As it’s over century since women were allowed to vote I thought I’d drop you a line regarding a visit to Leicester’s main cemetery to find the grave of a suffragette Alice Hawkins (in the city centre a statue of her has been unveiled.) She’s quite famous now so I didn’t have trouble finding this grave: a leaflet detailing the cemetery showed where its notable folk lie. I soon found Alice down a hill near the train tracks and not up near the rich people. Anyone walking on the nearby path would throw a curious glance at the headstone as it’s obviously much newer than any of those surrounding it.
Alice was born into a working class family in Stafford in 1863 and by age 13 she was working as a machinist at Equity Shoes. Aged 21 she married Alfred Hawkins and they’d go on to have five children. Since her early teens Alice realised that the working conditions and pay for women were inferior to that of their male colleagues. She felt compelled to do something about it through the boot and shoe trade union. Aged 33 she joined the new factory's Women's Co-operative Guild where she learnt about socialism and the writings of German writer and socialist Thomas Mann. She joined the Independent Labour Party in 1894 and met Sylvia Pankhurst who is probably the second most famous suffragettes (after her mum Emmeline.)
Alice was jailed five times, for the first time in February 1907 when she was aged 43. She attended her first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Hyde Park and they marched to the House of Commons to demand the vote for women. Mounted police charged down the group and twenty-nine women were sent to Holloway Prison. Two weeks in prison didn’t affect Alice and when she returned home she set up and headed Leicester’s branch of the WSPU.
Two years later she was back in prison after trying to force entry into a public meeting where Winston Churchill (the Home Secretary at the time) was speaking in Leicester Palace Theatre. She couldn’t actually get into the theatre so her husband Alfred went in and asked Churchill why women did not have a vote (he was ejected and Alice was arrested.) Alfred always supported his headstrong wife. Once they followed Winston Churchill to a meeting in Bradford and the stewards threw Alfred down a flight of stairs breaking his leg (he sued and got a huge £100 in compensation.) Both would be up and out on Sunday mornings to give speeches all over Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Aged 45 Alice gave her biggest speech at a mass rally in London’s Hyde Park to over 250,000 supporters (no mammoth speakers and screens in those days.) Aged 48 she was back in prison after she threw a brick through a Home Office window in full view of a policeman. This seems pretty harsh - as were the other misdemeanours which brought spells in prison – throwing ink into a Leicester post box and digging a slogan into a golf course at night.
The suffragette activity continued up to 1914 when the First World War broke out. National leaders requested the suffragettes supported militant activities and his pretty much ended Alice’s fight. After the war she continued to support the local trade union and the labour movement but little is known of her life after this. She died aged 83 in 1946. It seems odd now that a seven-foot high statue of Alice has been unveiled in market square in the middle of Leicester yet when she was buried the state had to pay for the funeral.
Here I am by the black shiny headstone. The graves in that field don’t seem to be in any sort of order – there’re not in straight lines or in chronological order. It’s as though the grave digger has been walking across the grass, finished a peanut butter sandwich and thought, “Yeah, here will do. Best start digging.”
The link to Emmeline’s house/grave is below…
Here she is with her sisters (top left)…
Alice being escort to prison…again…