Suffragette sisters’ political archive found in forgotten shoe box hidden under stairs for decades

Posted on 19/06/2018 in Press Coverage

A vibrant mix of political memorabilia from three suffragette sisters who battled for women’s rights more than a century ago has been discovered tucked away in a forgotten shoe box.

The rich archive, which belonged to Edith, Florence, and Grace Hodgson - one of whom went to prison for the cause - has stunned valuers at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers where it will go under the hammer on July 2.

The box of political treasures – which was left in a cubby hole underneath a staircase for decades - is a poignant and colourful reminder of how and why women fought to gain the right to vote in elections at a time when some men believed they were not intelligent enough to do so.

One period postcard in the collection features a sketch of a man under the heading ‘Types of Anti-Suffragists – The man who thinks women are not sufficiently intelligent to vote, don’t you know’.

The sisters kept everything relating to their political fight including numerous badges, white enamel Votes for Women pins, the famous suffragette sashes, a leaflet providing ‘hints for women who have never marched in a procession before’ and even a Women’s Freedom League pennant featuring Holloway Prison and the words, ‘stone walls do not a prison make’.

There is also a rich collection of 101 period postcards of leading lights in the movement including Emmeline Pankhurst, Lady Constance Lytton, Mrs Pethick Lawrence, Mrs Borrmann Wells, seen at work in prison, and Anna Munro, signed in ink.

Together, the collection has an estimate of £1,000 but, due to the interest in the suffragette movement sparked by the 100th anniversary of women over 30 winning the right to vote in 1918, experts say it could spiral much higher.

Hansons valuer Isabel Murtough, who uncovered the find at a free valuation day, said: “Right now, there is huge interest in what the suffragettes achieved and fought for and suffragette-related finds are soaring at auction. The fact that one of the sisters, Grace, went to prison for her beliefs underlines how big a role they played in the movement.”

The sisters certainly took their roles seriously. Within a postcard album, which is part of the archive, are five hand-written postmarked cards urging them to support the cause in different ways. One to Miss Edith Hodgson, 39 Estelle Road, Hampstead NW, August 24, 1909, says: 'Dear Miss Hodgson, we are indeed very grateful for your offer to help with the picketing as we are very hard pushed - looking forward to seeing you’.

Isabel said: “What makes this discovery extra special is the fact that it’s so personal to the sisters, a rich archive of political ephemera gathered during the years when they were fighting to change the course of political history on behalf of all women. I expect huge interest in this and the archive could easily exceed its estimate.”

The owner of the collection, who does not wish to be named, said: “We read in our paper about an Antiques Roadshow-style event Hansons were running and decided to take it along but had no idea what its value might be. We’re very excited that it’s aroused such interest. It’s a real piece of history.”

The items were inherited by the owner’s late husband. She said: “The three suffragettes were his great-aunts and he used to catch the train to visit them with his family. They were born in Islington and lived in a three-storey house in London. Each had a floor to themselves. They never married or had children but there was one other sister, May, who did marry and moved away.

“When the last sister died my late father-in-law, May’s son, cleared the property and many items were sold. But he was a hoarder and kept many things. When he passed away 12 years ago at the age of 94 we found the box of suffragette items under the stairs. It was one of the last things we found as we were clearing the house.

“It was a complete surprise. We didn’t know the sisters were suffragettes and, until we took the items to be valued, I had no idea one of them had been imprisoned. It’s been amazing uncovering our family history in the last couple of weeks. One of my daughters has done hours of research to find out more about the sisters.”

It’s known that the Hodgson sisters, Edith, born in 1880, Florence, born in 1881 and Grace, born in 1888, lived at 39 Laurier Road, Dartmouth Park, London. In the 1901 census Edith was a milliner, Florence was noted as working for The Post Office and Grace was 13.

By 1911 all three are absent from the census, probably in protest. Many suffragettes deliberately avoided census night. It’s documented that in London suffragettes spent midnight walking round Trafalgar Square with a concert put on for entertainment and a vegetarian restaurant in Covent Garden staying open to provide refreshments.

Grace, the youngest sister, appears on the role of honour for suffragette prisoners, 1905-1914, but it is not known why she was sent to jail.

The suffragette archive will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on July 2. Among several other items, it includes two Women’s Freedom League 1909 pin badges, two guilloche enamel Votes For Women bar brooches; two button badges featuring portraits of Mrs Charlotte Despard, president of Women’s Freedom League; two Census Resisted No Vote No Census button badges and a green hand-made pouch bag featuring a Votes for Women WFL patch. To find outmore, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.