Day after Day 16
The cause of women's suffrage in Worcester was going strong.
Friends of the girls had joined the cause and would also help to collect signatures on the petitions. They had been told by Muriel to approach neighbours, servants, shopkeepers and other women, asking them to sign.
Charlotte did indeed produce 10 identical petitions based on the national one produced by the WSPU. Muriel, after checking it, was somewhat concerned. “Charlotte, it is a wonderful piece of work, but I think first of all, it should go not only to the local government representatives, but also to our MP and perhaps to the neighbouring MPs as well. And I think you should not say we are wanting the voting rights for educated wealthy women. We really are hoping that all women will have the right to vote, servants as well as ladies.''
"Sorry, Muriel,'' said Charlotte. "I copied the words as closely as I could from the original document. I
see what you mean and I will do the petition again.''
"Perhaps if we made the alterations now and all agreed on them,'' said Muriel. "Then you could make the copies.''
So after discussion among the girls the document was amended to read that all women, regardless of their position in society, should have the right to vote. It was further decided that it should be sent to MPs with constituencies in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. Charlotte asked for help in rewriting the petitions, saying they should be ready within a week.
All agreed to a suggestion by Margaret that they should go knocking on doors to ask if anyone within each household wished to sign.
Charlotte had made the purple and green sashes which they would wear to announce that they were members of the WSPU. The girls tried them on and were pleased with them.
And so the meeting ended.
Muriel had kept her parents in the dark about her activities. She wasn’t sure they would approve and wanted to ensure that things were progressing before telling them of her intention to organise a march on the Guildhall, along with a rally to be addressed by some well known person sympathetic to the cause of votes for women.
A week later the girls met again. This time the petitions were deemed to be suitable. Each girl pledged her determination to get 100 signatures.
Muriel, having signed her own name at the head of her petition document, took it to the servants who worked in her home. Amy Brewer said she didn’t suppose it would do any good, but she signed it. Emily Smith said she didn’t want to lose her job, and she refused to sign unless Mr. King said it was appropriate for her to do so and that she would not lose her job.
This reaction prompted Muriel into presenting her plans to her parents before she tried to gather any more signatures. That evening, after dinner, she said, “Mother, Father, I want to attempt to do my part to forward the cause of women’s suffrage. I have joined the WPSU and so have four of my friends. We intended to get hundreds of signatures on petition forms and present them both to
the local and national politicians in our area.''
Mrs. King looked most put out. “Muriel, have you not got better things to do with your time? I would have thought with your charity work and your lessons in art you had enough to keep you busy. Why don't you learn to play the piano if you have time on your hands?''
Mr. King carefully read the petition. Then he said “I can see where you got your material from, and I think that the arguments are well presented. I can see no harm in you asking your friends and colleagues to sign this. Not that I expect it will have much effect, but I don’t see how it could harm the situation. If you feel so strongly about it, I will, of course, support your efforts.”
“Oh thank you, Father,” said Muriel. "Can I tell Emily that she won't lose her job if she signs it?''
"Have you been getting at the servants with your idea?” said Mrs. King huffily. “Leave them alone. I don’t want them refusing to work and going on strike because you have put ideas of equality into their heads.''
“No, of course I won’t get rid of Emily or Amy,'' said her father with a smile. "But I get the impression
that you will not be able to persuade your mother to sign this.''
"You can be sure I won't,'' said Mrs King.
Muriel kissed her father on the cheek and thanked him. "Don't worry Mother,'' she said. "I won't badger you to sign it. Though I hope that if we do get the vote you will be willing to use yours.''
"I don’t expect that I will live that long,” said Mrs King.
Muriel went to tell Emily what her father had said, and she immediately signed the petition.
Next day Muriel and May, who had agreed to participate in the project provided no-one told John that she was doing so, went from house to house in the area where they lived. May's mother had refused to sign but had allowed her servant Elizabeth Wilcox to do so. May went in one direction and Muriel in another. They had agreed to meet up at lunchtime to compare notes, then decide where to go next.
When they did meet up they confessed that they were both bitterly disappoint with the results. Many householders had been very unwelcoming. Between them the girls had only collected 15
signatures. Not one of the servants they had spoken to had admitted to being unable to read. Undaunted, they continued their efforts in the afternoon, but by the end of that day only 30 signatures had been collected.
When they all met the other girls they also reported less success than had been hoped for. Targets had not been reached. There was a general feeling of disappointment, and perhaps of boredom. Muriel tried to re-awaken their initial enthusiasm. "We shouldn't let a slow start deter us,'' she said. “This is an important issue. If we fall at the first fence what hope is their of bringing about a change in the law? Do you suppose Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t have doors slammed in her face? She hasn't given up. There are thousands of brave women devoting time to this cause. We must keep at it until we reach our goal. Think positively!''
Some of the girls were unmoved by Muriel's urgings. They said they had had enough and walked out, leaving their petition papers behind. Charlotte took a positive approach. "Why don't we go to the Victoria Institute while the classes are being held? I am sure the women there would give us their support. And why not ask men to sign our petition? Some of them agree that we should be able to vote. Have any of you got a single signature from a man?''
There was a chorus of "No.''
"Have you asked a man to sign?''
A further chorus of "No.''
"It won't hurt to try,'' said Charlotte. "Male signatures will strengthen our appeal for a change in the
That evening Muriel asked her father if he would sign the petition.
He had forgotten the matter and asked to read the petition again. When he had read it he said "Yes, I will sign.''
Muriel watched in delight as he firmly appended his name, making sure that it was easier to see than any other name on he page. "You don't have to tell your mother I did this,'' he said with a wink.
