Nina Boyle

Nina Boyle

Antonina (Nina) Boyle, the second daughter and fifth of the six children of Robert Boyle (1830–1869), was born in Bexley, Kent, on 21st December 1865. Her father was the son of David Boyle. After his death she spent time in South Africa and worked as a nurse during the Boer War.

Boyle was a strong supporter of women's suffrage and helped establish the Women's Enfranchisement League of Johannesburg. After returning to Britain in 1911, she became active in the Women's Freedom League (WFL), which had been formed in 1907 after a split within the Women's Political and Social Union (WSPU) over the way Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst were running the organisation. These women objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. Other members of the WFL included: Charlotte Despard, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Dora Marsden, Helena Normanton, Anne Cobden Sanderson and Margaret Nevinson.

Like the WSPU, the WFL was a militant organisation that was willing the break the law. As a result, over 100 of their members were sent to prison after being arrested on demonstrations or refusing to pay taxes. However, members of the WFL was a completely non-violent organisation and opposed the WSPU campaign of vandalism against private and commercial property. The WFL were especially critical of the WSPU arson campaign.

Boyle, who wrote extensively for The Vote, became head of the WFL's political and militant department in 1912. According to her biographer, Marc Brodie: "She (Nina Boyle) was arrested on several occasions and imprisoned three times. Partly as a means of improving the treatment of women by the police - particularly given her own experiences - and also as part of the WFL's aim to make all employment areas open to women, Boyle attempted to gain approval for women to be employed as special constables."

After a meeting with Sir Edward Henry, the Chief Commissioner of Police, Nina Boyle and Margaret Damer Dawson founded the Women Police Volunteers. The following year Dawson became Commandant and Mary Allen became Sub-Commandant. The government had always opposed the idea of policewomen but with a large numbers of policemen joining the British Army, it was considered a good idea to have women volunteers to help run the service. Another reason that Dawson's proposal was accepted was that her members were willing to work without pay.

David Doughan argues that Margaret Damar Dawson was the right kind of leader for this new organisation: "Many of the first recruits, numbering approximately fifty, had experience of being imprisoned as militant suffragists, a point which was stressed by the rival Women's Police Patrols, set up by the National Union of Women Workers (later the National Council of Women). Margaret Damer Dawson's highly respectable non-suffragette background, together with the number of her aristocratic acquaintances, was thus an asset when dealing with figures of authority."

In February 1915 the Women Police Volunteers was renamed her organisation, the Women's Police Service (WPS). At first the WPS concentrated its work in the London area. Wearing a dark-blue uniform, the WPS were assigned responsibilities such as looking after the welfare of refugees. Later that year, Allen was sent to sort out problems in Grantham and Hull. Both towns had army camps and local people were complaining about drunken behaviour and a growth in prostitution. Boyle saw this as a "slur upon all women" and resigned from the WPV.

Eveline Haverfield was appointed as Commandant in Chief of the Women's Reserve Ambulance Corps and was instructed to organize the sending of the Scottish Women's Hospital Units to Serbia. The women left in August, 1916, and included Nina Boyle, Dr. Else Inglis, Elsie Bowerman, Lilian Lenton and Vera Holme.

After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act the first opportunity for women to vote was in the 1918 General Election. Boyle attempted to stand as a Women's Freedom League candidate in the Keighley by-election. However, her nomination was rejected because of a technical flaw.

In 1920 Boyle published a novel, Out of the Flying-Pan. Over the next few years she produced several novels with strong women characters. The most successful was What Became of Mr. Desmond? (1922). When her novel, The Rights of Mallaroche, appeared in 1927, the reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement remarked that he had to "mile at the feminism which Miss Boyle has kept hot from her suffragette days".

