Flora Drummond

Flora Drummond

Flora Drummond was born in Manchester on 4th August 1879, but spent her childhood on the Isle of Arran. She took a business training course in Glasgow and also attended lectures on economics at the University of Glasgow. Flora qualified as a post mistress but was refused entry because she was too short.

After her marriage to Joseph Drummond in 1898 Flora lived in Manchester and she and her husband joined the Independent Labour Party. She was also a member of the Fabian Society and the Clarion Club. Her husband worked as an upholsterer. At the time she was employed in a baby-linen factory.

According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "Flora Drummond... later explained her involvement in the women's suffrage movement by her experience at this time. She saw that women were paid such low wages that they were forced to engage in prostitution in order to live. Flora Drummond's husband, an upholsterer, was often out of work and it seems unlikely that she would have elected to take low-paid work if she could have been more gainfully employed."

Flora Drummond joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and in the summer of 1905 she joined Hannah Mitchell in the campaign to recruit women to the cause in Lancashire towns. On 13th October she was with Teresa Billington-Greig at the Free Trade Hall when they witnessed the arrests of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney. Pankhurst and Kenney were found guilty of assault and fined five shillings each. When the women refused to pay the fine they were sent to prison.

In 1906 Drummond joined Annie Kenney, Mary Gawthorpe, Nellie Martel, Helen Fraser, Adela Pankhurst and Minnie Baldock as WSPU full-time organizers. As Christabel Pankhurst pointed out: "Clement's Inn, our headquarters, was a hive seething with activity... General Flora Drummond's office was full of movement. As department was added to department, Clement's Inn seemed always to have one more room to offer. Mary Richardson described her as having a "broad, lovable Scottish accent."

Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney being arrested on 9th March, 1906
Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney being arrested on 9th March, 1906

On 9th March, 1906, Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney, led a demonstration to Downing Street, repeatedly knocking on the door of the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Drummond and Kenney were arrested but Campbell-Bannerman refused to press charges and they were released. A few months later Drummond was arrested outside the House of Commons and she served her first term of imprisonment in Holloway Prison.

In 1908 Flora Drummond was put in charge of the WSPU offices at Clement's Inn. It was during this time that she acquired the nickname "General". Emmeline Pankhurst said that "Mrs. Drummond is a woman of very great public spirit; she is an admirable wife and mother; she has very great business ability, and she has maintained herself, although a married woman, for many years, and has acquired for herself the admiration and respect of all the people with whom she has had business relations."

Flora Drummond was arrested with Christabel Pankhurst in October 1908 and charged with the incitement to "rush the House of Commons". She was sentenced to three months' imprisonment but she was discharged after nine days, when the prison authorities discovered that she was pregnant. Her son was named "Keir" after Keir Hardie.

In 1909 Drummond moved to Glasgow. She wrote to Minnie Baldock that her husband, Joseph Drummond, had decided to go and live in Australia. She organized the WSPU campaign in the January 1910 General Election. In 1911 she returned to Clement's Inn where she was put in charge of all the WSPU branches in the country on a wage of £3 10s a week.

Drummond was arrested during a demonstration on 15th April 1913. In court she argued that if she was imprisoned she would go on hunger-strike. The Daily Herald reported: "She (Flora Drummond) did not like the idea of hunger striking any more than the most normal human beings, but hunger strike she would if she were sent to gaol." The court decided to withdraw the charges against her.

In May 1914, she was arrested again. For the ninth time she was imprisoned. After going on hunger strike she was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. Drummond recuperated in the Isle of Arran but she returned to Clement's Inn after the outbreak of the First World War. 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."

During the First World War Drummond toured the country in an attempt to persuade trade unionists from going on strike. In 1917 Drummond joined with Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst to form the The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire." The WP also supported: "equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits." Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.

After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act in 1918, Flora Drummond helped Christabel Pankhurst, who represented the The Women's Party in Smethwick. Despite the fact that the Conservative Party candidate agreed to stand down, Christabel lost a straight fight with the representative of the Labour Party by 775 votes.

In 1922 Flora divorced Joseph Drummond and two years later married Alan Simpson, an engineer from Glasgow. Drummond had now completely rejected her early socialism and now held right-wing opinions and along with Elsie Bowerman and Norah Dacre Fox established the Women's Guild of Empire, a right wing league opposed to communism. Her biographer, Krista Cowman, pointed out: "When the war ended she was one of the few former suffragettes who attempted to continue the popular, jingoistic campaigning which the WSPU had followed from 1914 to 1918. With Elsie Bowerman, another former suffragette, she founded the Women's Guild of Empire, an organization aimed at furthering a sense of patriotism in working-class women and defeating such socialist manifestations as strikes and lock-outs." By 1925 Drummond claimed the organization had a membership of 40,000. In April 1926, she led a demonstration that demanded an end to the industrial unrest that was about to culminate in the General Strike.

Juanita Frances, who worked with Drummond in the Women's Guild of Empire, described her as someone who "looked as she spoke" and was "like a charwoman" and that she was "rather shabby" and "a little unkempt".

Drummond became involved in a dispute with Norah Dacre Fox who had criticised the violent methods of the British Union of Fascists. On 22nd February 1935 Norah argued in The Blackshirt that Drummond had once "defied all law and order; smashed not only windows, but all the meetings of Cabinet Ministers on which she could lay hands, and was for long the daily terror of the Public Prosecutor and the despair of Bow Street!" Norah described Drummond and other former suffragettes as "extinct volcanoes either wandering about in the backwoods of international pacifism and decadence, or prostrating themselves before the various political parties."

Flora Drummond died in 1949.

Primary Sources

(1) Elizabeth Crawford, The Suffragette Movement (1999)

Flora Drummond... later explained her involvement in the women's suffrage movement by her experience at this time. She saw that women were paid such low wages that they were forced to engage in prostitution in order to live. Flora Drummond's husband, an upholsterer, was often out of work and it seems unlikely that she would have elected to take low-paid work if she could have been more gainfully employed.

(2) The Daily Herald (17th April, 1913)

She (Flora Drummond) did not like the idea of hunger striking any more than the most normal human beings, but hunger strike she would if she were sent to gaol. She had experience of short commons while engaged on sociology work in the East End.