Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst
From the National Archives
I don’t want to talk about flooding anymore. I’m still feeling blue about being displaced and all the havoc that my once gentle rivers wreaked on my beautiful city so I am going to concentrate on genealogy for a while. One thing you can count on when you do genealogy, there is always something worse to discover.
I have a specific topic in mind and that has to do with a kind of ‘did you know thing” relating to finding your female ancestors in the UK. Deciding that if they were not to be considered as citizens when it came to voting, suffragettes, led by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, declared that they would not participate in the census being taken on April 2, 1911. The census asked that the householders list everyone present in the dwelling on census night. To avoid being enumerated, suffragettes took one of two approaches: Either they defaced the form, writing such things as "I will not supply these particulars until I have my rights as a citizen. Votes for Women” or they arranged to be out of the house on census night. To facilitate that many events were organized across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This was not as frivolous as it seems as refusing to participate in the census could land one in prison.
The papers carried wonderful stories of the evening’s events. One enterprising woman was discovered in the crypt of the House of Commons on the Monday following census night. She had concealed herself there to avoid being enumerated but was “duly returned” on a census form provided by the police for that purpose. Another woman had hidden herself in a broom closet for 46 hours. Edinburgh protesters spent the night in a vegetarian restaurant and in an abandoned store. Some women slept in vans in parks. The biggest event, however, was an evening rally in Trafalgar Square that was broken up by police. The suffragettes had rented the Aldwych Skating Rink (roller skating, not ice-skating) and retired there to listen to speeches and skate until morning.
The London Times reported that the suffragettes efforts were largely useless as the women were counted by police, however, their particulars were not recorded and this has an impact on researchers looking for female ancestors in the United Kingdom (as if finding female ancestors was not hard enough). If your ancestor was a suffragette, she may not show up in the 1911 UK Census. I can find no indication that suffragettes in Canada and the US attempted the same strategy in any organized way but this doesn’t mean that there weren’t some dedicated women who staged their own census boycott. So, if you’re looking for a female ancestor around that time, keep the boycott in mind and also keep in mind that there may be records elsewhere (such as police rosters, Votes for Women organization lists, newspapers accounts of the boycott, lists of contributors to the cause and other documents. ) As always, be inventive and think outside the page (the census page, that is).