1911 Census Boycott in Suffolk
“Any Government that refuses to recognise women must be met by women’s refusal to recognise the Government.” Edith How Martyn
1911 was a time of increased political activity. The campaign for female suffrage was at its height. Those involved were unlikely to quietly obey Government demands to complete the census. After the Kings Speech of that year contained no mention of a Women’s Suffrage bill, the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) with their policy of non-violent passive resistance, called for a boycott of the census.
The 1911 census was to include new questions. The answers would allow the Liberal Government to form ideas for future social policy. A key political concern was the size of British families and the high levels of infant mortality. The census therefore would now ask the following ; a women’s occupation, the duration of the marriage, how many children had been born into it, and how many were living or dead.
This brought the masculine public sphere of politics into conflict with the private sphere of home and family. The head of the family was to provide what some saw as a woman’s intimate details to a government that was denying her the right of full citizenship.
Leader of the WFL in Ipswich, Constance Andrews, organised a boycott to be held in the Old Museum Rooms, near to the WFL offices in Arcade street. The census return for the Old Museum Rooms does not give us any ideas of who was there that night, the form is populated with N.K for “not known”, but about 30 people spent the night there.
In Lowestoft, Lottie Fairchild, a boarding house keeper seems to have opened her home to hold a mass evasion. At 305 London Road some ten ladies “unknown” spent the evening. On the census form the enumerator has written:
A schedule was left in the ordinary way with the occupier. On calling it was handed me not filled up but with the words “No Votes for Women-No information from Women” written across the schedule. Further information was refused and the servants and family instructed not to give any information whatsoever. The information now given has been gathered by me from the husband and other members of the family. I gathered that the several ladies mentioned slept at this home intentionally to evade enumeration.
Many census returns are emblazoned with protest statements. They provide a vivid testimony to the views of campaigners in 1911. Those who took part did not know if they would go to prison or be fined for their resistance.