Charlotte’s idea of taking petitions to the Victoria Institute proved to be inspired. Many signatures were collected there, and the forms were soon filled. Other men signed, besides Mr King. Mr Tree, who was equally proud of what his daughters were doing, added his name. His wife and sister also added their signatures, as did their two servants.
When the girls met at Charlotte's house in mid-April they were feeling confident, and even more assured of the rightness of their cause.
"Now we should decide on a day and time to take the petition forms to the Guildhall,'' aid Muriel. "Themain meetings take place on a Thursday. I think we should aim to be there at noon..''
"Why don't we make posters and put them up around the town inviting people to attend a rally,'' Charlotte suggested.
“How about May 6th? That gives us a couple of weeks to make and display the posters,'' said Muriel.
“That sounds fine,” said Charlotte. "
That day the girls went to their respective homes filled with new enthusiasm.
Rain was pouring down on he day of the rally. The wind was sharp and constant, and the spirits of the girls were considerably dampened.
“We must give it a go,” said Muriel. “We have put such a lot of time and effort into this. We cannot balk now just because the weather isn’t on our side.”
So the six girls who comprised what was left of the committee donned their purple sashes. With their petitions clutched in their hands, they made their way from Charlotte’s house, across the bridge and into town. It was only a ten minute walk, but somehow it seemed to take forever, with the wind trying to steal their umbrellas, along with the papers in their hands. Their sashes which had looked so fine when they had first put them on, were now decidedly droopy. Some of the ink had run, smudging the message on them.
They arrived at the Guildhall just before noon. They had hoped to see a large crowd waiting to cheer them on, but there was nobody there, other than shoppers. These took no notice of the girls, hurrying about their business, eager to get indoors to escape from the rain as quickly as possible.
Muriel realised she had to take the lead. “Votes for women!” she shouted at the top of her voice, beginning to walk in a circle outside the Guildhall. The others felt compelled to join in, but their voices were neither as loud nor as positive as Muriel's.
Round and round the girls went, though not one bit of attention did they receive, either positive or negative. Eventually Muriel said, “Let’s take the petitions into the Guildhall and present them to the Mayor.”
The Guildhall, a most impressive building fronted by Corinthian pillars, had a statue of Queen Ann above its door. To either side were statues of Charles I holding a church and Charles II with orb and sceptre. On its parapet were five figures representing Hercules, Peace, Justice, Plenty and Chastisement.
“We’re here for justice,” thought Muriel as she looked up at the statues.
They entered a large high-ceilinged hall. There was an air of business, with people rushing in all directions. Muriel located a reception desk and asked politely if they could see the Mayor.
“I’m sorry, but he is not here today,” a woman replied. “May I help?”
“Is Mr. Maund around?” asked Margaret, naming one of the city officials.
The woman went to check, returning to announce “Mr. Maund will see you for a few minutes. He is in the Randall Room.”
“He’s my cousin.'' Margaret whispered to theothers as they climbed a staircase. When they reached the Randall Room they knocked on its door, to be summoned inside by a gruff voice.
"What is it you want?'' Mr, Maund asked, vastly unimpressed by the sight of water dripping from six umbrellas and the tracks made by twelve feet.
“We are members of the WSPU,'' said Muriel, taking the lead. "We have been collecting signatures throughout Worcester for this petition which we had hoped to present to the Mayor. I have been informed that he is not here today. Would you accept these forms and pass them on to the Mayor?''
"I know nothing about this,'' said Mr. Maund. "Why not make an appointment to see the Mayor on another day?''
"No, this is our day of protest and we will leave the petition here,'' said Margaret, somewhat annoyed by his patronising attitude. Then, changing her line of attack, she said "By the way, Mr. Maund, I think we are related. I am Margaret Tree. I believe your mother and my father are cousins. Isaac Arrowsmith was my great-grandfather. I wish you to know that everyone in our household signed this petition, including my father.''
Muriel was surprised and delighted that shy Margaret had taken the lead, and Mr. Maund was obviously impressed by the mention of the name Arrowsmith. That name was revered in both
Worcester and Bristol.
"Ah yes,'' he said in a much friendlier tone. "Isaac Arrowsmith was indeed my grandfather. Here, let me see your petition. Yes.Warren W. A. Tree. Your father has indeed signed it. By the way, the A in his name is for Arrowsmith. Yes, I will accept this petition and pass it on to the Mayor. And thank you for bringing it here on such a miserable rainy day.''
He shook each girl by the hand. "Now if you would excuse me,'' he said "I have to attend a meeting.''
So, with mixed feelings, the girls left the Guildhall. There was a sense of success, but also of disappointment. They went to a nearby tea shop for a modest celebration.
Before going their separate ways Muriel said, "I think we have done jolly well so far, and I want to thank you for supporting me in this. Perhaps we should meet again at Charlotte's house in a month's time when we can decide when to have our concert.''
May and Muriel eagerly scanned the local newspapers during the ensuing weeks, but there was no mention of the petition. Muriel, whose name and address was on the document they had handed in, also checked each day's post, but no letter came from the Mayor.
It was a deflated group of girls which eventually met at Charlotte's home.
"Let's not plan a concert,'' said May. "I don't think I can take further rejection. Let’s just say we did our best and got nowhere.”
Muriel was not quite ready to give up the fight. “All right, I agree that perhaps we should let the situation alone for the time being, but I have made a copy of the names of those who signed the petition. At some time in the future we may once again be able to call upon them for support.''
So the girls settled up the costs of organising the petition, then filled in the rest of the afternoon with a game of whist.