If a certain war had not begun in 1914, the 1910s would likely be best remembered as a decade of progressive social unrest. Movements for workers rights and against racial segregation were now getting into full swing, and, in the UK especially, the period from 1910 to 1914 saw the most militant action of all from the suffragette movement. Women having the vote was thought at the turn of the century to perhaps be a frivolous idea, or at best a distant goal, but then the suffragettes had done everything they could to draw attention to their cause, including chaining themselves to railings, refusing to pay taxes and fines, setting fire to letterboxes, graffiti, smashing shop windows, and even bombing the house of the Chancellor, David Lloyd George. In 1909 Marion Wallace Dunlop had begun the first hunger strike, and though she was released, the government would soon resort to force-feeding those who followed her lead.
Then in 1911 along came the national census, carried out in the UK every ten years. This was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate anger at “taxation without representation” and naturally one that was seized with both hands.
The story is taken up here by Jill Liddington, who has written a book about it, no less.
Vanishing for the vote recounts what happened on one night, Sunday 2 April, 1911, when the Liberal government demanded every household comply with its census requirements. Suffragette organisations urged women, all still voteless, to boycott this census. Many did. Some wrote ‘Votes for Women’ boldly across their schedules. Others hid in darkened houses or, in the case of Emily Wilding Davison, in a cupboard within the Houses of Parliament. Yet many did not. Even some suffragettes who might be expected to boycott decided to comply – and completed a perfectly accurate schedule.