Women’s Suffrage Society, Stourbridge

In April 1913 Mary Downing became an active supporter of the national campaign for women’s suffrage and is recorded as being Stourbridge NUWSS Secretary.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) originally was formed in 1897 by merging together earlier middle class suffrage organisations. The founder and the first president was Millicent Fawcett. The NUWSS was committed to constitutional methods and defined their course as Non-Militant and Non-Party. Members of NUWSS called themselves suffragists as opposed to suffragettes, members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

In 1913 NUWSS had a membership of about 50,000 and consisted of 449 local societies united in 16 federations.

Stourbridge NUWSS headed paper, 1913

Stourbridge NUWSS headed paper, 1913

The Stourbridge & District Women’s Suffrage Society was one of 34 in West Midlands. It was founded in 1903 under Miss Moorhouse as its Secretary. In 1913 it was acting under Mrs McDonnell of Clent, nr Stourbridge as Chairman, Miss Downing of Elm Lodge, Hagley, Worcestershire as Secretary and Mrs Perks of Oakhurst, Norton, Stourbridge as Treasurer.

By joining NUWSS, and not WSPU must have been Mary’s conscious choice. Nonetheless, according to her 1912 diary she was in direct contact with Dorothy Evans, who was WSPU Birmingham organiser from 1910 to 1912.

Mary held her Secretary post until August 1914 when outbreak of the war led to NUWSS political activities being stopped.

She joined the Studley Court Hospital in Stourbridge where she served as a staff nurse from November 1914 till July 1917. Her service was recognised as exceptional and she was awarded the Royal Red Cross.

After the war NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and continued a campaign to equalise suffrage until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928.

Last updated on 27 August 2018 by E Morgan