Vera Wentworth

Vera Wentworth

Vera Wentworth was born in 1890. After leaving school she found work in a shop. She was an active trade unionist and her brother was the leader of an unsuccessful unofficial strike of women workers in the East End of London. During this period her brother introduced her to Fenner Brockway.

In 1908 Wentworth joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Soon afterwards she was arrested during a demonstration outside the House of Commons. She was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. On her release she became a close friend of Mary Blathwayt.

Wentworth was arrested again after taking part in another demonstration outside the House of Commons on 30th June. On this occasion she was sentenced to three-months' imprisonment. On her release from Holloway Prison she published an article, "Should Christian Women Demand the Vote", for the September edition of the Christian Commonwealth. She also published an article, "Three Months in Holloway" on her experiences in prison.

Wentworth then joined a team of women that included Annie Kenney and Elsie Howey that were based in Bristol. Wentworth and Howey were arrested after taking part in a demonstration outside the home of Herbert Asquith. Both women were sentenced to three months' imprisonment. On their release were met at the gates of Holloway Prison and then drawn by 50 women on a carriage to Queen's Hall. On their arrival they were presented with bouquets in the suffragette colours and with illuminated scrolls designed by Sylvia Pankhurst to commemorate their imprisonment.

Wentworth became a regular visitor to Eagle House at Batheaston, the home of Mary Blathwayt. Others who spent time at Blathwayt's house included Christabel Pankhurst, Jessie Kenney, Annie Kenney,Clara Codd, Clare Mordan, Elsie Howey, Constance Lytton and Helen Watts. Colonel Blathwayt photographed the women. These were then signed and sold at WSPU bazaars. He also invited them to plant a tree to commemorate their prison sentences and hunger strikes.

In April 1909 Wentworth was placed in charge of the WSPU campaign in Plymouth. On 30th July she was arrested with Vera Wentworth for demonstrating at a meeting held in Penzance by Lord Carrington. They were sentenced to seven days' imprisonment and both women went on hunger strike.

On 5th September she was involved with Elsie Howey and Jessie Kenney in assaulting Herbert Asquith and Herbert Gladstone while they were playing golf. Asquith was also attacked as he left Lympne Church that Sunday. Emily Blathwayt was horrified by this increase in violence. On 7th September she wrote in her diary: "We hear of terrible things by the two Hooligans we know, Vera and Elsie and there is a Kenney in it. They made a regular raid on Mr. Asquith breaking a window and using personal violence. Then missiles have been thrown lately through windows during Cabinet Members meetings which might injure or kill innocent persons."

Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney attackingHerbert Asquith in September 1909
Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney attacking
Herbert Asquith in September 1909

The following day Emily Blathwayt sent a letter to the WSPU headquarters: "Dear Madam, with great reluctance I am writing to ask that my name may be taken off the list as a Member of the W.S.P.U. Society. When I signed the membership paper, I thoroughly approved of the methods then used. Since then there has been personal violence and stone throwing which might injure innocent people. When asked by acquaintances what I think of these things I am unable to say that I approve, and people of my village who have hitherto been full of admiration for the Suffragettes are now feeling very differently. Colonel Linley Blathwayt wrote to Christabel Pankhurst complaining about the behaviour of Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth and suggested that they would no longer be welcome at Eagle House.

Colonel Blathwayt also wrote letters to Wentworth and Howley about their behaviour. He said that "an attack on one undefended man by three women was an act I did not expect from the Society". According to Emily Blathwayt, they received a "long letter from Vera Wentworth who is very sorry we are grieved but if Mr. Asquith will not receive deputation they will pummel him again." She also claimed that Herbert Gladstone gave Jessie Kenney "a nasty blow in the chest".

Vera Wentworth was again arrested in November 1909 for breaking windows of the Liberal Club in Bristol where Winston Churchill had a speaking engagement. She went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed. The following year she was arrested again for taking part in a demonstration outside the House of Commons.

In March 1912 the WSPU organised a new campaign that involved the large-scale smashing of shop-windows. May Billinghurst agreed to hide some of the stones underneath the rug covering her knees. According to Votes for Women: "From in front, behind, from every side it came - a hammering, crashing, splintering sound unheard in the annals of shopping... At the windows excited crowds collected, shouting, gesticulating. At the centre of each crowd stood a woman, pale, calm and silent." Vera Wentworth was one of those arrested and this time she was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

On her release she began attending classes in General Modern History and General Political Economy at St Andrews University. She also wrote An Allegory, that was published in by the Actresses' Franchise League. In March 1913 the play was directed by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and performed by WSPU prisoners in Holloway Prison.

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. 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." Vera Wentworth followed these instructions and ceased to be active in the struggle for the vote.

After the First World War she lived with Daisy Carden. During the Second World War she worked in London in the Air Raid Precautions.

Vera Wentworth died in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in 1957.

Primary Sources

(1) Emily Blathwayt, diary entry (31st July, 1909)

Elsie Howey, Vera Wentworth and Mary Phillips were arrested at Exeter and imprisoned for a week and it is said they are going through the hunger strike as the 14 have done. The crowds were with them outside Lord Carrington's meeting and all resisted police and two working men were arrested. The women would not pay the fine. Annie Kenney expects to be taken soon herself, and asked Mary to go and manage for her in Bristol.

(2) Emily Blathwayt, diary entry (7th September, 1909)

Linley and I went in pouring rain to the Tollemaches who had a tent beyond their house and Mr. Laurence Housman gave a very good address on Women's Suffrage... The lecturer said he could not say anything against militant methods as the women had been driven to it by the non-action of the men. I cannot feel quite the same. We hear of terrible things by the two Hooligans we know, Vera and Elsie and there is a Kenney in it. They made a regular raid on Mr. Asquith breaking a window and using personal violence. Then missiles have been thrown lately through windows during Cabinet Members meetings which might injure or kill innocent persons.

(3) Emily Blathwayt, diary entry (8th September, 1909)

This morning I posted the following to the Sec. 4 Clement's Inn. "Dear Madam, with great reluctance I am writing to ask that my name may be taken off the list as a Member of the W.S.P.U. Society. When I signed the membership paper, I thoroughly approved of the methods then used. Since then there has been personal violence and stone throwing which might injure innocent people. When asked by acquaintances what I think of these things I am unable to say that I approve, and people of my village who have hitherto been full of admiration for the "Suffragettes" are now feeling very differently. I shall continue to do what I can to help, but I cannot conscientiously say now that I approve the methods used by several of the members... Later on Linley wrote to Christabel Parkhurst expressing something of the same views and he said how could he again be seen driving Elsie and Vera. They seem to have behaved very badly.

(4) Emily Blathwayt, diary entry (12th September, 1909)

Have sent a cutting to Christabel and told her about my personal observation of Vera Wentworth and Elsie Howley. If she allows them to go on any more raids she has been warned. Linley is writing to Annie Kenney and appeals to her to do nothing violent.

(5) Emily Blathwayt, diary entry (14th September, 1909)

Vera Wentworth sent Linley a tardy acknowledgement of the photo he sent and hopes he was not shocked at their punching Asquith's head. I am writing back coldly, saying how grieved he is at the late actions and the stone throwing; telling how I was obliged to leave as I could no longer "approve the methods" and finishing "An attack on one undefended man by three women was an act I did not expect from the Society". Last time Vera and Elsie left here I promised myself they should never come again if it were only on account of the reckless destruction of other people's property.