Give Us The Vote

Dora Thewlis is sixteen years old, and works a ten-hour day at the loom. She longs for a meaningful life and a better world for women. She is thrilled at the chance to go to London to march with the suffragettes. But will her devotion to the cause survive the misery and humiliation of arrest and prison?

Sue Reid on the background to Give Us The Vote . . .

My book about Dora Thewlis, set during an exciting year in her life when she was an active member of the suffragette movement, is part fact, part fiction - unlike the other books I have written for the 'My Story' series. Nor is it written as a 'diary'. I had been intrigued when I saw the picture in an old newspaper of a young girl, caught in the grip of two policemen, almost twice her size, outside the Houses of Parliament. Who was she? I wondered. What was she doing there? Wrongly described as a 'Lancashire lass,' I was to discover that she was Dora Thewlis, a sixteen year old mill worker from Huddersfield, in Yorkshire, who had gone down to London to take part in a suffragette march on Parliament, to demand the vote for women. Still only sixteen, Dora could not have voted herself, but she must have felt strongly for the cause to have taken such a big step. At the beginning of the 20th century, respectable women and girls did not speak at street corners, or march on the Houses of Parliament!

A lot of research had already been done, by suffragette writer Jill Liddington, but there were many gaps that remained. I read local censuses, and records, looked through old newspapers, and I made contact with Dora's relatives. Dora herself had died many years before, in Australia, where she and some of her siblings had emigrated. But I was able to find out a little more from her family and a picture began to emerge, of a strong-willed feisty girl, who did not let anything stand in her way. Of the gaps that still remained I had to try and fill them, as best I could, through what I knew of events in Huddersfield at the time, from what I read about working conditions in the mills, the records of the local suffragette branch that Dora had joined, and what I could pick up from newspaper cuttings about Dora. Girls from ordinary families like Dora's were practically invisible in what was then very much a man's world, but Dora's story had clearly fascinated people, and her arrest and many of the details in the courtroom, and some of what happened in prison and afterwards were reported in the press who followed Dora's story avidly, and who interviewed the girl and her family on several occasions. Finally, though I have been as true to the facts as I can, I had to use my imagination to fill in what was still missing. I hope I have done her story justice.

Publisher: Scholastic
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1407117815
ISBN-13: 978-1407117812
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''... a compelling tale of courage, misery and humiliation set in a turning point in the history of women."
Huddersfield Weekend Examiner, 23 April 2011

Chapter Twenty-five

Old Palace Yard. She was nearly there. In front of her now was the House of Commons itself. Could she force her way in, enter the Lobby? Wouldn't that be something. In the February raid fifteen women had done just that. Dora could see the headlines. 'Sixteen year old Dora demands the vote in Parliament!'

'Turn back!' she heard a man growl at her. Dora looked up to see a big policeman bar her way.

'Turn back,' he said again.

No fear! Not now, not when she was so near. Taking a deep breath, Dora charged, swerving round the constable, half slipping in her clogs, but there was another of them behind him. Darting past him too, Dora laughed in his face. But she'd laughed too soon. One arm stretched out and seized her wrist. And struggle as she might, he was stronger than her.

The policeman looked down at the girl twisting and turning in his hand as if she was a fish on the end of a line. 'Eh, but you're just a child.'

He sounded astonished – as if he'd landed a minnow when he thought to have reeled in a big fat trout. 'What are you doing here? Sightseeing?'

Dora shook her arm. 'Get off me!'

'You should be home with your mother, a young 'un like you.' The policeman shook his head disapprovingly. 'I'd take a strap to you if you were one of mine.'

'I'm thankful I'm not one of yours then!' Dora retorted.

'You cheeky young thing! Will you go back?'

'Not till I've been in Holloway,' Dora shouted, pulling on his arm hard.

'Eh, Bill, give me a hand with this one, proper firebrand I've got here,' the constable called, holding Dora's arm in a vice-like grip. His fingers pinched deep into her arm. It hurt, but she wouldn't let him see how much.

A constable came up to seize Dora's other arm. Now they were trying to pinion them behind her back. She wouldn't let them.

'Will you go quietly,' the constable said again.

'Never,' she cried and pulled again at their arms, trying to shake them off. Her shawl had fallen down around her shoulders. She felt her hair slip loose.

The constable shook his head at her. 'You're a disgrace, you are. I'm arresting you, young lady.'

Dora laughed. She had done it. She had been arrested. How proud of her they would be at home. She would suffer in Holloway like the rest – she might be young, but she was as good as them, she'd shown them. She had won her battle spurs!