Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall, the daughter of Francis E. Marshall (1847–1922), a mathematics master at Harrow School, was born on 29th April 1880 at Harrow-on-the-Hill. She was educated privately before attending St Leonards School (1896-99).

Catherine later recalled that: "Ever since I was old enough to think about politics at all I have been a Liberal." As a young woman she read the work of John Stuart Mill: "I was profoundly impressed by them." Her biographer, Jo Vellacott, has pointed out that she "left earlier than she might have chosen, although she was nineteen years old... her mother was still unwell and Catherine was needed at home."

Her parents were supporters of the Liberal Party and she became secretary of Women's Liberal Association in Harrow. In 1904 she became a member of the London Society for Women's Suffrage. However, it was another four years before she became an active supporter of women's rights. After the retirement of her father the family moved to Hawse End, on the edge of Derwentwater. Soon afterwards she became a Poor Law guardian.

In May 1908 Catherine and her mother joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and established a branch in Keswick. Catherine reported: "A committee was formed, rules drawn up, and active propaganda work started at once. It was unanimously decided that our object should be votes for women on the same terms as for men, and that the Association should be a strictly non-party organization; we also pledged ourselves to peaceful and constitutional methods only. Our work was to consist of spreading the principles of Women's Suffrage by means of meetings, of Ietters to the press, of distributing literature on the subject.... The audience at these meetings averaged between 50 and 100 in numbers; in every instance a resolution in favour of votes for women on the same terms as for men was enthusiastically carried."

Catherine Marshall soon showed that she had all the necessary skills to become an excellent organiser. Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999) has pointed out: "Catherine Marshall's initiative of setting up a stall in Keswick marketplace from which to sell suffrage literature was one that was soon emulated by other NUWSS societies. She was full of energy in campaigning across Westmoreland and Cumberland, organizing there a model campaign for the general election in January 1910."

Marshall pointed out that influencing the local media was vitally important: "It does mean a great deal of work... I have been doing it myself, though with nothing like thoroughness, in connection with twenty local papers, and it has made very great demands on my time. But the results have more than repaid the cost. Of these twenty papers not one is now hostile; not one ever misrepresents us (that alone is an immense gain); most of them give excellent - almost verbatim - reports of all our meetings, and several support us actively in their editorial columns.... Some of the editors needed educating, but one of our chief tasks is to educate public opinion, and the local papers have an important influence on public opinion in country districts. Educate their editors, and you are educating public opinion at its fountain-head. The difference which a favourable local press makes to the success of' our propaganda work is simply incalculable."

During the January 1910 General Election the NUWSS organised the signing petitions in 290 constituencies. They managed to obtain 280,000 signatures and this was presented to the House of Commons in March 1910. With the support of 36 MPs a new suffrage bill was discussed in Parliament. The WSPU suspended all militant activities and on 23rd July they joined forces with the NUWSS to hold a grand rally in London. When the House of Commons refused to pass the new suffrage bill, the WSPU broke its truce on what became known as Black Friday on 18th November, 1910, when its members clashed with the police in Parliament Square.

Although the NUWSS campaign had ended in failure, the extra publicity it had received, increased membership from 13,429 in 1909 to 21,571 to 1910. It now had 207 societies and its income had reached £14,000. It was decided to restructure the NUWSS into federations. By 1911 the NUWSS now had 16 federations and 26,000 members. The NUWSS now had enough funds to appoint Catherine Marshall and Kathleen Courtney to full-time posts at national headquarters. They joined Helena Swanwick and Maude Royden as the group that represented the new generation in the NUWSS.

According to her biographer, Jo Vellacott: "Tall, well dressed, well informed, and dynamic, Marshall could hold the attention of an outdoor audience of miners, and was also a familiar figure to members of parliament, as she pressed the converted for action, cultivated sympathizers, and shamed backsliders." In June 1911 she attended the International Women's Suffrage Alliance meetings in Stockholm.

Herbert Asquith and his Liberal Party government still refused to support legislation. At its annual party conference in January 1912, the Labour Party passed a resolution committing itself to supporting women's suffrage. This was reflected in the fact that all Labour MPs voted for the measure at a debate in the House of Commons on 28th March. Soon afterwards Henry N. Brailsford and Kathleen Courtney, entered negotiations with the Labour Party as representatives of NUWSS.

In April 1912, the NUWSS announced that it intended to support Labour Party candidates in parliamentary by-elections. The NUWSS established an Election Fighting Fund (EFF) to support these Labour candidates. The EFF Committee, which administered the fund, included Catherine Marshall, Margaret Ashton, Henry N. Brailsford, Kathleen Courtney, Muriel de la Warr, Millicent Fawcett, Isabella Ford, Laurence Housman, Margory Lees and Ethel Annakin Snowden. The NUWSS also employed organizers such as Ada Nield Chew and Selina Cooper, who were active members of the Labour Party.

