Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_cause of women su

Did the Suffragettes help or harm the cause of women’s suffrage?

Source 4

A private letter from Lord Lytton to Churchill concerning his sister March 18th 1910 CHAR 12/2/21


 CHAR 12/2/21, images 1-2

Simplified Transcript

Dear Winston

I am glad I have now had an answer from the Home Office to my question about how my sister was treated in Liverpool prison. I understand you have just taken over the Home Office and are very busy. But I was getting unhappy about the delay. Now I have had an answer I am not very happy with it.

This is because there has not been an investigation to find out the truth. The Home Office is simply trying to defend itself. Even though my sister refused to answer questions and gave a false name she should still have been examined by a doctor.

If you had done what you promised and had her examined you would have found out she is very unwell with a heart condition.

In your letter you seemed to be saying that I was asking for special consideration for my sister. I have never done this. I only pointed out that she should have had an examination before force feeding. This is supposed to happen with all prisoners.

Original Transcript

March 18.10

11 North Audley Street

Dear Winston
I am glad I have received the answer of the Home Office to my previous communication on the subject of my sister’s treatment in Liverpool prison. I quite understand that with all you have to attend to in taking over a new office it was impossible for you to deal with the matter sooner, but I was getting rather unhappy at being so long delayed from ???? vindicating my sister against the charge of untruthfulness which was brought against her by the Home Office as of course I could take no further step until I received your answer. You will not of course expect me to be satisfied with the communication which you have sent me but I realise your difficulties in dealing with a department of which you have so recently become head.

My complaint is that in a matter of this sort the kind of enquiry instituted by the Home Office has not really the object of arriving at the truth but rather of making out a case against the alleged grievances. The fact that my sister concealed her identity & refused to answer medical questions does not relieve the prison officials at Liverpool

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of any responsibility. The fact that they knew nothing of her physical condition made it all the more incumbent upon them to find it out for themselves.

If you had carried out your intention of sending an independent medical officer to examine her heart (& I don’t in the least appreciate your reasons for not doing so) you would have learnt that in spite of two months complete rest& the most careful medical attention & treatment her heart condition is still very serious & must therefore have been very much worse when she left prison.

As for the last sentence
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in your official communication you know very well that I have never asked for special consideration for my sister. I only pointed out that Jane Wharton had not received that careful medical examination which your predecessor publicly declared was the indispensable preliminary to forcible feeding in the case of every prisoner, and nothing which the Home Office officials may now say can get over that fact.

I am yours sincerely

What is this source?

This is letter written by Lord Lytton to Churchill in March 1910.

Background to this source

At the time of this letter Churchill had just become Home Secretary. One of many issues he had to deal with was the actions of militant suffragettes, many of whom ended up in prison. Lord Lytton knew Churchill reasonably well. He was part of the same social circle and so was his sister. Lady Constance had been a determined suffragette campaigner. In 1910 she disguised herself as Jane Wharton and been arrested in Liverpool attacking an MP’s carriage. She was then held in Walton Gaol in Liverpool. 

By 1910 Suffragette actions had become increasingly violent and high profile and many Suffragettes ended up in prison. This caused the authorities some difficulty. The Suffragettes claimed that they were First Class prisoners because their motivation was political. However, most prisons were classifying them as Second or Third Class prisoners – effectively ordinary criminals. In 1909 several Suffragettes went on hunger strike to protest at this. The authorities responded by force feeding them leading to harsh treatment, some injuries and much sympathy for the Suffragettes. Churchill was Home Secretary by this time and tried to defuse the situation by bringing in Rule 243A. This effectively allowed prison authorities to treat Suffragette prisoners as First Class prisoners.

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 complaints does Lord Lytton have against the Home Office?
  2. Why was he so concerned about his sister?
  3. What criticisms does he have of the prison authorities?

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 writer approves of Churchill’s actions

The Suffragettes are making life uncomfortable for powerful figures in the country

The Suffragettes are damaging their own cause.

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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.
  • Militant action began in 1905 and by 1910 had escalated. One of the most common forms of protest was window smashing. This would normally have been regarded as simple vandalism and not a political act.

 Source 5

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