One of Doncaster’s greatest examples of triumph over adversity is also one of its least known. Our town played an important role in the Votes for Women campaign in the years before World War One, when ordinary women and men made extraordinary sacrifices which jeopardised their homes, livelihoods, family lives and place in society.
The names of these people are now largely forgotten, their stories untold. There are no plaques, statues or monuments in Doncaster which commemorate the suffragettes who campaigned so bravely for women’s votes.
But all that could be about to change. Next year marks 100 years since women over 30 won the right to vote, and this is a great opportunity to remember and celebrate Doncaster’s suffragette campaigners.
A new project with the working title Donny Suffrage is planning a series of events for spring 2018 which will tell Doncaster’s suffragette stories.
“We have an amazing story here in Doncaster, and it’s a story that we can all take pride in,” says Joanna Nurse, who has created Donny Suffrage. “It’s dangerous, it’s exhilarating and it’s ground-breaking, but most people don’t know about it.
“The most famous suffragette of all, Emmeline Pankhurst, said it was deeds not words that counted, and the women of Doncaster certainly took that to heart. They smashed windows, ran safe houses, addressed crowds of people and poured acid into the post box in Priory Place. Some of Doncaster’s suffragettes were imprisoned for their actions and went on hunger strike. They were even suspected of planting a bomb in Wheatley Hall and setting fire to Westfield, a well-to-do house in Balby.
“Among the most active suffragettes in Doncaster was a young woman called Violet Key-Jones. Violet was a campaigner for the Women’s Social and Political Union. She really understood the value of being based in Doncaster, and from her office on Hall Gate she organised public meetings and protests.
“A gifted public speaker, Violet could certainly move an audience, sometimes with dramatic results. At a rally on Waterdale in 1913, she was heckled, pelted with rotten eggs and finally chased away by a group of men. She made her escape in a waiting car. From then on, Violet always had bodyguards.
“But Doncaster’s story is not just about riots and getaway cars. Many women chose non-violent means to fight for the vote. A great example of this is Hannah Clark, who was from a notable Quaker family and argued for peaceful persuasion. She went on to become the first female councillor in Doncaster, having been elected to the Wheatley ward in 1920, and had a long and respected career in our town’s politics.”
Among the events to mark the centenary, Donny Suffrage is planning a guided walk of the town centre’s suffragette landmarks, with street theatre bringing the characters to life so that they can tell their own stories. For people who are not able to come on the walk, there are plans for a podcast and a leaflet so that everyone can do the trail in their own time, whenever they want.
Plans are also coming together for a suffragette sash sewing workshop, a talk, an information pack for school pupils, a themed afternoon tea, and an idea to project larger-than-life images of the Pankhurst’s onto the Corn Exchange in Market Square.
“I really want this to be a community project, and for writers, actors, artists and local history enthusiasts to get involved. I would like all our local talent in Doncaster to play a part,” says Joanna.
“If you would like to join our planning group, or if you want to find out more, you can follow @DonnySuffrage on Twitter or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”