Charles Mansell-Moullin

Charles Mansell-Moullin was born in 1851. He entered Pembroke College in 1869 and according to his friend, H. S. Souttar "he took a brilliant degree, became a Fellow of Pembroke, and obtained the Radcliffe Travelling Fellowship, which enabled him to travel to Vienna, Strasbourg and Paris." He entered St. Bartholomew's Hospital and took his F.R.C.S. in 1878 and M.D. in 1879. Three years later he was appointed as assistant surgeon at London Hospital.

On 20 August 1885 he married Edith Ruth Thomas. The couple had similar political views. Both were socialists and supported the campaign for women's suffrage. This included being members of the Church League for Women's Suffrage and the Church Socialist League.

Mansell-Moullin developed a reputation as an outstanding teacher. One student later commented: "He was a fine teacher and an exceptionally clear lecturer, and his punctuality became proverbial; he entered the door of the lecture theatre as the clock struck, and he began to speak as he approached the table. With his last words he passed out through the door, again as the door struck, but he had never looked at a note or at the time."

By 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst had become frustrated at the lack of progress towards women's suffrage. With the help of her three daughters, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst, she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). As an early member of the WSPU, Dora Montefiore, pointed out: "The work of the Women’s Social and Political Union was begun by Mrs. Pankhurst in Manchester, and by a group of women in London who had revolted against the inertia and conventionalism which seemed to have fastened upon" the NUWSS.

Edith Mansell Moullin joined the WSPU. Men were not allowed to join the organisation but in 1907, several left-wing intellectuals, including Charles Mansell-Moullin, Henry Nevinson, Laurence Housman, Charles Corbett, Henry Brailsford, C. E. M. Joad, Israel Zangwill, Hugh Franklin, Charles Mansell-Moullin and 30 other men formed the Men's League For Women's Suffrage "with the object of bringing to bear upon the movement the electoral power of men. To obtain for women the vote on the same terms as those on which it is now, or may in the future, be granted to men." Evelyn Sharp later argued: "It is impossible to rate too highly the sacrifices that they (Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman) and H. N. Brailsford, F. W. Pethick Lawrence, Harold Laski, Israel Zangwill, Gerald Gould, George Lansbury, and many others made to keep our movement free from the suggestion of a sex war."

In a letter that he had published in The Daily Mirror on 22nd November 1910, Dr. Mansell Moullin complained about how the police were treating members of the WSPU during demonstrations: "The women were treated with the greatest brutality. They were pushed about in all directions and thrown down by the police. Their arms were twisted until they were almost broken. Their thumbs were forcibly bent back, and they were tortured in other nameless ways that made one feel sick at the sight... These things were done by the police. There were in addition organised bands of well-dressed roughs who charged backwards and forwards through the deputation like a football team without any attempt being made to stop them by the police; but they contented themselves with throwing the women down and trampling upon them."

In November 1911, Edith Mansell Moullin, was one of the main speakers at the Caxton Hall meeting which preceded a demonstration in Parliament Square. She was one of 223 arrested. Charged with trying to break through the police cordon, she denied attempting to disturb the peace, claiming that the police were obstructing her. She spent five days in Holloway Prison before being released.

Charles Mansell Moullin was active in the campaign to stop suffragettes being force-fed. He also performed the unsuccessful emergency operation on Emily Wilding Davison after she had thrown herself in front of the king's horse at the 1913 Derby.

Mansell Moulin joined forces with Sir Victor Horsley and Dr. Agnes Savill to write a report on the impact of the forced-feeding of suffragettes. In a speech on 13th March, 1913 he argued that Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, had been making misleading statements to the House of Commons: "Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison."... He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public."

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. The leadership of the WSPU began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."

Edith Mansell Moullin was a pacifist so she completely disagreed with this strategy. She therefore left the Women's Social and Political Union and instead became a supporter of the Women's Freedom League. Edith believed that the British government did not do enough to bring an end to the war and between 1914-1918 supported the campaign of the Women's Peace Crusade for a negotiated peace. She also launched an appeal to help thirty-six Welsh wives of imprisoned Germans who had been working in Welsh mines. The wives were not receiving relief as they were not considered to be British subjects.

After the war Mansell Moullin became a member of the British Medical Council and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons. He also became a leading figure in carrying out abdominal surgery. H. S. Souttar has commented that he was "a somewhat shy man, he was the very soul of kindness... and no one will forget his generous hospitality."