Catherine played an important role in trying to persuade senior figures in the Liberal Party to favour legislation on women's suffrage. She told John Simon: "I left school I started working for the Liberal Party almost as hard as I am working for women's suffrage now. It has been the greatest disillusionment of my life to find how little these principles really count with the majority of Liberal men. They seem to regard them as catchwords to pad a leaflet or adorn a peroration, not as vital principles to be applied in their dealings with other human beings." Catherine also contacted David Lloyd George: "I often wish you were an unenfranchised woman instead of being Chancellor of the Exchequer! With what fire you would lead the women's movement, and insist that no legislation was more important than the right of those whom it concerned to have a say in it."

In July 1914 the NUWSS argued that Asquith's government should do everything possible to avoid a European war. Two days after the British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, Millicent Fawcett declared that it was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. Although the NUWSS supported the war effort, it did not follow the WSPU strategy of becoming involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces.

Despite pressure from members of the NUWSS, Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: "She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union." At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace."

After a stormy executive meeting in Buxton all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned over the decision not to support the Women's Peace Congress at the Hague. This included Catherine Marshall, Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney, Margaret Ashton, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden, the editor of the The Common Cause.

Kathleen Courtney wrote when she resigned: "I feel strongly that the most important thing at the present moment is to work, if possible on international lines for the right sort of peace settlement after the war. If I could have done this through the National Union, I need hardly say how infinitely I would have preferred it and for the sake of doing so I would gladly have sacrificed a good deal. But the Council made it quite clear that they did not wish the union to work in that way."

In April 1915, Aletta Jacobs, a suffragist in Holland, invited suffrage members all over the world to an International Congress of Women in the Hague. Some of the women who attended included Mary Sheepshanks, Jane Addams, Alice Hamilton, Grace Abbott, Emily Bach, Lida Gustava Heymann, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Kathleen Courtney, Emily Hobhouse, Chrystal Macmillan, Rosika Schwimmer. At the conference the women formed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WIL). Although the government blocked Marshall and other British women from travelling to the Hague, she immediately joined this organisation.

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, two pacifists, Clifford Allen and Fenner Brockway, formed the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), an organisation that encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred." As Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) has pointed out: "Though limiting itself to campaigning against conscription, the N.C.F.'s basis was explicitly pacifist rather than merely voluntarist.... In particular, it proved an efficient information and welfare service for all objectors; although its unresolved internal division over whether its function was to ensure respect for the pacifist conscience or to combat conscription by any means"

The NCF received support from public figures such as Catherine Marshall, Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Bruce Glasier, Robert Smillie, C. H. Norman, C. E. M. Joad, William Mellor, Arthur Ponsonby, Guy Aldred, Alfred Salter, Duncan Grant, Wilfred Wellock, Herbert Morrison, Maude Royden, and Rev. John Clifford. Other members included Cyril Joad, Eva Gore-Booth, Esther Roper, Alfred Mason, Winnie Mason, Alice Wheeldon, William Wheeldon, John S. Clarke, Arthur McManus, Hettie Wheeldon, Storm Jameson, Ada Salter, Duncan Grant and Max Plowman.

Catherine Marshall fell in love with Clifford Allen, the chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship, who was imprisoned in 1916. According to Jo Vellacott "Marshall suffered deeply when he was imprisoned; he was physically frail, and his health deteriorated rapidly in prison. By mid-1917, Catherine Marshall was compulsively driving herself towards breakdown, and Allen's health was further threatened by his intention of embarking on a hunger and work strike in prison. By the end of the year, Marshall had collapsed and Allen was released seriously ill. When both were convalescent they spent several months together in what seems to have been a trial marriage; Marshall was devastated when the relationship ended."

During the early years of the League of Nations, Marshall was often in Geneva, at the headquarters of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In the 1930s she was involved in helping refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. Catherine Marshall remained active in the Labour Party.

Catherine Marshall died in the New End Hospital, Hampstead, on 22nd March 1961 after a fall at her home.

