Susanna Inge was born in Folkestone on 3rd February 1820. Her father Richard Inge Austin was a plumber, glazier and painter. A few years later the family moved to London and dropped the surname Austin.
Susanna later wrote: "You not know perhaps, that I never went to school but two months after I was nine years old - that at sixteen I could not write my own name - though I could read well, so I was told, and talk and spell correctly. The teaching I had while in Folkestone, where I had nearly all my schooling was good, and I was very forward, even for my age, being ahead of my cousins even those who were older than me. But writing was not taught in those days while children were so young, thus I knew nothing of writing and my parents were always talking of sending me to writing, but they never did."
In 1836 Susanna bought her a copy book and asked her to write to him. "This I did, though not often, for in those days postage was eight pence a letter and a sheet of paper a penny, so to me, who rarely had more than a penny or time a week to call my own, this was a small fortune and could not often be expended." (1)
The 1841 census returns show that Susanna Inge had returned to Folkestone, where she was working as a family servant in the household of a linen draper in Broad Street. At this time she joined the the London Female Radical Association. When it was founded it stated it wanted to "unite with our sisters in the country, and to use our best endeavours to assist our brethren in obtaining universal suffrage". The organisation made the point that they would use their power as managers of the household to obtain the vote for their men by "to deal as much as possible with those shopkeepers who are favourable to the People's Charter". (2)
Susanna Inge explained her decision in an article for The Northern Star in July, 1842. "As civilisation advances man becomes more inclined to place woman on an equality with himself, and though excluded from everything connected with public life, her condition is considerably improved". She went on to urge women to “assist those men who will, nay, who do, place women in on equality with themselves in gaining their rights, and yours will be gained also". (3)
In October 1842, Susanna Inge and Mary Ann Walker attempted to establish a Female Chartist Association. Inge argued that in time women should be given the vote. However, she felt before this could happen women "ought to be better educated, and that, if she were, so far as mental capacity, she would in every respect be the equal of man”. (4)
This plan to form a Female Chartist Association was criticised by some male Chartists. One declared that he "did not consider that nature intended women to partake of political rights". He argued that women were "more happy in the peacefulness and usefulness of the domestic hearth, than in coming forth in public and aspiring after political rights". (5)
It was also suggested that if a "young gentleman" might try "to influence her vote through his sway over her affection". Mary Ann Walker responded by claiming that "she would treat with womanly scorn, as a contemptible scoundrel, the man who would dare to influence her vote by any undue and unworthy means; for if he were base enough to mislead her in one way, he would in another.” (6)
On 6th November, 1842, The Sunday Observer reported that Susanna Inge was giving a lecture at the National Charter Hall in London. With her was another woman, Emma Matilda Miles. The newspaper suggested that the women had joined in response to the arrest and punishment of John Frost after the Newport Uprising. It would seem that Inge was a supporter of the Physical Force movement. (7)
Susanna Inge was not content to be a mere propagandist. She had ideas on how Chartism might be better organised. In one letter to the The Northern Star she suggested that every Chartist locality should have its byelaws and plan of organisation hung in a prominent place, that these should be read before every meeting, and that any officer who failed to abide by them should be called to account. (8)
Feargus O'Connor, the leader of the Physical Force chartists, was not in favour of women having equal political rights with men. He claimed that the role of the woman was to be a "housewife to prepare meals, to wash, to brew, and look after my comforts, and the education of my children." (9) Anna Clark has pointed out that O'Connor demanded "entry into the public sphere for working men" and "the privileges of domesticity for their wives". (10)
Susanna Inge wrote letters to O’Connor's newspaper complaining about his views. These were rejected for publication and in July, 1843, it admitted that Inge "very much questions the propriety or right of Mr O’Connor to name or suggest to the people, through the medium of the Northern Star, any person to fill any office whatever" as "it is not according to her ideas of democracy." The newspaper dismissed her comments with the words: "We dare say Miss Inge is greatly in love with her ideas of democracy; and so she ought, for we fancy they will suit nobody else” (11)
She continued to be active in the Chartist movement and it was reported that Susanna Inge gave a lecture on the subject in August 1843. (12) The Hereford Journal reported that she left the movement in February 1843, after a dispute with Mary Ann Walker. "Miss Susanna Inge, who had hitherto remained silent, now rose and tendered her resignation as secretary of the Female Chartist Association saying, with disdain, that she was quite sick of the business." (13)
Susanna Inge continued to send letters and articles to the The Northern Star. In September, 1844, the editor commented "that even gallantry in Miss Inge’s case is not strong enough to break through" this censorship. (14) She also tried to have her work published in other journals. George Reynolds, the editor of the Reynolds's Miscellany, sent back an article, advising her that she try a better class of magazine “for which its style was more suited”. Another rejection letter suggested "it is very good… it shows you have power to do, but that you require study. This is a proof of what you can do; rather than anything done… This is good but you can do better". (15)
On 18th February 1847, aged 27, she gave birth to a son who she named James. Susanna was unmarried and now took the name Susanna McGregor. In the 1851 census she referred to herself as a widow and was living at 10 Dorrington Street, Clerkenwell. Susanna was recorded as working as a "furrier finisher".
