The Suffragettes and The Pioneer Society
Thanet's ties to the women's movement go back to the late 1800s, when suffragette groups were founded in Margate and Ramsgate.
In Margate, the Pioneer Society was established by Mrs Wools (the chemist's wife) and Mrs Bobby of Bobby's Department Stores fame. The society's aims were 'to further the interests of women, instil a feeling of comradeship, help charities and enjoy intellectual and social amenities; among other things they built the Pioneer Hall in Cliftonville.
In the Victorian age Thanet became an established holiday destination for well-to-do Londoners, many of whom hired houses for the season. While their husbands worked in London during the week, coming down by ferry on Friday evenings, their wives had an unprecedented level of freedom from scrutiny. This was exacerbated by the heady atmosphere of gaiety, all donkey rides and bathing machines; the time was ripe for a revolution!
Of course, this was all still quite genteel; Mrs Bobby was not going to smash her own shop windows. But some suffragettes did graffiti the walls in Ramsgate (in chalk), to announce the visit of Emmeline Pankhurst in April 1910, and the picture above shows her daughter Christabel (centre, with flowers) outside the Theatre Royal, Margate in July of the same year. Women of property, and over the age of 30 gained the vote in 1918; but universal suffrage was only granted in 1928.
The Pioneer Society continued to meet until May 1999, when they decided there was no longer a need for an organisation such as theirs.
Thank you to the Margate Museum for the information and image from their archive.
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