Visible Women

A day in the life of a suffragist

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Stylist Team
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Kate Parry Frye, 1878-1959, was a British suffragist and diarist who lived in London. Stylist takes Campaigning For The Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary (as edited by Elizabeth Crawford) to imagine a day in her life. 

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

Never. I rise naturally around 7am and have a breakfast of bread, butter and cocoa, often with a friend. I’ll wear something like a green linen dress with underskirts, boots and an Aquascutum coat as I’m often outside canvassing. I may be writing letters in the morning or preparing handbills on women’s suffrage. I leave the house around 9.30am or earlier if I’m off to a rally.

I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Campaigning and organising events in support of the Women’s Suffrage movement. I am paid £2 a week as an organiser for the NCS [New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage]; 
I steward meetings, read palms
at fundraisers, canvass towns
and occasionally give speeches. I’m also a member of the WSPU [Women’s Social and Political Union], although I am not an active militant – I’m not involved with smashing windows and being deliberately arrested.

I GOT THE JOB…

After having taken an interest in politics. My father was an MP –
I often accompanied him to the House of Commons – and my mother was president of North Kensington Women’s Liberal Association. I initially pursued acting while volunteering for the Cause from 1906. In 1911, I was offered a position by the NCS and became a full-time campaigner.

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Often begins with canvassing for the NCS. I travel regularly and
 will be in locations like Norfolk and Essex for weeks at a time campaigning. It’s uphill work; many people I meet either do not share our views – I have had women tell me they do not support suffrage because they’re a “man’s woman”, – or claim they are supporters, but cannot be moved to do anything to further the cause.

Lunch is usually around 1.30pm; it can be anything from roast chicken to rice pudding, depending on whether I need to fly out of the door again. If I have time, I may take afternoon tea with colleagues.

I also regularly attend WSPU demonstrations, led by Mrs Pankhurst. These can become rough – I have seen women with dresses half torn off, covered 
with mud and paint, being arrested. If I am not at one of these, I am usually home at about 6.30pm.

Romola Garai as suffragist Kate Parry Frye in The Great War: The Peoples Story, 2014

MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

Was attending the funeral of Emily Wilding Davison in 1913. It was most imposing – crowds of women in black carrying white lilies. To think she had to give her life because men will not listen made me feel completely tired.

THE WORST PART OF MY JOB…

Is the internal politics. There is often in-fighting within the organisation and you have to work with women you find disagreeable.

THE BEST PART OF MY JOB…

Is the excitement. Watching a full meeting respond to a rousing speaker is akin to fireworks.

AFTER WORK…

I have a dinner of fish or a boiled egg and am out to an evening meeting. Depending on how the day’s canvassing went, we can expect crowds from four to 50.
If we make three new members,
it is a triumph. I’ll be asleep around 10.30pm after cocoa.

MY PLAN B: PLAYWRIGHT

I have always wanted to work in theatre; I studied as an actress when I was younger and felt very drawn to it. I think my lack of education prevented me from success as a playwright; I have written many scripts but only had one published – which was co-written with my husband. 

Stylist is celebrating the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote. See more of our commemorative content here

Images: Rex Features