Jessie Boucherett

Jessie Boucherett

Jessie Boucherett, the daughter of Frederick John Pigou, was born at North Willingham, near Market Rasen, on 29th November 1825. Her father had been High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1820.

Boucherett was educated at the school run by the Byerley sisters at Avonbank, Stratford upon Avon, where Elizabeth Gaskell had been a pupil and where the curriculum included the works of women writers of the day. She was also influenced by the work of Harriet Martineau.

According to Helen Blackburn Boucherett purchased a copy of English Woman's Journal at a railway bookstall. In June 1859 she visited the journal office in London and became friendly with Bessie Rayner Parkes and Barbara Bodichon. This resulted in the women forming the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. They also persuaded Lord Shaftesbury to became the society's first president. As her biographer, Linda Walker, pointed out: "Supported by her private income and surrounded by like-minded new friends, Boucherett subsequently devoted much of her life to the cause of women's emancipation." In 1863 Jessie Boucherett published Hints for Self-Help: a Book for Young Women.

In 1865 a group of women in London formed a discussion group called the Kensington Society. It was given this name because they held their meetings at 44 Phillimore Gardens in Kensington. One of the founders of the group was Alice Westlake. On 18th March, Westlake wrote to Helen Taylor inviting her to join the group. She claimed that "none but intellectual women are admitted and therefore it is not likely to become a merely puerile and gossiping Society." Westlake followed this with another letter on the 28th March: "There are very few few of the members whom you will know by name... the object of the Society is chiefly to serve as a sort of link, though a slight one, between persons, above the average of thoughtfulness and intelligence who are interested in common subjects, but who had not many opportunities of mutual intercourse."

Nine of the eleven women who attended the early meetings were unmarried and were attempting to pursue a career in education or medicine. The group eventually included Jessie Boucherett, Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Helen Taylor, Emily Faithfull, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy and Elizabeth Garrett.

On 21st November 1865, the women discussed the topic of parliamentary reform. The question was: "Is the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and if so, under what conditions?. Both Barbara Bodichon and Helen Taylor submitted a paper on the topic. The women thought it was unfair that women were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. They therefore decided to draft a petition asking Parliament to grant women the vote.

Jessie Boucherett
Jessie Boucherett (c. 1865)

The women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Louisa Garrett Anderson later recalled: "John Stuart Mill agreed to present a petition from women householders… On 7th June 1866 the petition with 1,500 signatures was taken to the House of Commons. It was in the name of Barbara Bodichon and others, but some of the active promoters could not come and the honour of presenting it fell to Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett…. Elizabeth Garrett liked to be ahead of time, so the delegation arrived early in the Great Hall, Westminster, she with the roll of parchment in her arms. It made a large parcel and she felt conspicuous. To avoid attracting attention she turned to the only woman who seemed, among the hurrying men, to be a permanent resident in that great shrine of memories, the apple-woman, who agreed to hide the precious scroll under her stand; but, learning what it was, insisted first on adding her signature, so the parcel had to be unrolled again." Mill added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men but it was defeated by 196 votes to 73.

Members of the Kensington Society were very disappointed when they heard the news and they decided to form the London Society for Women's Suffrage. John Stuart Mill became president and other members included Helen Taylor, Frances Power Cobbe, Lydia Becker, Millicent Fawcett, Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Catherine Winkworth, Kate Amberley, Elizabeth Garrett, Priscilla Bright McLaren and Margaret Bright Lucas.

Mentia Taylor agreed to be secretary of the London Society for Women's Suffrage. On 15th July 1867 she wrote to Helen Taylor that "Our present course of action is the dissemination of information throughout the kingdom and it seems to me, we cannot apply our pounds to better purpose than by the publication of good papers." The following year the LSWS reprinted as a pamphlet, an article written by Harriet Taylor, The Enfranchisement of Women.

The London Society for Women's Suffrage held several meetings every year. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "In the year 1875-76 the London National Society appears to have held three public meetings, four at working men's clubs, and 13 drawing-room meetings." Crawford points out that at one of these meetings held at St Pancras it was made clear that "the object of the society is to obtain the parliamentary franchise for widows and spinsters on the same conditions as those on which it is granted to men."

Lydia Becker became secretary of the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage in 1881. Other members of the executive committee included Jessie Boucherett, Helen Blackburn, Frances Power Cobbe, Millicent Fawcett, Margaret Bright Lucas, Eva Maclaren, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Helen Taylor and Katherine Thomasson.

By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women's suffrage. This included the London Society for Women's Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage and the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Lydia Becker was elected as president and Boucherett joined the executive committee of the NUWSS.

Jessie Boucherett died from liver cancer on 18th October 1905 at Willingham House. Her estate was assessed at over £39,000. She left £2,000 to the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, £2,000 to the Freedom of Labour Defence Society, £500 to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and £500 to the English Woman's Journal.