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

The 1866 Womens Suffrage Petition

1866 Petition
The 1866 Women's Suffrage Petition

Historians often date the Women's Rights Movement from the Women's Suffrage Petition presented to Parliament on 7 June 1866.

The Petition was organised by the members of The Kensington Society, a debating society for women. Over the previous 15 years this group had

In 1865, John Stuart Mill included women's suffrage in his election campaign to be MP for Westminster. Several Kensington Society members supported him and, in return, he offered to present a suffrage Petition on their behalf if they could achieve at least 100 signatures.

Although the Kensington Society was London based, it had created a nationwide network of contributors and sympathisers. The Society's secretary sent the Petition to every "corresponding" member. When the copies were returned, she collated the signatures alphabetically and printed copies of the Petition with its accompanying signatures which were sent to every MP and every member of the House of Lords. This is why the names and addresses of the signatories are known; Petitions were routinely destroyed after formal presentation. Only two copies of the Petition survive; one at Girton College in Cambridge and the other in private hands.

1466 women signed; 106 are from Leeds, the greatest number from any town outside London except Manchester.

"To believe in the transubstantiation or the divinity of the Virgin is not so perverting to the mind as to believe that women have no rights to full development of all the faculties and exercise of all their powers."

Barbara Leigh Smith 1858

"With regard to the property of women, there is taxation without representation, for they pay taxes without having the liberty of voting for representatives, and indeed there seems at present no reason why single women should be denied this privilege."

Note to Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, Edited by Edward Christian 1793-1795

An Incident in Connection with the Presentation of the First Women's Suffrage Petition to Parliament in 1866
By Bertha Newcombe, 1910, member of the Artists' Suffrage League

Presenting the Petition

The story goes that the organisers of the Petition agreed to meet John Stuart Mill outside the Houses of Parliament to give him the document. Embarrassed by its weight and size, they hid it under the cart of a nearby apple seller, who then asked if she might add her name.

This rather sentimentalized depiction shows Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson directing John Stuart Mill to look under the cart.

In fact Emily Davies had sent a printed copy of the Petition with all the signatures attached to every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. She also sent copies to all the weekly newspapers.

Her own copy survives in the archives of Girton College, Cambridge, which she founded.

The suffrage historian, Elizabeth Crawford, discovered another copy on a stall in the Portobello Road. She tells her story on her website here

The Parliamentary Archives have now digitised the Petition. It can be searched by name or by location.

It may be downloaded as a .pdf here

Collecting The Signatures In Leeds

The pattern of collecting signatures to the Petition was the same in Leeds and Manchester. The canvasser in both towns concentrated on locating working-class women who were head of household and so would have qualified for the vote if granted on the same terms as men.

This is very different from the signatures in other towns, who are mostly middle-class women, friends and correspondents of the London-based organisers of the Petition, The Kensington Society.

Historians have speculated that the Leeds signatures were collected by Ellen Heaton, a member of the Kensington Society. She certainly signed but there is little other evidence of her involvement in women's suffrage.

We know the signatures in Manchester were collected by Elizabeth Wolstoneholme, a school teacher and Secretary of the Manchester branch of the Schoolmistresses Association. The Secretary of the Leeds branch was Constance Holland.

Did Constance collect the signatures in Leeds? She signed it as did her sister, Helen, and her next-door neighbour, (Elizabeth Armitage). It was also signed by her other sisters, Fanny and Jessy Holland (living in Wortley) and 8 of their neighbours. Fanny Holland living at 59 Oakley Square, Camden, London was an aunt. Constance also collected signatures for the first women's suffrage Petition specifically from Leeds in 1868. As a committee member of the Leeds Women's Suffrage Society she was responsible for encouraging working women to become politically engaged and to use their votes in local elections.

The bulk of the 106 Leeds signatures come from a relatively small area of Woodhouse, as illustrated by the map: 13 women who signed lived in Raglan Road or Raglan Place and 27 lived on Woodhouse Street.

