The Vote Before The Vote - Leeds women and the 19th century march towards the vote

Louisa Carbutt

Louisa was born in Altona, near Hamburg, where her father Robert, a partner in the Pudsey firm of Stansfeld, Brown & Co. Textile Manufacturers, was working. The family returned to Leeds in 1840. Robert entered local politics becoming Mayor in 1847. He divided his large estate among his seven children when he died in 1874.

The Carbutts educated their daughters equally with their sons, all fluent in German, French and Danish. Louisa and her sisters boarded at a school in Hamburg where they studied Latin, Mathematics and Science. On their return to Leeds they taught at the Mill Hill Sunday School for Adults and Louisa determined to open her own school for girls. Her father was horrified and only agreed in 1860 when she offered to open her school in Knutsford, Cheshire.

Louisa Carbutt signed the 1866 Women’s Suffrage petition and was an early member of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage. Ill health forced the closure of her successful school in 1870 and she returned to Leeds, eventually moving to Westfield Grove on St Michael’s Road in Headingley with her younger sister.

When she recovered, she became involved in arranging the Cambridge extension course lectures and examinations for women teachers. She ran a library where the candidates could access donated books. In 1875 she opened the Leeds Employment Registry for Governesses. This provided loans to women teachers who could not afford the examination fees and helped them to find employment. However, it always operated at a loss and many applicants refused training for alternative employment (typewriting, book-keeping, clerking) because of the loss of social status.

Louisa was an energetic and popular public speaker on women’s suffrage. She was involved in the “cottage” meetings arranged by the Leeds Suffrage Society for women voters and spoke at all of the national Grand Suffrage Demonstrations

The Poor Law Act 1834 was unclear as to whether women could stand for election to a Board of Guardians. A court ruling in 1875 encouraged a few suitably qualified women to try but they were disqualified by the Returning Officer. In Leeds, the local Liberal party were persuaded to include Louisa on their slate for the 1882 elections. She took her seat in January 1883. Her first task was to try on 40 overcoats for her male colleagues.

“It was in great part through her exertions that our pauper children were clothed like their little brothers and sisters of happier lot, and sent to the Board Schools, instead of being secluded in the workhouse,” wrote Charles Hargrove, Minister at Mill Hill Chapel.

In 1884, Louisa married a fellow teacher, William Herford, and they retired to Paignton where she died in 1907.

The Leeds Liberals replaced her with another woman, Margaret Baines. (daughter of Edward Baines, owner of the Leeds Mercury and a Leeds MP). At the next election in 1885, Margaret Baines was re-elected with a second woman Guardian, Gertrude Wilson.