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The striking image on the front cover of my new novel Suffragette Autumn Women’s Spring is of Suffragette Kitty Marion. I chose her image because she is reminiscent of how I imagine my novel’s heroine Ruby Martin to look, and like Ruby she was a remarkable, brave woman.
The image was taken 100 years ago when it was against the law to take a photograph of someone without their permission but this didn’t stop Scotland Yard breaking the law! They spent £7-6-11 of taxpayers money on an 11 inch Ross Telecentric camera lens and parked a police van in the exercise yard of Holloway Prison and took photos of Suffragettes. These could then be distributed not just to the police but to stewards at public places such as art galleries which might be targeted by Suffragettes during their arson and destruction campaign from 1912-14. This was arguably the first secret surveillance of “terrorists”.
Kitty was born Katerina Schafer in Germany 1871. She moved to England to live with her aunt when she was 15 and learned English. She became a successful music hall performer known as the “Refined Vocal Comedienne”. in 1899 she appeared on the same bill as Vesta Tilley. in 1908 she moved to Hartfield in East Sussex and joined the Brighton branch of Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. She also helped form the Actresses’ Franchise League which included such stars as Lily Langtry and Ellen Terry, and a promising young actress called Sybil Thorndike. It also included Vera Holme, who went on to become Mrs Pankhurst’s chauffeur.
In 1909 Kitty was imprisoned for the first time after stone-throwing at a post office in Newcastle. She went on hunger-strike, was force-fed and she set fire to her cell. Soon after her release she, along with Suffragette notables Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Lady Constance Lytton, wrote to The Times about the issue of false-feeding. In December she was presented with a WSPU hunger-strike medal at the Royal Albert Hall and from there went to start her Panto season. She was still working professionally as an actress.
In 1910 she was arrested at Black Friday but released without charge. She then toured, combining her profession with her political endeavours, giving lectures and musical performances and was billed as “Music Hall Artiste and Militant Suffragette”.
In 1911 she got 3 weeks in prison for protesting after the Conciliation Bill, which would have given propertied women the vote, was defeated.
In March 1912, the Suffragettes greatly increased the level of their violence. The start of this campaign was the mass window breaking of government office and other West End windows. Kitty was there. She broke the windows of the Silversmith’s Association and also Sainsbury’s in Regent Street. She was given 6 months in prison for that. Holloway was so full of Suffragettes that she and 23 others were sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham. She was released after 10 days of hunger-striking and force-feeding.
She then committed her biggest coup. She burnt down the grandstand of Hurst Park racecourse. Google images of Suffragette arson and usually the first picture up is that of a gutted Hurst Park. She was given 3 years penal servitude for the attack. Another bout of hunger-striking meant she was soon released, when she went to a WSPU nursing home under the care of Dr flora Murray and Catherine Pine. As soon as she had recovered she broke a window at the Home Office and was back in Holloway. But she again had to be released on health grounds after 5 days, after which she set fire to houses in Liverpool and Manchester.
Kitty may have been the most often force-fed of all Suffragettes. She was force-fed 232 times.
When the WSPU was closed down when war broke out in 1914, Kitty disagreed with Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst’s belief that the fight for the vote had to finish so that all efforts could be put into the war effort.
But she was not given the opportunity to carry on the fight. As someone who had been born in Germany, she was to be deported. After protests by the likes of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Lady Constance Lytton, she was allowed to to go the United States in 1915.
Here she worked with Margaret Sanger on Birth Control. This was controversial so Kitty continued to be abused on the streets whilst she hawked the Birth Control Review, and was imprisoned in 1918 under obscenity laws. In 1921 she and Sanger established the first birth-control clinic in America.
In 1930 she returned to England for a short time to attend the unveiling of Mrs Pankhurst’s statue outside the Houses of Parliament and she also worked with Edith How-Martyn at the Birth Control International Centre before returning to America.
She died in 1944.