Nearly three-quarters of the women who signed the Petition in Leeds moved address at least twice between the 1861 census and the 1871 census. Such frequent moves caused by changes in fortune reflect the vulnerability at that time of single women and widows (especially those with young families) which might have been alleviated by improved legal status.

Who Signed the Petition

The map below shows that a substantial number of the women from Leeds who signed the Petition were from the Woodhouse area

Woodhouse Map


Born 1820

Died between 1881 and 1891

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 9 Moor Street

Marital status: Widow

Occupation: Unknown

Her husband had been a farmer, a cordwainer and a manufacturer of hooks and fastenings. She had at least 2 daughters. One (also called Jane) was a teacher who married a John Lee.

In the 1881 census, Jane senior was living with her daughter Mary and son-in-law, John Dufton, in York; she does not appear in the 1891 census.

Charlotte Alderson

18 West End Terrace
Photograph courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Services

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 18 West End Terrace, Hyde Park

Charlotte was the wife of George Alderson, who is described in the 1861 census as “a cow catcher”. By the 1871 census, he has reached the status of “farmer with 17 acres”, employing a boy. At his death in 1879, he was described as a “dairyman”.

West End Terrace still exists but only as a name on a map. The alley behind the Hyde Park Pub that runs up the back of Regent Park Avenue has no street signs and only a small cobbled area where cars are parked indicates where the terrace was once.

Anne Briggs and Hannah Bolton Wade Lane

Ann Briggs born 1815 died after 1891

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 51 Wade Lane

Marital status: single

Occupation: Baby Linen Maker

Hannah Bolton - dates unknown

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 55 Wade Lane

Marital status: unknown

Occupation: Baby Linen Maker

Ann Briggs ran a Baby Linen Repository from 51 Wade Lane. At a time when most clothes were hand stitched, she would have employed neighbours such as Hannah Bolton as seamstresses, embroiderers and knitters. In the 1891 census, Ann Briggs was retired and living in Temple Newsam.

Henrietta Carter - born 1811

Photograph courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Services

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 78 Camp Road, Little London

Marital Status: widow

Occupation: Lodging House Keeper

In the 1861 census, Mrs Carter had 2 lodgers and could afford a servant.

76 and 78 Camp Road in 1958. 78 is the empty shop on the right. Camp Road was improved in 1897 and again in the 1930s. It was re-named Oatland Lane and Lovell Park Road

Eliza Embleton 1814-1879

Burley Terrace
Burley Terrace after redevelopment in 1915

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 65 Burley Road

Marital Status: Widow

Occupation: Bookseller and Stationer

Eliza was born and married William Embleton in Sheffield but by 1851 they and their four children were living in Burley Terrace, Leeds and William was employed as a book-keeper at an iron works. Two more children were born before William died in 1855. Eliza moved to Burley Road and opened her own quite successful business. She could afford to have her sons educated; one is in the 1871 census as a mechanical draughtsman and another is a bookbinder. Her daughters became a milliner, a dressmaker and a domestic servant. When Eliza died, she left an estate worth £800, around £75,000 today.

Martha Fenton - 1822-1878

150 Woodhouse Street
150 Woodhouse Street in 1969
Courtesy of Leeds Library & Information Services

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 151 Woodhouse Street

Marital Status: Widow

Occupation: Laundress

Martha was the daughter of a shoemaker. She married a cooper. When she got married, only her husband could sign the Register, indicating that she and her father were illiterate. Martha was widowed in 1857 and her third daughter was born after her father’s death. In the 1861 census, she was described as “taking in washing” and her eldest daughter, aged 13, worked in a thread mill. In the 1871 census, Hannah was a laundress and her two eldest daughters were weavers.

