Women and the 1911 census

28 Mar

If you’re in the UK,  did you fill in your census form this weekend?  I did,  and it made me think … about how much my life has changed in the last 10 years (I got married,  moved to my current house, have done all sorts of things in work terms) and also about what stories my house could tell if it could talk.

It was built in 1909 (here’s a rather wonky photo of the street from an old book of the era)  and so the house would have been quite “new” at the time of the 1911 census.  I wonder who lived here then and what they did for a living? How many people lived in this house and how did they keep warm? What did they wear, what did they eat?

Of course,  assuming that there were female residents,  one thing they couldn’t then do (or, indeed do for between the next seven and seventeen years) was to vote,  given that women were then denied that right and the UK was in the grip of the suffrage movement. My friend Rachel shared a link to this fascinating article from The Times,  published back in the glory days of 2009 when access was free,  which details how some 1911 women used the census forms to make a protest, as part of a coordinated boycott over their continuing lack of the right to vote.

“The documents show how women refused to fill in their names and left comments in the margins. One suffragette taking part in the boycott arranged by the Women’s Freedom League wrote: “If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent enough to put a cross on a voting paper.”

“Another glued a poster over the form stating: “No votes for women, no census.” A piece of paper stuck to the form suggests that the women stayed away from households where the census was taken to attend a protest in Trafalgar Square.”

As I often do when considering history, progress and change, this has made me reflect upon the privileged era in which we live. How lucky we are today that we can use the 2011 census form as just that – a tool to capture socio-economic data about the world in which we live.

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