A very important visitor turned up at the home of Merseyside women’s rights campaigner Edith Bright in February 1909.
The house-guest was none other than renowned suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline and sister of Sylvia.
And her timing couldn’t have been better.
Bright had been battling for votes for women since setting up the Liverpool Women’s Suffrage Society with Lydia Allen Booth and Nessie Stewart-Brown in 1894.
The group had held talks, poetry and dance recitals at its Lord Street headquarters and in cafes across the city – but its membership desperately needed a boost.
It got it when Christabel gave an inspirational address in Liverpool on February 12th 1909. The resulting demand for membership cards was ‘phenomenal’, said the organisers. Everyone wanted to join the suffrage society.
Christabel had already been jailed in London in 1907 after becoming secretary of the more militant Workers’ Social and Political Union (WSPU). Newspapers had branded her ‘the Queen of the Mob’.
Liverpool’s campaign for women’s votes distanced itself from the more extreme tactics of the WSPU. It preferred to describe its members as ‘lady suffragists’ rather than suffragettes and aimed to recruit ‘prestigious members of society’ to its ranks.
But by its first annual meeting in January 1895, there were only 71 members!
The society affiliated with the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1896 and joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1898. But the biggest catalyst had to be Christabel’s appearance.
Women were forging ahead in another sphere dear to Liverpool hearts while the suffragettes were protesting in the early 1900s – football.
The extraordinary Dick, Kerr ladies’ team, formed in the North West from workers at the Dick, Kerr and Co munitions factory in Preston in 1914, were literally taking Europe by storm.
In their chain-smoking, combative forward Lily Parr, the Dick, Kerr side possessed the player with reputedly the hardest shot in football – male or female!
In fact, the Dick, Kerr ladies were so good they often played men’s teams and beat them.
They drew huge crowds too. One match against St Helens at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920 was watched by 53,000 spectators!
The Dick, Kerr ladies represented England when they took on a French national team in a series of matches in 1920. Our photo shows the game at the Pershing Stadium near Paris which ended in a 1-1 draw. Dick, Kerr are in the stripes.
Newspapers at the time reported that the two captains greeted each other with a kiss – which was customary in women’s matches. So too was playing in caps, or berets in the case of the French team.
Back home, the Dick, Kerr side beat the French team 2-0 at Deepdale in front of a crowd of 25,000. The visitors apparently marched to the ground to the strains of the Marseillaise – and received a huge ovation.
One of the earliest known women’s association football teams in England, the Dick, Kerr ladies played 833 games from 1917 to 1965, winning 759, drawing 46 and losing only 28.
Another woman who embodied Liverpool’s campaigning zeal was Labour MP Bessie Braddock. Her mother Mary Bamber was a suffragist and trade union activist.
Born in Zante Street in 1899, Braddock quickly earned a reputation as a crusading and controversial left-wing councillor. Her key areas of concern were housing and welfare.
She worked as an ambulance driver during World War II, attending every one of the 68 major air raids on the city, and was elected MP for Liverpool Exchange in the Labour landslide victory of 1945.
In 1952, Braddock became the first female MP to be suspended from the House of Commons after protesting that the Speaker had failed to call her during a debate on the textile industry.
She served as MP for Liverpool Exchange from 1945 until 1970 and was Liverpool’s first woman freeman.
Braddock, Bright and the Dick, Kerr ladies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to listing women of achievement on Merseyside. Many more names could have joined them.
They include Liverpool-born suffragette Kate Sheppard, who worked fervently for women’s votes in New Zealand, educationalist Hannah Lightbody and early MP Eleanor Rathbone.
There’s also ground-breaking tennis player Angela Buxton, actress and MP Glenda Jackson, author Beryl Bainbridge and scriptwriter Carla Lane – to name but a few.
It is enough that they are all remembered ahead of International Women’s Day as inspirational women who helped change the world.
*Christabel Pankhurst and more inspirational women from the North West are featured in First in the Fight, the critically acclaimed story of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Manchester.
Priced at £19.99 plus postage and packing, it’s available on the inostalgia website inostalgia.co.uk or through an order hotline on 01928 503777.