404 Hampstead Garden Suburb Virtual Museum : Document : Edith How-Martyn [SUFL17]
Edith How-Martyn
Edith How-Martyn

Overview of Edith How-Martyn

She lived at 38 Hogarth Hill

Born Edith How in Middlesex in 1875, died Australia in 1954.

Attended North London Collegiate School, then University College, Aberystwyth studying Mathematics and Physics. Received external BSc from London University in 1903 (most universities did not award degrees to women. Was a Mathematics lecturer but gave up to campaign for votes for women.

Married George Herbert Martyn in 1899 and they adopted a shared surname: How Martyn

Initially belonged to the WSPU in which she had a senior role: was joint Honorary Secretary (with Charlotte Despard).

She was one of the first suffragettes to be imprisoned in 1906 for “scuffling with police” when trying to make a speech in the lobby of House of Commons – this was one of first acts of suffragette militancy. She served one month in Holloway.

In 1907 she left the WSPU and was a leader and co-founder of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), due to concerns about the lack of democracy in the WSPU and opposition to violent acts. The WFL was still a ‘militant’ suffragette organization, but only advocated non-violent illegal acts (influenced by Mahatma Gandhi).

She was involved in actions designed to attract publicity for the WFL, for example an attempt to disrupt the King’s procession to the February 1909 opening of Parliament. Muriel Matters hired a small dirigible (airship) which took off from Hendon airfield, aiming to drop leaflets over the procession and Parliament. The wind took the dirigible elsewhere, but 25kg of leaflets were dropped from the balloon which had the slogans “Votes for Women” and “Women’s Freedom League” on it. This attracted significant press coverage (see images). Edith How Martyn was ‘support crew’, driving her car in pursuit of the balloon.

Edith How-Martyn was Honorary Secretary of the WFL and edited ‘The Vote’, the WFL weekly newspaper.

In 1911 she became Head of WFL’s Political and Militant Department. Her first action was to organise a boycott the 1911 Census. She went to urge women to join together in an act of civil disobedience:  ‘… to boycott the census, to refuse all information about themselves and their households… We intend to do our best to make it unreliable and inaccurate.’  

Although initiated by the WFL, the WSPU soon joined the campaign, recognising the potential for publicity.  In addition to the boycott itself, there were numerous public meetings to support the campaign, including one on the eve of the census where Edith How Martyn spoke in Trafalgar Square.

She and her husband did not complete the census form, but Edith wrote:
“No votes for women. No information from women.”
“Legislation without Representation is slavery.”
“The occupier of this house is not a person only a woman. See decision of House of Lords Scottish Graduates Case 1908.”

The enumerator inserted additional information in red ‘by authorisation of the Registrar General’ stating:
•    Information received that this was an open house on census night
•    Herbert How Martin (sic) - Head - Approx 40 – Married - Scientific man
•    Mrs How Martin
•    6 female visitors

Their home was an open house; one which accommodated women who were staying somewhere other than at home to avoid registration. Herbert and Edith were “resisters” rather than evaders as they spoke to the enumerator, however Edith wrote in The Vote about her movements around London on census night when she avoided being at home.

In 1912 she resigned her position in the WFL, probably due to ill health.

She was also co-founder of the Women’s Tax Resistance League (1909-1918) which was closely connected to the WFL. It advocated withholding taxes, particularly property taxes. The number of women involved was quite small, however it generated considerable publicity through court cases where women’s property was distrained (removed by bailiffs) to covered unpaid taxes. Following such court cases, there were usually demonstrations at the auctions as well as public meetings, including at least two in HGS.

In the 1918 General Election for Hendon (the first election when women were allowed to stand). She became the first female member of Middlesex County Council in 1919, later coming chair. She organised the first children’s play centre in HGS and became a close friend of Henrietta Barnett who mentioned her in her will.

In 1926 she established the Suffragette Fellowship to maintain links between suffrage activists but also to record the history and save memorabilia. This formed the basis of the collection now held by the Museum of London.

She also campaigned for birth control. Organised 1927 World Population Conference and was Director of the Birth Control Information Centre.

Edith How Martyn is commemorated on the Dame Millicent Fawcett statue unveiled in 2018 in Parliament Square, where she is one of the 55 women and 4 men whose name and picture are on the statue’s plinth.

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