhurst in January 1909

Mary Gawthorpe- far left- alongside Christabel Pankhurst in January 1909

Suffragettes came from all different backgrounds and regions of the country, including Leeds, where two women in particular became known for their campaign for the vote for women.

Leonora Cohen and Mary Gawthorpe were both advocates of the suffrage movement and their lifelong effort for rights and opportunities for women are still remembered today.

Leonora Cohen

Lenora Cohen was born in Leeds on 15 June 1873. Events in Cohen’s life prompted her to fight for women’s rights and the right to vote, including her mother being a widowed seamstress who raised three children alone, something which granted her mother very few rights as a woman in late nineteenth-century Britain.

Leonora Cohen joined the Leeds Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1909

Leonora Cohen joined the Leeds Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1909

Other motivating factors included Cohen’s job as a milliner, where there was a strong movement by the Leeds campaign for better working conditions for women, which affected Cohen as she first-hand witnessed the poor treatment of women in the working world.

Cohen made many physical actions of protest against the British government, firmly standing up for what she believed in by taking direct action.

In 1909, she joined the Leeds Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), which Emmeline Pankhurst founded in 1903.

Cohen’s belief in direct action to create change for women attracted her to this group, as the WSPU also had the same beliefs as Cohen.

In 1911, she threw a rock at the window of a government building and was arrested and jailed, before then being imprisoned again in 1913 after throwing an iron bar at a case containing the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

Later in her life, Cohen was a personal bodyguard to Mrs Pankhurst, which allowed her to physically protect someone who also valiantly spoke up for women's right to vote.

In later life, Leonora was appointed OBE and served as a magistrate for 30 years. She lived until the age of 105 and continued to remain a force for women’s rights right up until her death in 1978.

Mary Gawthorpe

Mary Gawthorpe was on 12 January 1881 in Leeds and like Cohen, she strongly fought for women’s rights from a young age.

After qualifying as a teacher in her native Leeds, Gawthorpe became a socialist and was extremely active in the local branch of the National Union of Teachers, before becoming increasingly involved in the Women's Suffrage movement.

In 1905, she joined the WSPU, just two years after it was founded. In 1906, Gawthorpe left teaching to become a full-time, paid organiser for the WSPU in Leeds.

After attending a London demonstration Gawthorpe was arrested and sentenced to two months in Holloway Prison, where she continue to demonstrate her campaign through going on hunger-strike.

Several months later, in November 1907, Gawthorpe was again arrested, alongside Dora Marsden and Rona Robinson at Manchester University, after asking Lord Morley about the imprisoned women at Birmingham.

The three women were ejected from Lord Morley's meeting and were violently arrested by the police.

In October 1909 she received serious internal injuries when she was struck by one of the stewards at a political rally she was disrupting, the candidate of which was Winston Churchill.

At the time, this violence was reported by a young journalist named Cicily Fairfield, who was later better known as Rebecca West.

However, a charge of assault brought by Gawthorpe and another woman who was also injured at this rally was dismissed in court.

Gawthorpe also spoke at national events, including a rally in Hyde Park in 1908, which was attended by over 200,000 people.

Alongside Dora Marsden, Gawthorpe also was the co-editor of the radical periodical ‘The Freewoman: A Weekly Feminist Review’, which discussed topics such as women's wage work, housework, motherhood, suffrage movement and literature.

Gawthorpe then emigrated to New York City in 1916, where she was continued to campaign for women’s rights, being active in the American suffrage movement and later in the Trade Union movement, becoming an official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union.

Gawthrope chronicled her early life and campaigning efforts in her 1962 autobiography ‘Up Hill to Holloway’ and on March 12 1973, Gawthorpe died at the age of 92 in a New York nursing home.

The valiant efforts of Cohen, Gawthorpe and other suffragettes and suffragists from not only Leeds, but further afield, continue to be celebrated and remembered to the present day.