Primary Sources

(1) Jo Vellacott, From Liberal to Labour with Women's Suffrage: The Story of Catherine Marshall (1993)

Catherine was sent to St Leonards School, at St Andrews in Scotland, a top-ranking, progressive girls' boarding school. She arrived for her first term with an extremely heavy cold and a bad cough, and "deeply scored... on the brow" by some kind of pin worn by a cousin she had affectionately embraced when saying goodbye. Shortly afterwards she injured her foot and developed measles. No wonder she dreamt of home every night during her first weeks away. It was probably this series of misfortunes which prompted one of her friends to write that she thought Catherine "must have a very original character" and to ask when she meant "to finish her eccentricities (sic)".

The warmth and closeness of the Marshall family emerge clearly from letters to Catherine at St Leonards. Aunt Florence Colbeck wrote about how she would be missed in the Harrow school, and sent her a fruit knife "as you are such a vegetarian"; her brother wrote with obvious admiration from his preparatory school and sent her word puzzles; a number of cousins kept in touch. Her father and mother wrote regularly, although term time was busy for them too, and although they sometimes had to admonish her to write, even if it were only a postcard. Her father painted a pathetic word picture of the effect of her casualness about writing: "Two pitiful parents sit like two young sparrows on the gravel waiting for the dutiful daughter to put a fly in their mouth ... and she does not do it!" On another occasion Frank sent a telegram when no letter came, explaining, in a following letter, "that Mother, and I in a less degree, get anxious when we don't hear from you. And it matters very much that Mother should not worry herself over anything just now." Frank showed considerable concern over Caroline's health during these years.

(2) Catherine Marshall, report to the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (18th May, 1908)

Our Association came into being on May 18th, when a few ladies known to be in favour of Women's Suffrage met at Hawse End, by invitation of Mrs. Frank Marshall, and decided to form a branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in Keswick. A committee was formed, rules drawn up, and active propaganda work started at once. It was unanimously decided that our object should be votes for women on the same terms as for men, and that the Association should be a strictly non-party organization; we also pledged ourselves to peaceful and constitutional methods only. Our work was to consist of spreading the principles of Women's Suffrage by means of meetings, of Ietters to the press, of distributing literature on the subject, and of "promoting intelligent interest and a sense of responsibility among women with regard to political questions". In furtherance of this policy meetings have been held at Braithwaite, Portinscale, Grange, Stair, Bassenthwaite and Brigham. Miss R. Spedding, Miss M. Broatch and Miss C. Marshall volunteered to hold a series of outdoor meetings in the neighbouring villages, and they were fortunate in enlisting the help of various suffragists who were staying in the districts. The audience at these meetings averaged between 50 and 100 in numbers; in every instance a resolution in favour of votes for women on the same terms as for men was enthusiastically carried. Questions and objections are always asked for, and the discussion raised has always been conducted seriously and in a friendly spirit.

(3) Catherine Marshall, report (20th October, 1910)

It does mean a great deal of work... I have been doing it myself, though with nothing like thoroughness, in connection with twenty local papers, and it has made very great demands on my time. But the results have more than repaid the cost. Of these twenty papers not one is now hostile; not one ever misrepresents us (that alone is an immense gain); most of them give excellent - almost verbatim - reports of all our meetings, and several support us actively in their editorial columns, and reprint Women's Suffrage articles of their own accord from the "Manchester Guardian" and other sources. Some of the editors needed educating, but one of our chief tasks is to educate public opinion, and the local papers have an important influence on public opinion in country districts. Educate their editors, and you are educating public opinion at its fountain-head. The difference which a favourable local press makes to the success of' our propaganda work is simply incalculable.

(4) Catherine Marshall, quoted in The Whitehaven News (26th October 1911)

You quote St. Paul and the marriage service in support of your opposition to women's suffrage. May I remind you that St. Paul, who told wives to be in subjection to their husbands, also told slaves to obey their masters? Would you have opposed the anti-slavery agitation on that account? Some people did at the time. If you turn to a higher authority than St. Paul you will not find this doctrine of the subjection of women in His teaching...

You refer to the wife's promise in the marriage service to obey her husband. The husband also makes a promise. He says, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow." Until all men do this I think the less they base their arguments on the marriage service the better. Before the passing of the Married Women's Property Acts it would have been a truer statement of the case if the man had said: "With all thy worldly goods I me endow."

I quite agree with most of what you say about the "law of grace" and the "law of force," but I think it is very desirable that men (who at present have all the "force" on their side) should show a little more "grace" to women in this question of the suffrage. Instead of saying "thou shalt not" have any voice in these matters we want them to say "thou shalt" have every possible opportunity for using the special gifts God has given to women for the benefit of humanity, and not be restricted by man-made laws to employing them in certain directions only.

