Celebrating my feminist ancestors on International Women’s Day!

Today, on International Women’s Day, I honour the memory of my Great Granny Janet Gorrie and her three daughters – my Great Aunts Bel, Mary and Beth – who worked unstintingly in Scotland for women to be given the vote.

Great granny Janet Gorrie

Great Granny Janet Gorrie from Perth, Scotland

They were members of the WSPU in Edinburgh and took part in demonstrations, pageants and the census protest in 1911 (a night of civil disobedience and fun!)

Auntie Beth in fancy dress as Lochinvar, Census Night Protest, 1911

Auntie Beth in fancy dress as Lochinvar, Census Night Protest, 1911


Auntie Mary dressed as Scottish heroine, Kate-Bar-Lass, for 1909 pageant and demo in Edinburgh

Bel was acknowledged by one of the WSPU leaders, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, as their champion newspaper seller in all Scotland!


Auntie Bel (centre) handing suffragette newspaper to a man!

To those special women – thank you!

6 comments on “Celebrating my feminist ancestors on International Women’s Day!

  1. Bill Pigott says:

    quoted extract from:



    MARY NICHOL 1886-1959

    The Gorrie sisters were all involved in women’s suffrage activity in Edinburgh. Isobel Gorrie was a government factory inspector, interested in improving working conditions for women as well as in winning the vote. Tall and red-haired, she played Mary, Queen of Scots in the pageant that formed part of the Edinburgh suffrage procession and demonstration, 9 October 1909 (pictured).
    She was also a champion seller of Votes for Women. In recognition, the newspaper’s founder, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, presented Isobel with an inscribed copy of her autobiography, My Part in a Changing World.

    Mary Gorrie, in addition to her suffrage activities, ran a benefit association for retired domestic workers. It provided a residence in Duddingston and organised a contributory pension scheme. Mary appeared in the 1909 pageant in the role of ’Kate Barlass’.

    Elizabeth Gorrie was a graduate of Edinburgh University, a member of the Women Students’ Union, and secretary of the Edinburgh University Women’s Suffrage Society. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) Edinburgh branch around 1908. A keen photographer, she recorded many suffrage events including the 9 October 1909 events and the Census protest of 1911, when women spent all night at their suffrage café so that they could not be counted in the Census (no cooperation without representation). Her photograph album is held in the National Library of Scotland.

    It seems that some members of the Edinburgh WSPU group did not always agree with the organisers sent up by London. In 1914, Christabel Pankhurst recalled that, ’Miss Lucy Burns [organiser] was virtually driven away from Edinburgh, so unhappy was she because of a few members. The ostensible reason of the trouble was the stand she made with regard to a certain Miss Gorrie …’

    The sisters’ mother appears to have shared their views. There is a story in the Gorrie family that, after a cabinet minister’s appearance in the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, she spied him leaving in a cab, jumped on the running board and beat on the cab roof with her umbrella, shouting ’Votes for Women!’

    (from another Gorrie descendent, proud of his great aunts and great grandmother)

  2. Thanks for sharing this Cousin Bill – we are justly proud of our shared ancestors! My grandfather Bob was obviously influenced by his big sisters too, as he makes mention in his diary of getting into an argument at work about women’s suffrage and also his sisters were coaching him in how to speak at a public meeting! It was just before the outbreak of 1WW so I don’t think he ever got to deliver his speech.

  3. It’s awesome that you have all those old photos., I love looking at those! I’m in a similar situation in that my great-grandmother was quite active in the suffragettes (London and the South-east of England rather than Scotland).
    It sounds like you maybe have more information than I do though. All I have is some old diaries that her best friend wrote about it.
    They were actually part of the group of women who learned martial arts so they could defend themselves against the abusive police at the time, so it’s so cool reading about it, because it comes across as a group of action heroes. They were apparently the first group of women in the western world to really learn any kind of proper fighting skills!

    • Wow Helen, that’s amazing about your suffragette great grandmother learning martial arts as self defence! I bet the Women’s Library in London would be interested to hear about those diaries. I’d never heard of such a group. Thanks for getting in touch and sharing your connection to the suffragettes. They were wonderful women. All the best, Janet

      • I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of it! It was quite a big deal within the movement as I understand it. They had an official martial arts school and everything. Here’s a BBC article on it: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34425615
        It seems like it was necessary because the police would often just assault femnists in general back then. They didn’t like women protesting about anything as a group. So it was quite satisfying to read that these women fought back, and quite successfully on several occasions. There are some cases of them beating male policemen in a fight!

  4. Fascinating Helen! thanks for the link!

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