Gladice Keevil

Gladice Keevil

Gladice Keevil was born in 1884. After being educated at the Frances Mary Buss School in Camden and at Lambeth Art School she worked as a governess for 18 months in France and the United States.

On her return to England in 1907 she joined the Women's Social and Political Union. She soon became a regular speaker at public meetings. The Daily News reported that: "Miss Keevil was a particularly striking figure. Robed in flowing white muslin, her lithe figure swayed to every changing expression, and the animated face that smiled and scolded by turns beneath the black straw hat and waving white ostrich feather, was the centre of one of the densest crowds."

In February 1908 she was one of those arrested with Emmeline Pankhurst in taking part in a demonstration outside the House of Commons. Keevil was found guilty and spent six weeks in Holloway Prison. On her release she was appointed National Organiser in the Midlands and established a regional office in Birmingham. Later she was joined by Ada Flatman.

The Leeds Mercury reported a speech made by Keevil on 27th July 1908: "Miss Gladys Keevil, a young lady with a winning smile and a most becoming hat, exerted a distinct influence upon her hearers. She admitted that some of the doings of the Suffragettes had not been quite lady-like, but she pleaded that they had done nothing unwomanly."

B. M. Willmott Dobbie pointed out in A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset (1979) that Gladice Keevil was "noted for her good looks." In August 1910 she spoke at an open-air meeting in Queen's Park, Belfast. One member of the audience commented that she was a "clever speaker and knows her subject".

Gladice Keevil planting her tree at Eagle House.
Gladice Keevil planting her tree at Eagle House.

Keevil was a regular visitor to Eagle House near Batheaston. Her host, Emily Blathwayt, described her as "a very nice girl... she seems interested in all subjects and enjoyed everything here... one of the nicer Suffragettes". On 4th November 1910 Colonel Linley Blathwayt planted a tree, a Picea Pungens Kosteriana, in her honour in his suffragette arboretum in a field adjacent to the house.

Keevil became less involved in the WSPU after 1911 and she was probably one of those who disapproved of the militant strategy being advocated by Christabel Pankhurst.

Gladice Keevil married in Hendon in September 1913 and according to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999) she "became the mother of three sons" and after the Second World War lived at the Wall Cottage at Burpham in West Sussex.

Gladice Keevil Rickford died in 1959.

Primary Sources

(1) Mary Blathwayt, diary entry (11th May, 1908)

Miss Keevil came over from Market Drayton ... She and I held an open air meeting at the Wharf. I took the chair, the first time I have ever done such a thing. I read out a few words of introduction, announced a meeting for tomorrow and called upon Miss Keevil to speak.

(2) The Leeds Mercury (27th July, 1908)

There was a great gathering on Woodhouse Moor yesterday afternoon, when the Suffragettes held a demonstration. how many assembled one must not be betrayed into venturing to estimate, and so it may be left as many thousands. The weather was favourable, and the public prepared to make the best of it.

A procession was formed and proceeded to the Moor, headed by bands playing stirring airs. On the Moor were arranged ten conveyances by way of platforms, and from these prominent members of the cause held forth more or less strenuously.

The speakers included such well-known adherents as Mrs Pankhurst, Miss Annie Kenney, Miss Mary Gawthorpe, Mrs Pethick Lawrence, Miss Gladys Keevil, Mrs Baines, Miss Adela Pankhurst, and Mrs Drummond. The crowd was undoubtedly swelled by many who went out of curiosity and a desire to see if there were any disturbance. A band performance was in progress also, and on the skirts of the demonstration the Salvation Army and others made the most of the opportunity by holding meetings.

There was no serious disturbance. Here and there one or two noisy spirits elbowed their way into the crowd and ventured upon an occasional interruption. In one instance, too, a man proceeded from reviling the Suffragettes to reviling women in general, with the result that he was made to beat a speedy retreat by means of chaff, mingled with the more substantial persuasion of sods.

Miss Gladys Keevil, a young lady with a winning smile and a most becoming hat, exerted a distinct influence upon her hearers. She admitted that some of the doings of the Suffragettes had not been quite lady-like, but she pleaded that they had done nothing unwomanly.

There were some things that only women could do. Men, she said, were actually debating in the House of Commons as to whether a mother should have her young child with her in bed or in a cot by her side.

"Why," she said, with a smile, "the stupidest woman knows more about children and their training than the wisest of men."

They did not want the Liberal party to be deprived of power, because they looked to the Liberals to give them the vote. What they were doing was to shake the party, just as a mother might shake a naughty child.

Mrs Pankhurst was as clever as usual in dealing with questions. The adult suffragist meets with scant consideration at her hands. One such was told that if he was sincere he would not use his vote until his wife got one. They were not going to wait until everybody could have the vote. Man wanted woman to pull some more chestnuts out of the fire for him.

As for a programme, said Mrs Pankhurst, they were political dark horses, and they were not going to declare any political programme until they could vote on one.

"Are there not more women than men?" asked a fearful male, trembling as before the wrath to come.

"There are more men born than women," said Mrs Pankhurst, triumphantly, "but fewer survive. It seems to me you men want mothering." And the abashed man looked as if he did.

A resolution advocating "Voted for Women" was put, and carried by a huge majority. At Mrs Pankhurst's platform, for instance, there were but three hands, and one stick with a hat upon it, held up in opposition.

(3) George J Barnsby, The Struggle for the Vote in the Black Country 1900-1918 (1994)

Suffragette propaganda continued in Wolverhampton after the election, led by Emma Sproson. The election appears to mark a watershed in the attitude of both men and women to female suffrage and Emma seems never to have the experience she had in April 1907 when the Express & Star reported a meeting on the Market Place under the heading 'Suffragettes Mobbed.' Emma was greeted with "Whoa Emma; Have a drop of gin; go and look after the kids; what ay yer paid for doing this?" and much more. The main speaker was Mrs. Baines from Stockport and she got no better treatment. 'The crowd was inclined to be spiteful rather than good humoured', the paper reported in a prize understatement. Stones were thrown and a Mr. Duffy of the Wolverhampton Highways Department was injured.

Emma was also showing the resourcefulness which was always a feature of whatever she did. In November 1907 she made a scene at the police court. A woman was being tried for being drunk. Emma said that women had no part in making laws and therefore should not be vied under them; she was removed from the Court.

At the end of April Gladice Keevil was announcing her plans for May. She was bringing Mrs. Pethwick-Lawrence into Wolverhampton on Wednesday the 3rd to a meeting at Victoria Hall and the next day there was a meeting in the Market Square. There was also to be an open-air meeting the following Saturday in the Market place. Gladice was in Wolverhampton the whole of that week holding Market place meetings on Saturday, Monday, Thursday and Friday with a meeting at Wednesfield on the Tuesday and Tettenhall the next day.

In June 1908 the WSPU held a great Hyde Park rally when the purple, white and green first became their official colours. A vain was booked to leave Wolverhampton at 7.15 am, return fare 7/6d. When activity resumed in the autumn, the Women's Freedom League brought Mrs. Despard to Wolverhampton for a meeting at the Central Hall, where, according to the Wolverhampton Journal she "showed a tolerance and broadmindedness not often exhibited by women speakers." In November Mrs. Pankhurst was back in Wolverhampton making "a very capable speech" to an audience at the Baths Assembly Room. Dr. Helena Jones and Miss Joachim also spoke.