Suffragettes and the 1911 census
2018 marks 100 years since some women were given the vote in parliamentary elections and 90 years since women got to vote on equal terms to men.
The campaign for universal suffrage was a long and hard fought one. In addition to highly visible acts of civil disobedience, such as window smashing and setting fire to post-boxes, many women also carried out quieter forms of civil protest. In 1911, the Women’s Freedom League launched a campaign to encourage women to refuse to complete that year's census. In April that year a meeting was held in Trafalgar Square instructing women not to participate. The protesters followed the slogan: “I don’t count so I won’t be counted”.
Here are a selection of 1911 census returns that show how some women chose to stand up for their beliefs in an official document.
Beatrice Le Mesurier gave her occupation as "Suffragette" but wrote "No vote. No census" across the form. The enumerator noted (in red ink) that the address was "Open house to suffragettes" and established that 10 women were resident, with 8 designated "female" presumably because all refused to give their names.
Louisa Burnham also wrote "No vote. No census" on the form but went onto note "If I am intelligent enough to fill in this census form I can surely make a X on a Ballot Paper."
Eleanora Maund, the wife of Edward Arthur Maund, a Company Director, crossed out her name and wrote "Wife away" on the form. Edward, clearly unimpressed by Eleanora's action, added his own note "My wife unfortunately being a suffragette put her pen through her name, but it must stand as correct. She .... has only attempted by a silly subtafuge (sic) to defeat the object of the census to which I as "Head" of the family object."
Emily Wilding Davison is perhaps best remembered as the suffragette who died in 1913 after throwing herself in front of the King's horse at the Epsom derby. On census night 1911 Emily hid in a cupboard in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the House of Commons. The census form recording Emily's presence was signed by P. E. Ridge, Clerk of Works Houses of Parliament (who mis-spelt her name as 'Davidson'). The accompanying schedule gives the postal address as 'Found hiding in crypt of Westminster Hall.' The pencil note on the form gives the date "3/4/11 Since Saturday".
Katherine S. Dreier returned the uncompleted census form noted "No vote, no census. I have joined the brave women of England in their dignified protest against the systematic blocking by the Government of the "Women's Conciliation"."
Mary Howey, who declared herself an "artist & suffragette" simply wrote "VOTES FOR WOMEN" in big capitals on her census form. In the last column on the form, designed to record any infirmities, she wrote "not enfranchised" but this entry was scribbled out in red pen by the enumerator.
Were any of your ancestors involved in the Suffragette movement? We can help you find out.
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Use of original sources and records (or surrogate images of originals) to gather key information.
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Logical and reasoned development of family links with each step proved from valid evidence before further deductions are made.
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Census Returns: A short history
The census returns are perhaps the most valuable of all historical records.
There has been a census every ten years since 1801, except in 1941 due to the war. However, only those that date from 1841 are of real value for research purposes today.
Census records are closed for 100 years, to protect the privacy of those possibly still living.
The 1911 census is therefore the latest available for research. The 1921 census is scheduled for publication by The National Archives on 1st January 2022. Unfortunately, on the night of Saturday 19 December 1942, the 1931 census schedules, enumeration books and plans were completely destroyed by a fire at the Office of Works store in Hayes, Middlesex. (The census for Scotland was not affected by this fire since it was stored separately in Edinburgh.)
The 1841 census was the first to record names, but it did not state which person was head of the household. Relationships to the head are therefore not shown, so relationships between family members are not always as clear as in later returns. The recorded age of anyone over 15 was supposed to be rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5. For example, a person aged 19 would be listed as 15, a person aged 22 would be listed as age 20, and a person age 59 would be listed as 55. In practice, many census officials either did not round down at all or only rounded down for higher ages, such as over 20, or (less frequently) rounded down ages below 15. As such, in many cases the recorded age is often an unreliable indicator of birth years. Also, birthplaces are not shown, only whether a person was born in the County in which they lived.
From 1851, householders were asked to give more precise details of the places of birth of each resident, to state their relationship to him or her, marital status and the nature of any disabilities from which they may have suffered. The 1911 census provides some extra information, not present in earlier censuses, about how long women had been married and the number of children born to that marriage – both alive and dead.
Enumeration forms were distributed to all households a couple of days before census night. The complete forms were collected the next day. In the many cases where householders could not read and write, enumerators would ask the questions verbally, and complete the form themselves.
All responses reflected the status of everyone who had spent the appointed night in the house. People who were travelling were enumerated at the location where they spent the night so may not appear at their “home” address with other family members.
From 1841 to 1901, all the details from the individual forms were sorted and copied into enumerators' books, which are the records we can view today. The original householders’ schedules were destroyed.
The 1911 census has a key difference from its predecessors. It is the first one where the individual forms filled in by each family are available, rather than the enumerators' books that brought them all together and listed different households on the same page. It means you can read your ancestors' original handwriting and see the head of the household’s signature.
1841, taken for the night of 6th June
1851, taken for the night of 30th March
1861, taken for the night of 7th April
1871, taken for the night of 2nd April
1881, taken for the night of 3rd April
1891, taken for the night of 5th April
1901, taken for the night of 31st March
1911, taken for the night of 2nd April.
* Subject to availability
1939 Register: A short history
In 1938 the government announced that in the event of war, a National Register would be taken that listed the personal details of every civilian
This Register was to be a critical tool in co-ordinating the war effort at home. It would be used to issue identity cards, organize rationing and more.
On 3rd September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany. On September 5th, the National Registration Act received royal assent and Registrar General Sir Sylvanus Vivian announced that National Registration Day would be 29th September. Having issued forms to more than 41 million people, the enumerators were tasked with visiting every household in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to collect the names, addresses, martial statuses and other key details of every civilian in the country, issuing identity cards on the spot.
The identity cards issued were essential items from the point the Register was taken right up until 1952, when the legal requirement to carry them ceased. Until then, every member of the civilian population had to be able to present their card upon request by an official (children’s cards were looked after by parents) or bring them to a police station within 48 hours. The reasons were numerous – it was essential to know who everyone was, of course, and to track their movements as they moved home, as well as to keep track of the population as babies were born and people passed away.
The 1939 Register represents one of the most important documents in 20th century Britain. The information it contains not only helped toward the war effort, it was also used in the founding of the National Health Service in 1948.
We can help trace family members in the 1939 Register (but note that, for privacy reasons, the entries for anyone born in the last 100 years who could be alive may be "officially closed" and not available). Select Bespoke Research from the menu on the right (or at the bottom of the page if you are using a mobile device) to get in touch about a one-off piece of research on the 1939 Register.
Genealogy or Family History?
What’s the difference?
This is an often asked question! The historian Dr. Nick Barratt offers this simple explanation:
"We use genealogy and family history as though they are one and the same thing, but of course they are not. Genealogy is a purer search for historical connectivity between generations - building a family tree or pedigree, if you like - whereas family history is a broader piece of research into their lives and activities".
Any of the research services we offer can take you down either path (or indeed both), depending on your objectives and what you want to learn about your family's history. Follow the links on the right (or at the bottom of the page if you are using a mobile device) to learn more about our services and how to contact us. If you're not sure a free, no obligation, initial consultation could be a good place to start.