Cat & Mouse Act, Grace Roe, Holloway Prison, hunger and thirst strike, Mrs Pankhurst, Suffragettes, Tessa Billington-Greig, Women's Freedom League, Women's Social & Political Union, WSPU
July 8th 1914 – Mrs Pankhurst was back in prison, rearrested as she attended Suffragette (WSPU) headquarters in Kingsway. In the reception wing of Holloway Prison she was stripped and thoroughly searched, in accordance with a new rule which had been introduced as a result of an attempt by Suffragettes to smuggle in an emetic to senior WSPU worker Grace Roe. Greatly offended by this new procedure and determined to resist, Mrs Pankhurst was charged with being abusive and using offensive language towards the matron and wardresses who searched her, and with striking one of them. After being subjected to this degradation, during which only indigestion pills were found, Mrs Pankhurst lay on the floor, refusing to be helped on with her clothes. The image of her, usually immaculately dressed and so fastidious, laying naked on the floor, under the gaze of prison officials, is not one that has been passed down through history. The incident only became public many years later because notes on the search were written up for the Home Office, and stored in an archive, now open for all to see. This humiliation is a perfect example of what her disillusioned ex-cohort and later severe critic, Teresa Billington-Greig (Women’s Freedom League), considered her “willingness to be ruthless with herself”.
July 10th – Mrs Pankhurst went before a three-man visiting committee to be tried for her offences. She was sentenced to 7 days’ close confinement and forfeiture of 168 remission points. She continued her hunger and thirst strike, during which she lost nearly a stone in weight (a huge amount given she was such a petite woman to begin with) and suffered greatly from nausea and gastric problems.
July 11th – She had become so poorly that she was released under 4-day licence, as per the terms of the “Cat & Mouse” Act, due to return to prison on July 15th. But she determined not to return to prison, and instead attend a WSPU meeting in Holland Park on July 16th.
July 15th – On the eve of the meeting, i.e. on the day she was due back in prison, she was too weak to even get into a taxi to the meeting, so was placed on a stretcher by her supporters. She was accompanied by a number of doctors and clergyman, who conducted her to a waiting ambulance. Hundreds watched as, during a short struggle with the police, she was rearrested and taken back to prison. Under the terms of “Cat & Mouse”, the police were not allowed to enter a wanted person’s home to rearrest them when their licence had expired, but as soon as someone set foot outside, they were fair game. Hence the police “cats” waited for their Suffragette “mouse” outside her home, and pounced as soon as she surfaced.
July 17th – Mrs Pankhurst was so weak she was rereleased on licence after just two days, due to return to Holloway on July 22. But she never returned to prison. Read my next blog to find out why.