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Dorothy Pethick
Dorothy Pethick

Overview to Dorothy Pethick

Dorothy Pethick was born in Somerset in 1881 into a well-to-do family. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and then trained in social work at the Women’s University Settlement in Blackfriars, London. She was the younger sister of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (and sister-in-law of Frederick Pethick-Lawrence) who were prominent in the women’s suffrage campaign and major funders of the WSPU.

She joined the WSPU in London in about 1906. By 1908, she was working with another prominent WSPU member Annie Kenney in Bristol and the west country. She often organised meetings and oversaw advance arrangements, for example, by chalking the pavements to advertise the meeting in August 1908 in Weston-super-Mare. In 1909, she helped Kenney organise protests against the visit of Winston Churchill to Bristol. The protests involved heckling, window breaking, and one suffragette assaulted Churchill.

In June 1909, she was arrested during the WSPU deputation to the House of Commons. In October 1909, she and actress Kitty Marion (a very well-known Suffragette and actress) were in Newcastle for the visit of David Lloyd George. They organised WSPU protests which were later dubbed “The Battle of Newcastle”. Both Dorothy and Kitty were arrested for breaking the windows of Newcastle General Post Office.

Dorothy’s stone failed to do any damage, so she pleaded “not guilty of smashing, but guilty of trying to”. She also told the magistrate: “my action was entirely prompted by the injustice of the present Government, and if it continues in this way, we shall do worse things”. She was sentenced to fourteen days of hard labour in Newcastle prison.

She was appointed as spokesperson of the group of 12 who were imprisoned. She was apparently implored by the prison governor; “Don't break your windows—please don't break your windows”.  To this she replied: “if you feed us by force, we shall break every window we can lay hands on”. During her imprisonment she went on a hunger strike, and was force-fed with a nasal tube, although she became unwell after several days and force-feeding continued with a feeding cup. After her release she wrote in Votes for Women about the poor hygiene practices of the prison authorities during the process. She also wrote about her prison experiences that, “I always had a very strong feeling of people like Garibaldi, Mazzini and Joan of Arc with me.”

In 1910 she stayed at the Blathwayt family home in Batheaston. Many suffragettes stayed here, (see also Gladice Keevil) often after periods of imprisonment. Mrs Blathwayt described her as ‘an educated lady’. The tradition was for visiting suffragettes to plant a tree in the arboretum and Dorothy apparently planted a fir tree. No photography of the planting survives, but a photo of the tree and plaque can be seen on https://bathintime.co.uk/

From 1910 to 1912 Dorothy was WSPU organizer in Leicester, where she worked on the 1910 election campaign. She was sentenced to another fourteen days for taking part in the “Black Friday” demonstration in London on 18 November but was released when her fine was paid without her consent. She was again sentenced for protesting in Leicester, but because of the upcoming general election her fine was again paid, and she was released. In April 1911 she organised a local census protest, in which twenty census evaders spent the night at the WSPU shop and office at 14 Bowling Green Street, Leicester.

Following a disagreement with Mrs Pankhurst as to what was an acceptable level of militant activity, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence was ejected from the WSPU. Dorothy, like her sister and brother-in-law (Frederick Pethick Lawrence) was opposed to the arson campaign and also left the WSPU in 1912.

Despite, leaving the WSPU, she continued to campaign for women’s suffrage and in 1914 travelled to speak in the USA. During a speech in New York, she declared that the suffragettes were prepared to die for their cause, but she was opposed to arson attacks.

During the First World War Dorothy joined the Women’s Police Force. She later worked at the Rudolf Steiner school in Hampstead. She died in 1970.

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Document, SUFL36