As Marc Brodie has pointed out: "During the 1920s and 1930s Boyle remained active in a broad range of women's organizations. She campaigned on behalf of the National Union of Women Teachers, the Women's Election Committee, the Open Door Council (which aimed to remove protective barriers that restricted women's employment opportunities), and also organizations concerned with the welfare of women and children in developing countries. She was particularly active in the Save the Children Fund (SCF)."

Boyle moved to the right in the 1920s and was a supporter of the British Empire Union (BEU) and the Conservative Party. During the Second World War she was a member of the Never Again Association, that campaigned for the expulsion from Britain of all persons born in Axis countries.

Nina Boyle, who never married, died in a nursing home at 99 Cromwell Road, London, on 4th March 1943, and five days later was cremated at Golders Green.

Primary Sources

(1) Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (2007)

Britain was the first of the European nations involved in the war to establish women's paramilitary services. In the spring of 1917, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established. By November 1918, 40,000 women were serving in the WAAC, 8,000 of whom were sent abroad. The women were given ranks, regulations and uniforms, like the men who served in the regular army. However, the WAAC had an organisational structure independent from the army and women were classified as non-combatants. Their role was to free men to go to the front by working in support roles as cooks, clerks and mechanics. In the following year, parallel women's services were established to support each of the branches of the armed services. In November 1917, the Women's Royal Naval Service was established and recruits performed clerical work and dealt with household matters, storekeeping and electrical and engineering work. In April 1918, the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) was set up, again to perform clerical and domestic jobs, but some WRAF women also became drivers, fitters, welders and carpenters, working on the aeroplanes.

A number of voluntary women police organisations were also established by middle- and upper-class women, as an extension of the growing involvement of such women in social welfare and factory inspection work. At the outbreak of war, the feminist National Union of Working Women (NUWW) proposed a force of non-uniformed volunteer patrols, while a number of women from a more militant Suffragette background, including Margaret Damer Dawson and Nina Boyle, established the uniformed professional Women's Police Volunteers (WPV). When a disagreement over the role of the WPV occurred soon afterwards, Margaret Damer Dawson and Mary Allen broke with Nina Boyle and established a further group, the Women Police Service (WPS). The central role of women police during the war was the policing and protection of women, with a focus on moral welfare work, in the context of widespread anxieties about female promiscuity. Women police patrolled parks, the perimeters of garrisons and other public spaces, separating men and women who were thought to be engaging in immoral or inappropriate behaviour and following suspect couples to prevent illicit sexual encounters. Continuing a practice of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century moral purity groups, women police also entered public houses and other sites of "ill-repute". By 1916, the WPS were also heavily involved in patrolling and inspecting munitions factories where women were employed, to ensure the moral conduct of the women factory workers.

Many of the early women police recruits were from the educated middle class and were drawn into the work through their involvement in feminist politics before the war. Both Nina Boyle and Mary Allen had been members of the militant suffrage group the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the WPS maintained a strong feminist outlook, campaigning for an independent professional women's police force with equal powers to policemen....

Mary Allen's enthusiasm was shared by Margaret Damer Dawson, and the two soon established a close professional and personal relationship, living together in London between 1914 and 1920. When Dawson died in 1920, Allen was a major beneficiary in her will, continuing to live in Dawson's house, Danehill, throughout the 1930s and beginning a relationship in the early 1920s with another former WPS officer Miss Helen Tagart.

(2) Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (2007)

Notions of homosexuality as innate were often connected with suggestions of the need for an external catalyst to spark the development of a lesbian identity. For Havelock Ellis, specific environmental factors external to an individual's make-up could precipitate the "latent condition" of inversion, although they did require a "favourable organic predisposition" on which to act. Stella Browne, whose writing on female sexual inversion in the interwar period was heavily influenced by Ellis' work, placed greater emphasis on environmental factors. Although she claimed that lesbianism was innate, she qualified this by arguing that homosexuality was in part also a result of society's repression of the "normal sexual impulse"; if society were to take a less prudish attitude towards women's sexual behaviour, the incidence of homosexuality would diminish.