Olive Bartels, one of the four children of William Alfred Bartels, an army contractor and his wife, Marion Kelly Bartels, was born in Surbition, Surrey, on 16th March 1889. According to Elizabeth Crawford, "the family was Irish, Protestant, Liberal, pro-Parnell, and Home Rule". (1) Her father was an army tailor who employed "20 men and 2 boys". (2)
William Bartels, aged 49, died on 9th March 1896 at 'Lissenden', Park Road, Surbiton. His effects were valued at £7,742 18s 5d. (3) At the time of the 1901 census, the Bartels' family were residing at 'Hillfield', Farnborough, Hampshire. Mrs Marion Bartels, a 39-year old-widow, declared that she was "living on own means". Residing with her were Margaret (aged 13), Olive (aged 12), Ruth (aged 9), Wilfred Ewart Bartels (aged 5) and three of Mrs Bartels' unmarried sisters: Harriet Elizabeth Kelly (aged 48), Agnes Annie Kelly (aged 37) and Kate Kelly (aged 32). (4)
Marion Kelly Bartels, one of the first women in Ireland to receive a degree, moved to London and Olive and her sister Margaret Bartels , attended Streatham High School. After leaving school both women attended art school. (5) Marion Bartels was a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and both her daughters joined the organisation. (6) On 9th February 1907 they took part in the United Procession of Women (Mud March) in which more than 3,000 women marched from Hyde Park Corner to the Strand in support of women's suffrage. (7)
Olive Bartels and the WSPU
In 1909 Olive and Margaret Bartels joined the Women Social & Political Union. Olive became an organiser of the WSPU but Margaret, who was "very senstive" and did not like attracting public attention. (8) However, she was willing to go out chalking pavements in order to advertise suffrage meetings and in September 1912 was charged with defacing the pavement at Norwood Road, Herne Hill. Found guilty she was fined two shillings. (9)
Olive Bartels was a regular speaker at WSPU meetings. At a speech reported by the Cambridge Daily News she argued that men and women workers should have equal chances. "The stronger sex - the men - had the vote to protect them, whilst the women had to struggle on in the best way they could. The average wage of a man was twice that of a woman, and with their votes the men had been able to bring pressure to bear on the Government. The state interfered a great deal with children nowadays, and they wanted the women to have something to say in the making of the laws which were connected with the education of children." (10)
On 5th April 1914, Olive Bartels and Leonora Tyson, attacked Prime Minister H. H. Asquith while he was on Cupar Station. "The motor car, with Mr Asquith Mrs Asquith, Miss Asquith, Mr Bonham Carter, and Mr J. Morrison Low, arrived at the station at 5.55, and the party walked slowly down the station steps and along the platform. Mr Asquith was in conversation with Mr Low, and groups of detectives and plain clothes officers preceded and followed the little group. Despite all precautions, however, two militant suffragettes had got access to the platform. They were Miss Olive Bartels and Miss Leonora Tyson. Just as Mr Asquith passed them they shouted 'Coward' several times. Mr Asquith turned round and smiled at them; Miss Bartels cried, 'Won't you speak to us, Mr Asquith? Votes for women. Why is Carson not imprisoned?' and Miss Tyson cried, 'Women torturer.' The Premier stood still smiling, and the two women were hauled along the platform and forced up the steep flight of steps which leads to the street. They made little further resistance." (11)
First World War
The British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Two days later, Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the NUWSS declared that the organization was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. Fawcett supported the war effort but she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. This WSPU took a different view to the war. It was a spent force with very few active members. According to Martin Pugh, the WSPU were aware "that their campaign had been no more successful in winning the vote than that of the non-militants whom they so freely derided". (12)
The WSPU carried out secret negotiations with the government and 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. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: "I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy." (13)
After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: "What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!". (14)
In May 1915, Olive Bartels organised a "patriotic meeting" at the Blackburn Town Hall. The main speaker was Flora Drummond, one of the leading figures in the Women Social & Political Union. (15)
At the time of the 1939 Register, Olive Bartels was residing at 27 Bromley Avenue, Bromley, Kent. On the 1939 Register, Olive Bartels is decribed as a "Welfare Officer ". (16)
Olive Bartels died in 1978.
(1) The Suffragette (29th November 1912)
Very successful meeting held at St Peter's Hall last week, when Miss Olive Bartels addressed sympathetic audiences.