In 1857 Susanna MacGregor and her son emigrated to New York City, settling in Brooklyn, where she found work in the fur trade. She kept in touch with the family of her younger brother John, sending letters, stories and poems to her nieces Alice and Jessie. Attempts to have her work published in American magazines ended in failure.
Susanna Inge MacGregor died on 26th December 1902.
As civilisation advances man becomes more inclined to place woman on an equality with himself, and though excluded from everything connected with public life, her condition is considerably improved... Assist those men who will, nay, who do, place women in on equality with themselves in gaining their rights, and yours will be gained also.
The She-Chartists mustered on Tuesday night in numbers stronger than usual at the National Charter Hall, for the purpose of hearing a lecture upon the principles of liberty, delivered by Miss Inge. From the attendance on Tuesday there can be no doubt that She-Chartism is beginning to make its way among the helpmates of Feargus O'Connor.
Miss Emma Matilda Miles, rather a pretty looking little creature, of some two or three and twenty, and the she-orator rose amidst vociferous cheers to "offer a few remarks". It was the duty of women to step forth, and, in all the majesty of her native dignity, assist her brother slaves in effecting the political redemption of the country. It was not ambition, it was not vanity that induced her to become a public woman; no, it was the oppression which had fallen upon every poor man's house that made her speak.
For herself she would say that ever since the prosecution at Newport of the noble martyrs of Chartism, Frost, Williams and Jones, she had determined to fraternize with the Chartists till the blood should cease to flow in her veins. She did not doubt the ultimate success of Chartism any more than she doubted her own existence; but then it would not, as she said, be granted by the justice - no, it must be extorted from the fears of their oppressors.
A meeting of Chartists took place on Tuesday night at their hall in the Old Bailey. Miss Mary Anne Walker was engaged from eight till nine o’clock in exhibiting a bundle of her lithographed portraits, recently taken, and offering them for sale at 6d each. She sold two. This young lady for full and hour, and for want of any business to transact, kept the Chartists, both male and female, incessantly laughing by her jokes and anecdotes, and playfully remarked, when she found herself so badly seconded in her efforts to keep up their spirits, that were it not for her own individual exertions it would be "quite a Quaker’s meeting". Miss Susannah Inge, jealous of the superior attraction of her rival, sat at the table biting her nails with vexation, and now and then darting withering glances at the fair democrat who monopolised all the attention. A chairman having been appointed, the minutes were read, and then the members passed a resolution to the effect that a committee be appointed to raise money to pay the delegates for their trouble at the recent conference in Birmingham. Miss M.A.Walker was so particularly talkative during the discussion that a chartist begged her, if she possibly could, to hold her tongue until the adjournment of the meeting. Miss Susannah Inge, who had hitherto remained silent, now rose and tendered her resignation as secretary of the Female Chartist Association, saying with disdain, that she was quite sick of the business. Miss Walker: "That won’t matter for I dare say we shall easily get another." Miss E.M.Miles was nominated, but for some reasons was not elected; and Mrs Wyatt, who was proposed as more matronly, declined, on the ground that she had just given up a secretaryship at another place, and did not wish to enter into public life again. The election was postponed. Miss Walker then deplored the fact that, notwithstanding all she had done for the cause of Chartism as connected with women, they had go no new proselytes; while many members whom they had before she became notorious, had left them. The meeting then broke up."
(1) Mark Crail, Susanna Inge: 1820-1902 (10th March, 2016)
(2) The Charter newspaper (17th October, 1839)
(3) Susanna Inge, The Northern Star (2nd July, 1842)
(4) The Examiner (19th November, 1842)
(5) The Northern Star (22nd October, 1842)
(6) The Examiner (22nd October, 1842)
(7) The Sunday Observer, (6th November, 1842)
(8) Susanna Inge, letter, The Northern Star (17th December, 1842)
(9) Feargus O'Connor, speech at the Hall of Science, Manchester (7th March, 1842)
(10) Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (1997) page 247
(11) The Northern Star (8th July, 1843)
(12) The Northern Star (26th August, 1843)
(13) The Hereford Journal (8th February, 1843)
(14) The Northern Star (14th September, 1844)
(15) Mark Crail, Susanna Inge: 1820-1902 (10th March, 2016)