More Census Evasion

I’ve no idea how I missed this one – the TV Show, “Find My Past” had an episode in December about the relatives of Suffragettes:

The programme’s web page features a number of defaced census forms. These include Emily Wilding Davison‘s record as a “resident” of the House of Commons on census night (she was hiding in the crypt as a protest):

One with a leaflet posted over it, and the words, “No persons here, only women!” written in:

And finally, this one, “No vote – no census. House deserted (April 2nd to 3rd) by Suffragist who demands the vote. Considers that if she is intelligent enough to fill up this schedule she can surely make a X on a ballot paper” – a statement that gets to the crux of the matter!:

My book, The Suffragette explores the issues these women were protesting – this was a national movement, so I set the Suffragette in Tyneside to provide a backdrop of working class realism for what is sometimes portrayed now as a middle / upper class struggle.

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Unless We Can Vote, We’re Not At Home!

Well, not us as such. It was my family who were deliberately “not at home” on the night of the 1911 census.

We managed to get a copy of the 1901 census to see who should have been in the household – click to enlarge:

As you can see, the Gorries at No. 3 Cameron Park, Edinburgh are all listed. Yet mysteriously on the night of the 1911 census, everyone’s on holiday, and young Robert (my grandfather!) seems to be staying with the neighbours at No. 1:

Where was everyone?

I found out when I was researching The Suffragette – they were at a party! They’d hired a room at an Edinburgh hotel and were in fancy dress, with Great Aunt Beth as Young Lochinvar, no less. I remember her well from later in her life – when we used to visit her flat when I was a girl, she’d treat all us kids to breakfast in bed.

Here’s the page from my notebook. I made these notes while studying The Gorrie Collection at The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh – a collection of papers, photos and newspaper cuttings donated by Auntie Beth:

Census evading was just one of the ways for women to protest. As Christabel Pankhurst said,

Until women count as people for the purpose of representation…as well as for purposes of taxation, we shall refuse to be numbered

As Women’s Freedom League founder member Margaret Wynne Nevinson commented in 1913:

All over the country the names of thousands of women are missing from the Census papers, proving the great axiom of the British Constitution – that government must rest on the consent of the governed

It is estimated that the number of evaders ran to well over a hundred thousand. In a population of around 40 million, that wasn’t enough to seriously distort the results, but it did gain significant publicity for the cause of women’s suffrage.

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UPDATE – 30th Jaunuary 2012

Census evasion is a form of protest that’s still very much alive and kicking! Quaker pacifists refused to complete last year’s census, and they’re now being prosecuted for their conscience.