Source 5

Concerns of the Local Government Board on suffragette resistance to the 1911 census March 1911

Reference

CHAR 12/9/120, images 1-2

Simplified Transcript

Local Government Board
Whitehall, S.W.
28th March, 1911

Dear Churchill

No doubt you have noticed that the militant suffragists are endeavouring to defeat the Census which is to be taken on Sunday evening next. It appears that in London the Scala Theatre, The Gardenia Restaurant and some large private houses are to be occupied for the night by women who wish to be omitted from the count and who would refuse to give the full information required for the purpose of the Census schedule.

The Registrar-General who is responsible for the Census does not propose to force matters unduly and will be satisfied if he can obtain an estimate of the number of persons who congregate in the buildings referred to, but he is very anxious that the enumerators should receive all possible assistance in their task from the Metropolitan Police.

Another plan proposed by the suffragists

[page break]

is that their male supporters should masquerade as enumerators and should call at dwelling-houses for the Census papers and should destroy the same after they have been handed to them by unsuspecting occupiers.

Seeing that the organisers of the movement are engaged in a deliberate attempt to set the law at defiance, I think that you will agree with me that the police in London should render every assistance to the Registrar-General and to his enumerators and I should be obliged if you could arrange that this could be done. A rough enumeration of the persons gathering in the selected buildings is all that is desired.

I may add that if this plan of countering the movement can be made a success, the necessity of prosecuting any large number of persons in default may be obviated and the main object of the suffragists may thus be defeated.

Yours sincerely
John Burns

Original Transcript

Local Government Board
Whitehall, S.W.
28th March, 1911

Dear Churchill

No doubt you have noticed that the militant suffragists are endeavouring to defeat the Census which is to be taken on Sunday evening next. It appears that in London the Scala Theatre, The Gardenia Restaurant and some large private houses are to be occupied for the night by women who wish to be omitted from the count and who would refuse to give the full information required for the purpose of the Census schedule.

The Registrar-General who is responsible for the Census does not propose to force matters unduly and will be satisfied if he can obtain an estimate of the number of persons who congregate in the buildings referred to, but he is very anxious that the enumerators should receive all possible assistance in their task from the Metropolitan Police.

Another plan proposed by the suffragists

[page break]

is that their male supporters should masquerade as enumerators and should call at dwelling-houses for the Census papers and should destroy the same after they have been handed to them by unsuspecting occupiers.

Seeing that the organisers of the movement are engaged in a deliberate attempt to set the law at defiance, I think that you will agree with me that the police in London should render every assistance to the Registrar-General and to his enumerators and I should be obliged if you could arrange that this could be done. A rough enumeration of the persons gathering in the selected buildings is all that is desired.

I may add that if this plan of countering the movement can be made a success, the necessity of prosecuting any large number of persons in default may be obviated and the main object of the suffragists may thus be defeated.

Yours sincerely
John Burns

What is this source?

This is a letter written by John Burns, the President of the Local Government Board to Churchill in 1911. Munro represented the local authorities in England. One of their many jobs as to make sure that census forms were handed out, completed and collected. Churchill was Home Secretary at this time. One of the many areas he was in charge of was the police.

Background to this source

By 1910 Suffragette actions had become increasingly violent and high profile and many Suffragettes ended up in prison. However, the Suffragettes were also renowned for clever and imaginative demonstrations and actions. One of these was the plan to avoid filling in the census in 1911 on the grounds that if the state did not recognise a women’s right to vote then the state did not have the right to collect information about her.

The census was effectively a head count which told the government the size of the population. It also collected other information such as gender, occupations, family sizes etc. It was a vital document for the government because it helped with planning for taxes and also projects like road building, welfare laws and many other areas.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can help us to assess the impact of the Suffragettes. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What are the Suffragettes planning to do?
  2. How is Burns planning to react?
  3. What is he concerned about and what does he want from Churchill?
  4. What are his aims?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

 

  On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
The Suffragettes are clever campaigners.
   
The Suffragettes are making life uncomfortable for powerful figures in the country.    
Burns does not approve of the Suffragettes.    

 

Need help interpreting the source?

  • At the time of this source there had been many attempts to get a female suffrage Bill through Parliament and all had failed.
  • The WSPU’s main complaint was the Parliament was not treating female suffrage seriously enough. Their aim was to make it impossible to ignore the issue of votes for women.
  • The Suffragettes were best known for militant action such as smashing windows or attacking government ministers. However, they were very clever protesters and very expert in the use of propaganda as well.  Protests like this would have been seen as thought provoking and intelligent – much more so that violent action.