Charles Mansell Moullin died aged eighty-nine in 1940.

Primary Sources

(1) Charles Mansell Moullin, The Daily Mirror (22nd November, 1910)

I notice in your account of the reception given to the deputation from the W.S.P.U. to the Prime Minister on Friday last it is stated that the police behaved with great good temper, tact, and restraint.

This may have been the case on previous occasions on which deputations have been sent; on the present one it is absolutely untrue.

The women were treated with the greatest brutality. They were pushed about in all directions and thrown down by the police. Their arms were twisted until they were almost broken. Their thumbs were forcibly bent back, and they were tortured in other nameless ways that made one feel sick at the sight.

I was there myself and saw many of these things done. The photographs that were published in your issue of November 19 prove it. And I have since seen the fearful bruises, showing the marks of the fingers, caused by the violence with which these women were treated.

These things were done by the police. There were in addition organised bands of well-dressed roughs who charged backwards and forwards through the deputation like a football team without any attempt being made to stop them by the police; but they contented themselves with throwing the women down and trampling upon them.

As this behaviour on the part of the police is an entirely new departure, it would be interesting to know who issued the instructions that they were to act with such brutality, and who organised the bands of roughs who suddenly sprang up on all sides from nowhere.

The Home Secretary, who does not want women arrested, is credited with the statement that he had devised a new method of putting a stop to deputations. Is this the method?

The women were discharged without a trial by the Secretary of State on the grounds of public policy. Is it public policy that there should be no trial and that the evidence which might otherwise have some out should be suppressed in this way?

(2) Charles Mansell Moullin, speech at Kingway Hall (18th March, 1913)

Last summer there were 102 Suffragettes in prison; 90 of those were being forcibly fed. All sorts of reports were being spread about what was being done to them. We got up a petition to the Home Secretary, we wrote him letters, we interviewed him so far as we could. We got absolutely no information of any kind that was satisfactory; nothing but evasion. So three of us formed ourselves into a committee - Sir Victor Horsley, Dr. Agnes Savill, and myself, and we determined that we would investigate these cases as thoroughly as we could. I don't want to be conceited, but we had the idea that we had sufficient experience in public and hospital practice and in private practice to be able to examine those persons, to take their evidence, to weigh it fully, and to consider it. And we drew up a report, and that report was published in The Lancet and in the British Medical, at the end of August last year.

We stand by that report. There is not a single thing in that report that we wish to withdraw. There are some few things that we might put more strongly now than we did then. Everything that has happened since has merely strengthened what we said, and has confirmed what we predicted would happen.

Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison." I got those words from The Times - of course, they may not be correctly reported. Well, of course, Mr. McKenna has no personal knowledge. Mr. McKenna has never, as far as I know, made any enquiry for himself, nor do I think if he did it would have had any effect one way or the other. He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public.

I don't wish to exonerate Mr. McKenna in the least. He has had abundant opportunity - in fact, it has been forced upon his notice - of ascertaining the falsehood of these statements, and if he goes on repeating them after having been told time after time by all sorts of people that they are not correct, he makes himself responsible for them whether they are true or not. And in his own statements in the House of Commons he has given sufficient evidence of his frame of mind with regard to this subject. Time after time has he told the Members of the House that there was no pain or injury, and almost in the same breath - certainly in the same evening - he has told how one of these prisoners has had to be turned out at a moment's notice, carried away in some vehicle or other, and attended by a prison doctor, to save her life. One or other of these statements must be absolutely untrue.

Now I come to the question of pain. Mr. McKenna says that there is none. Let me read you an account of how they manage. Of course, the prison cells are ranged down either side of a corridor. All the doors are opened when this business is going to begin, so that nothing may be lost. "From 4:30 until 8:30 I heard the most dreadful screams and yells coming from the cells." This is the statement of a prisoner whom I know and who I know does not exaggerate: "I had never heard human beings being tortured before... I sat on my chair with my fingers in my ears for the greater part of that endless four hours. My heart was thumping against my ribs, as I sat listening to the procession of the doctors and wardresses as they came to and fro, and passed from cell to cell, and the groans and cries of those who were being fed, until at last the procession paused at my door. My turn had come."