Sarah Fisher - born 1813

Cemetery Street
Photograph courtesy of Leeds Library & Information Services

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 2 Cemetery Street, Woodhouse

Marital Status: widow

Occupation: Lodging House Keeper

In the 1861 census, Mrs Fisher had 3 lodgers but no live-in servant

This photograph, taken in 1904, shows the junction of Cemetery Street and Woodhouse Street, opposite the Packhorse public house. The buildings were demolished in 1960 to make way for the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds.

Part of Cemetery Street still exists, leading to General Cemetery at Woodhouse.

Kate Hall - 1827 - 1910

Address in 1866 on the Petition: St John’s Road

Marital status: Widow

Occupation: Boarding House Landlady

Widow of Edward Hall, Unitarian Minister at the Holbeck Domestic Mission, a project for the poor financed by Mill Hill Chapel.

In the 1861 census, Kate was already a widow with 3 sons, running a machine quilting shop in Skinner Lane.

In the 1871 census, she was living with two of her sons, aged 15 and 13 but both working as solicitors’ clerks, at this address in St John’s Road. There were also 4 lodgers and a servant: like many widows, Kate had to take in lodgers to make ends meet.

Barbara and Sarah Loftus (mother and daughter)

Woodhouse Lane
Courtesy of Leeds Library & Information Services

Born: Barbara 1799 but Sarah’s dates are unknown

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 88 Woodhouse Lane (demolished)

Marital Status: Barbara: widow

Sarah: single

Occupation: Shop Keeper

In the 1861 census, Mrs Loftus had 3 daughters living at home, all working as dressmakers, and a lodger.

The photograph shows Woodhouse Lane in 1906 prior to redevelopment. The area was demolished in the 1960s to make way for what is now Leeds Beckett University and the inner ring road.

Frances Lumley - 1818-1899

3 Raglan Place

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 3 Raglan Place

Marital status: Widow

Occupation: Laundress

Widow of William Lumley, a coachman. 4 children.

In the 1891 census she was living in the Harrison Alms Houses in Raglan Road

The photograph shows 3-7 Raglan Place, off Raglan Road. These and the surrounding houses were demolished in the 1970s.

Ann Northwood - Born 1798

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 39 Fore Street, Woodhouse

Marital Status: widow

Occupation: Dairy Keeper

In the 1861 census, Mrs Northwood employed 3 live-in general servants

Martha Smithson

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 173 Woodhouse Street

Marital Status: widow

Occupation: Cloth Fettler

This area was demolished in the 1970s

Emma Tingle - Born 1832

Address in 1866 on the Petition: 159 Woodhouse Street

Marital Status: widow

Occupation: Charwoman

In the 1871 census, Mrs Carter moved to 141 Woodhouse Street. She had 3 daughters, the eldest also working as a charwoman and the others noted as “scholars”. Her son was a leather dresser.

At the same address in 1866 was

H. M. Pennington

In 1868 she is noted as a member of the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage, as is Constance Holland - evidence that the Leeds Suffrage Society welcomed members across the classes.

This area of Woodhouse Street was demolished in the 1970s.

1 - Jane Airedall (or Ardill) - 9 Moor Street (probably now Moorfield Street)

2 - Charlotte Alderson - 18 West End Terrace (behind Hyde Park pub)

3 - Ann Briggs and Hannah Bolton - 51 and 55 Wade Lane (City Centre)

4 - Henrietta Carter - 78 Camp Road, Little London

5 - Eliza Embleton - 65 Burley Road

6 - Martha Fenton - 151 Woodhouse Street

7 - Sarah Fisher - 2 Cemetery Street

8 - Kate Hall - St John's Road (off Belle Vue Road)

9 - Barbara and Sarah Loftus - 88 Woodhouse Lane

10 - Frances Lumley - 3 Raglan Place

11 - Ann Northwood - 39 Fore Street ???

12 - Martha Smithson - 173 Woodhouse Street

13 - Emma Tingle and H.M. Pennington - 159 Woodhouse Street

Also :

14 - Ellen Heaton

15 - Constance Holland