I am sorry to put too low an interpretation on your view of women's influence. You say this influence consists in "faith, hope, and charity," and "it is by virtue of her superior capacity for this grace that woman... is fitted to be the better half of man." Could we not well do with a little more faith, hope, and charity (especially charity) in our politics, and is it not a pity to leave this important field of human activity entirely in the hands of the "worse half" of mankind?

I take your own estimate for the sake of argument. I do not myself think there can be any question of better or worse as between men and women. The world has equal need of both. As Mrs. Fawcett once said, "You might as well ask which was the better half of a pair of scissors"!

You say that, "speaking generally, there is no woman who has no man to represent her." Who represents the three quarter-million widows whom the Conciliation Bill would enfranchise, or the other quarter-million women who are "heads of households which have no male representative?" Take the case of a father with three unmarried daughters, all earning their own living in industries affected by legislation, all of them with strong political opinions, one Liberal, one Conservative, and one a Socialist. How is the father to represent his three daughters by his one vote? You will probably say that the daughters ought not to have opinions, but if you educate people you cannot prevent them from having opinions, and men have passed a Compulsory Education Act which applies to girls as well as boys.

You mistake me if you think I do not give men credit for good intentions when legislating for women... But good intentions are not enough. Knowledge and experience are needed besides, and with the best will in the world men cannot have the same knowledge and experience of women's needs that women have, for the simple reason, so often used as an anti suffrage argument, that "Men are men, and women are women." The best men are urging the women to press their claim for enfranchisement, because they say the women's vote will strengthen their hands to obtain many urgently-needed reforms. This is not a question of women against men, but of men and women working together for the best interests of the race as a whole.

(5) The NUWSS and Labour Party agreement (June 1912)

(1) When deciding whom to support in an electoral contest to take account not only of individual opinions of candidates, but also of the position of their respective parties on Women's Suffrage.

(2) To support individual Labour Candidates especially in constituencies now represented by Liberals whose record on suffrage is unsatisfactory. The candidates will be Labour party candidates, not National Union candidates. The National Union will in no case oppose either Liberal or Conservative who has proved himself a trustworthy friend of Women's enfranchisement.

(3) A fund was opened for the effective carrying out of this policy, and more than £1,000 was subscribed by the council in a few minutes. A Committee has since been formed by the National Union Executive, whose duty it will be to augment and control this fund. The Executive Committee will invite Suffragists to serve on this Committee who need not necessarily be members of the National Union.

(6) The Common Cause (4th July 1913)

The Pilgrimage proper began on Wednesday, June 18th, at 10 a.m., when a good procession left the Market Cross with banners in front and a baggage cart, covered with red, white and green, bringing up the rear. A fine contingent from Keswick, including Lady Rochdale, Mrs. Frank Marshall, Mrs. John Marshall, .... (and others) had come to Carlisle for the start, bringing the Keswick banner with them. Lord Rochdale's car and Mrs. Marshall's pony-cart, bravely decorated with flags, also started from Carlisle and accompanied the pilgrims throughout the whole Federation, being of' unspeakable help and value and enabling us to work a much larger area than would otherwise have been possible in the time.

It would be difficult to give an accurate account of numbers, as pilgrims by the dozen have joined us in the towns and villages as we went through. Some of these have been able to do only a short stage, others have gone forward for much longer periods.

(7) Catherine Marshall to Sir John Simon (10th August 1913)

I left school I started working for the Liberal Party almost as hard as I am working for women's suffrage now. It has been the greatest disillusionment of my life to find how little these principles really count with the majority of Liberal men. They seem to regard them as catchwords to pad a leaflet or adorn a peroration, not as vital principles to be applied in their dealings with other human beings... So long as you feel that the Prime Minister's attitude makes it impossible for you to bring any pressure to bear on your party from within... a great deal of our work fails to bear all the fruit it might, so far as the Liberal party is concerned.

(8) Catherine Marshall, to David Lloyd George (11th August 1913)

When you are working night and day for a cause, giving up all the things you care about most in life for the sake of it (as hundreds of women are doing for women's suffrage today), it is disappointing when those who alone have the power to make your work bear fruit in an Act of Parliament say, in effect: "Yes, you are good little girls; we quite approve of the way in which you are working and the object you are working for, and our advice to you is to go on pegging away. Don't get tired, and don't get cross. Some day, when we have settled all our own business, we will bring in a Bill to give you what you want - only of course we can't do anything so long as some of you are naughty and throw stones." When we know that it is just that attitude which makes the naughty ones throw stones we feel that you are asking us to work in a vicious circle.

I often wish you were an unenfranchised woman instead of being Chancellor of the Exchequer! With what fire you would lead the women's movement, and insist that no legislation was more important than the right of those whom it concerned to have a say in it.