( with acknowledgement to Jack Malvern's article in The Times newspaper dated 13
A mass protest by women in the UK, campaigning to be allowed to vote, has finally
come to public attention almost a century too late to make a difference. Hundreds
of suffragettes risked prosecution in 1911 by spoiling their census forms in a concerted
But the full impact of their boycott has not emerged until recently because of secrecy
rules. Census information is usually kept secret for 100 years but the 1911 documents
were released three years early.
The documents show how women refused to fill in their names and left comments in
the margin. One suffragette taking part in the boycott arranged by the Women's Freedom
League wrote: “If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent
enough to put a cross on a voting paper.”
Another glued a poster over the form stating: “ No votes for women, no census.” A
piece of paper stuck to the form suggests that the women stayed away from households
where the census was taken to attend a protest in Trafalgar Square. This public protest
was reported in the newspapers at the time but its full extent remained hidden to
the public. It was a meeting of the Women's Freedom League to explain the boycott
but newspaper reports suggested that almost all of those present at the meeting were
Women were granted the right to vote in 1918 although they were not given equal voting
rights until 1928.
The 1911 Census is the most revealing to be published because for the first time
it includes the handwritten entries from the heads of each household. In earlier
surveys the only surviving documents had been the summaries produced by professional
enumerators, who excised any attempts at humour.
Jokes that have survived in the 1911 documents include a man whose entry describes
an occupant of his house as “Peter Tabby”. Lists the occupation as “mouser”and his
nationality as “Persian”. The enumerator has crossed out the entry with red ink and
noted sternly: “This is a cat”.
Because of personal commitments over the past three years I have not been able to
search for the 1911 Census information until recently. Now (Oct 2011) I have traced
almost every Family member alive in 1911 and downloaded copies of their census return.
Their personal information on the census returns I will now start to add to their
personal notes section of the Family Tree.
Have I been able to track the hand of the suffragettes on any Family returns?
Well, the answer on one, at least, is yes!
Take a look at the following page for a copy of the return of Bernard and Matilda
GUNNER. A self-employed Baker and his 2nd wife and family living at Hailsham, West
Sussex. Bottom left on the return is a red tick and letter 'O' from the pen of the
enumerator as he verified the number of people in the household.
Can you see anything unusual?
“Matilda gunning for the Censor”: 1911 England and Wales Census
(the secret suffragettes who refused to be counted)