That is a statement. I hope none of you has ever been so unfortunate as to be compelled to listen to the screams of a person when you are yourself in perfect health - the screams of a person in agony, screams gradually getting worse and worse, and then, at last, when the person's strength is becoming exhausted, dying down and ending in a groan. That is bad enough when you are strong and well, but if you come to think that these prisoners hear those screams in prison, that they are the screams of their friends, that they are helpless, that they know those screams are being caused by pain inflicted without the slightest necessity - I am not exaggerating in the least, I am giving you a plain statement of what goes on in His Majesty's prisons at the present time - then it becomes a matter upon which it is exceedingly difficult to speak temperately.

Then they say there is no danger. In one instance - that of an unresisting prisoner in Winson Gaol, Birmingham - there is no question but that the food was driven down into the lungs. The operation was

stopped by severe choking and persistent coughing. All night the prisoner could not sleep or lie down on account of great pain in her chest. She was hastily released next day, so ill that the authorities when discharging her obliged her to sign a statement that she left the prison at her own risk. On reaching home she was found to be suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy, caused from fluid being poured into her lungs. The same thing happened only the other day in the case of Miss Lenton. Fortunately, she is steadily recovering, and the Home Secretary may congratulate himself that these two cases - there have been others - are recovering, and that there will not have to be an inquest.

Then with regard to Miss Lenton. The Home Secretary wrote that she was reported by the medical officer of Holloway Prison to be in a state of collapse, and in imminent danger of death consequent upon her refusal to take food. This statement is not true. "Three courses were open - to leave her to die; to attempt to feed her forcibly, which the medical officer advised would probably entail death; and to release her on her undertaking to surrender herself at the further hearing of her case." That implied that she was not forcibly fed. She had been, but that fact was suppressed - suppressed by the Home Secretary in the statement he published in the newspapers, suppressed because the cause of her illness was forcible feeding. That has been proved absolutely.

As regards the moral and mental deterioration that has been already alluded to by Mr. Forbes Robertson and Mr. Bernard Shaw, I will only say this one thing. It shows itself everywhere where forcible feeding is practised. It shows itself in the prisons, where the medical officers, I am sorry to say, have on more than one occasion laughed and made stupid jokes about "stuffing turkeys at Christmas." It shows itself in the prison officials, in the reports they have drawn up. It shows itself in the Home Secretary in the untrue statements that he has published and the evasions that he has made; and it shows itself, too, in the ribald laughter and obscene jokes with which the so-called gentlemen of the House of Commons received the accounts of these tortures.

(3) Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffrage Movement (1931)

On the eve of the Derby she (Emily Wilding Davison) went with two friends to a W.S.P.U. bazaar in the Empress Rooms, Kensington, Where, amid the trivial artificiality of a hazaar-fitter's ornamental garden, and the chatter of buying and selling at the stalls, she had joined in laying a wreath on the plaster statue of Joan of Arc, whom Christabel had called "the patron saint of Suffragettes." With a fellow-militant in whose flat she lived, she had concerted a Derby protest without tragedy - mere waving of the purple-white-and-green at Tattenham Corner, which, by its suddenness, it was hoped would stop the race. Whether from the first her purpose was more serious, or whether a final impulse altered her resolve, I know not. Her friend declares she would not thus have died without writing a farewell message to her mother. Yet she had sewed the W.S.P.U. colours inside her coat as though to ensure that no mistake could be made as to her motive when her dead body should he examined. So she set forth alone, the hope of a great achievement surging through her mind. With sure resolve she ran out onto the course and deliberately flung herself upon the King's horse, Anmer, that her deed might be the more pointed. Her skull was fractured. Incurably injured, she was removed to the Epsom Cottage Hospital, and there died on June 8 without regaining consciousness. As life lingered in her for two days, Mansell-Moullin performed an operation, which, in surgeon's parlance, "gave great temporary relief," but the injured brain did not mend.

A solemn funeral procession was organised to do her honour. To the militants who had prepared so many processions, this was the natural manifestation. The call to women to come garbed in black carrying purple irises, in purple with crimson peonies, in white hearing laurel wreaths, received a response from thousands who gathered from all parts of the country. Graduates and clergy marched in their robes, suffrage societies, trade unionists from the East End, unattached people. The streets were densely lined by silent, respectful crowds. The great public responded to the appeal of a life deliberately given for an impersonal end. The police had issued a notice which was virtually a prohibition of the procession, hut at the same time constables were enjoined to reverent conduct.