(2) Cambridge Daily News (12th March 1913)
Miss Olive Bartels, in an introductory speech said that what the women were working for was that men and women workers should have equal chances. The stronger sex - the men - had the vote to protect them, whilst the women had to struggle on in the best way they could. The average wage of a man was twice that of a woman, and with their votes the men had been able to bring pressure to bear on the Government. The state interfered a great deal with children nowadays, and they wanted the women to have something to say in the making of the laws which were connected with the education of children. She had pleasure in introducing Miss Brackenbury to the meeting. [Marie Brackenbury – Suffragette whose 80 year old mother, Hilda was jailed for smashing windows in support of the Suffragettes' campaign].
In the course of an interesting and eloquent address Miss Brackenbury said it was often remarked that women ought to mind their own business, and not address meetings of that character. Well, they wanted to mind their own business, and that was the reason they wanted the vote. Had not they better let the women mind that part of their business which affected them? Men were naturally full of their own affairs: they could not mind both businesses – their own and the women's.
All the way along, said the speaker, they had been looking for honest in the present Government [Asquith's Liberal Party] but they had not found it. It was a well-known principle that Government should be by the consent of the people, but they had found nothing but a fraud. The Liberals were the greatest frauds of all. They had voted themselves £400 a year, whilst the Cabinet Ministers were paid £5,000 a year. The Government made the laws and said they were not going to consult the women. They talked about the views of the people. Who were the people? Who were the country?
To them, the word "People" meant the electors. The Government did not know what honesty was, and they never would know until the women taught them. She urged that this fight was a fight for a human right - a fight which the women had fought before. Women had stood up for the men in their great demand for the right, and was it not fair that the men should stand up for the women?
It was not that the women wanted to govern the country, said Miss Brackenbury: it was that they wanted the time to come when men and women could govern the affairs of men and women. She was proud to belong to a militant society which had roused the country up to think about this question.
(3) The Suffragette (5th December 1913)
The meeting on Thursday evening will be held at the Elysee Galleries, Queen's Road, Bayswater, at 8 p.m. The speakers will be Miss Nancy Lightman, Miss Olive Bartels and others.
Men will not be admitted to these meetings without tickets which may be obtained at Lincoln's Inn House. All men must be introduced by a member.
(4) The Scotsman (6th April 1914)
Mr Asquith left Cupar yesterday by the 5.59 p.m. train for Edinburgh and London. A crowd of about two hundred assembled to witness his departure. Nobody except passengers and the Press were to be admitted to the platform. A number of police and several Scotland Yard detectives were on duty. The motor car, with Mr Asquith Mrs Asquith, Miss Asquith, Mr Bonham Carter, and Mr J. Morrison Low, arrived at the station at 5.55, and the party walked slowly down the station steps and along the platform. Mr Asquith was in conversation with Mr Low, and groups of detectives and plain clothes officers preceded and followed the little group.
Despite all precautions, however, two militant suffragettes had got access to the platform. They were Miss Olive Bartels and Miss Leonora Tyson.
Just as Mr Asquith passed them they shouted "Coward" several times. Mr Asquith turned round and smiled at them; Miss Bartels cried, "Won't you speak to us, Mr Asquith? Votes for women. Why is Carson not imprisoned?" and "Miss Tyson cried, "Women torturer."
The Premier stood still smiling, and the two women were hauled along the platform and forced up the steep flight of steps which leads to the street. They made little further resistance.
(5) The Suffragette (7 May 1915)
A patriotic meeting has been arranged at the Town Hall, Blackburn, for Tuesday, May 11 th at 8 p.m., when General Drummond will be the speaker. The chair will be taken by Alderman Crossly, J.P. Deputy Mayor… Organiser Miss Olive Bartels, Office 38 Preston New Road, Blackburn, to whom all communications should be addressed.
(1) Elizabeth Crawford, Art and Suffrage: A Biographical Dictionary of Suffrage Artists (2018) page 40
(2) Census Data (1884)
(3) David Simkin, Family History Research (30th January, 2023)
(4) Census Data (1901)
(5) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 35
(6) Elizabeth Crawford, Art and Suffrage: A Biographical Dictionary of Suffrage Artists (2018) page 40
(7) Leslie P. Hume, The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies 1897–1914 (2016) pages 35-36
(8) Olive Bartels, interview, The Women's Library (1999)
(9) South London Press (27th September 1912)
(10) Cambridge Daily News (12th March 1913)
(11) The Scotsman (6th April 1914)
(12) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 300
(13) The Star (4th September, 1914)
(14) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959) page 288
(15) The Suffragette (7 May 1915)
(16) 1939 National Register (29th September 1939)