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Ladies of Ipswich by Julia Barrett

February 9, 2018 6:27 PM
By Julia Barrett

This year, as we celebrate the centenary of the first women to secure the right to vote, we look back at some of the women who played an enormous part in achieving that, for the women of Ipswich. During the years leading up to 1918, Ipswich had two Members of Parliament and for some time both of them were Liberals. Daniel Ford Goddard of the gas works had been Liberal MP for twenty-three years, during which time he had shared the responsibility with both Felix Thornley Cobbold and Sylvester Horne. Other notable philanthropists also held seats for the Liberal party on the town council, including William F and Robert S Paul of Paul's Malt and Robert's son in law William T Pretty of the Pretty & Sons corset factory and Footman, Pretty & Co department store. The corset factory is now sadly buried beneath Marks and Spencer's car park but Footman & Pretty's is now better known as Debenhams. The Pauls, Cobbolds and Goddards are well known within Ipswich's history and the legacy of their work is evident all over town.

Almost completely unknown however, is the story of their wives and sisters. A group of these women, all from the key commercial families - Paul, Goddard, Ridley, Grimwade, Pretty, Fison, Cobbold, Ransome, Sims, Turner, Cranfield and Notcutt with wider links to the Garrett Andersons and Millicent Fawcett; all inter-related and many educated at the Ipswich High School for Girls, were just as active (if not more) in the philanthropic and political scene. They were responsible for workforce welfare, women's education, provision of an enormous hospital supplies depot network during the war and the establishment of the Field of Remembrance in the old cemetery. Well before the war however, they were also founder members of the Suffolk Branch British Red Cross, NSPCC and the Ipswich Women's Liberal Association. The Ipswich WLA was founded in 1888, with the express aim of using the influence and energy of local women specifically to support political candidates who favoured women's suffrage. They took a much less militant stance than some of the better-known suffragettes, preferring to use their influence, reputation and sheer hard work to promote their cause. Their work paid off when Daniel Ford Goddard was elected in 1895 -Robert Stocker, at that time town councillor for Westgate ward, is recorded as acknowledging their efforts and "urging the ladies present to use their influence at the next election and also with their children to bring them up not only as good citizens but good liberals, or perhaps he ought to say, sturdy radicals".

The story of the Ladies of Ipswich is told by Julia Barrett of Clothing the Rose, herself a committed Liberal - through an enlightening illustrated, costumed talk with a book also in development. During this centenary year, she is sharing their story both to raise awareness of the hidden fight for women's suffrage in Ipswich and to raise funds for the continued struggle, through the Fawcett Society.

Photo by Mike Hill

Julia as Mrs Pretty 1915 (Photo by Mike Hill)