Fascinating life stories of three Pendle Suffragists

Selina Cooper
Selina Cooper
Share this article

'Respectable rebels' were the focus of a talk given to Pendleside Probus at the group's latest meeting.

The talk by Harold Hoggarth was a reminder of the background to women receiving the vote in 1918 and in particular the parallel movement to the Suffragettes – the Suffragists, who believed in non-violent argument and persuasion.

Ethel Snowden

Ethel Snowden

With a war involving 60 million men, women were employed in almost every role, well beyond what was considered as 'women’s work'. It seemed logical that in a parliamentary democracy, those women’s voices should be heard through the ballet box.

Harold’s talk was about three such advocates for universal suffrage Selina Cooper, Katherine Glasier and Ethel Snowden, all with local connections but were from three different backgrounds.

Selina’s mother followed her two sons to Lancashire when her husband died. They were already working in a mill at Barnoldswick.

At this time, Selena was under 13 and worked at the mill half her time and the other half at school. Later, she became a full-time mill worker. However, her mother became ill and Selena had to give up the mill to look after her. When she later went back to mill work, she became more and more conscious of the unsatisfactory working conditions.

Katherine Glasier

Katherine Glasier

In 1901, more than 29,000 people signed a petition calling for women’s suffrage. Selena was elected to the local Board of Guardians and achieved more freedom for elderly and dependant people.

She started attending Labour Party conferences and was elected to the Town Council and fought against the rise of fascism in both the UK and Germany. She died in 1946. Her house at 59 St Mary's Street, Nelson, is marked with a blue plaque.

The other two Suffragists covered in the talk were Katherine Glasier and Ethel Snowden, Viscountess Snowden.

Cambridge-educated Katherine was the only lady member of the 15 members elected to the Independent Labour Party’s first National council in 1893.

She moved to Glen Cottage, Earby, in 1922 and remained there until her death in 1950. Her greatest achievements were her work for the Save the Children Fund and to make the provision of pit-head baths compulsory.

Ethel Snowden, Viscountess Snowden was a human rights activist, and feminist politician. From a middle-class background, she promoted teetotalism in the slums of Liverpool. She was one of the leading campaigners for women's suffrage before the First World War, then founding The Women's Peace Crusade to oppose the war and call for a negotiated peace.

However after a visit to the Soviet Union she had strong criticism which made her unpopular to the left-wing in Britain. In 1904 she started working as a schoolteacher at Walverden School in Nelson.

After 1906 Snowden became increasingly active in supporting women's suffrage, being one of the national speakers for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was named to a joint TUC-Labour Party delegation to Russia in early 1920 which was sent to be an impartial inquiry into the Bolshevik Revolution.

Although she liked Lenin, her general reaction was profoundly critical. She observed that: "Everyone I met in Russia outside the Communist Party goes in terror of his liberty or his life. I oppose Bolshevism because it is not socialism, it is not democracy and it is not Christianity.”

Ethel married the Labour Party politician and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden.

With Philip back in Parliament for Colne Valley in 1922 and Labour as the opposition, Lord and Lady Astor arranged a dinner party where King George V and Queen Mary could meet Labour leaders. Ethel Snowden became firm friends with Queen Mary.

The Snowdens sold their London home at Golders Green and took a flat near Parliament in St Ermine's Court. Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin appointed Ethel Snowden a governor of the newly established British Broadcasting Corporation in 1926, as a representative of women and of Labour.

When the Labour government was formed in 1929, the Snowdens finally moved to 11 Downing Street. She persuaded her husband to give a grant to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and became a director of the new company formed to manage it.