Sunday, 12 December 2010

Suffragette connections Part 5 - Godfrey Blount & Working Women

Blount, Arbor Vitae, 1899

There are connections between the movement to empower women and Godfrey Blount’s role in the Peasant Arts.  Blount contributed to one of the first editions of The New Freewoman.  The journal was launched in June 1913.  Blount contributed “Towards Reconstruction” 1 July 1913.  Unfortunately I have not been able to locate this journal copy (yet!).

The New Freewoman was published fortnightly, priced at 6d but readers were asked to pay £1 in advance for 18 months' copies. Dora Marsden wrote in the first edition: "The New Freewoman is not for the advancement of Women, but for the empowering of individuals - men and women.... Editorially, it will endeavour to lay bare the individual basis of all that is most significant in modern movements including feminism. It will continue The Freewoman's policy of ignoring in its discussion all existing taboos in the realms of morality and religion."

Blount, Arbor Vitae, 1899

The Freewoman that preceded this journal had closed in October 1912.  It was a controversial publication, publishing articles on women's waged work, housework, motherhood, the suffrage movement, and literature, its notoriety and influence rested on its frank discussions of sexuality, morality, and marriage (Wikipedia).

Working Women
Women played a key role in the Peasant Industries.  A brochure for the Haslemere Weaving Industry states that “women and girls from the village, under the superintendence of a Lady Manager, are daily employed at hand-looms…”
Inside the Weaving House, Haslemere

Perhaps it is through these working women, that Harriot Blatch came to visit the Peasant Arts industries.  Blatch was linked to the radical suffragist argument of the 1880s, where citizenship was seen as an economic approach to the suffragette cause, linking the need of working women to vote.  Joannou & Purvis (The Women’s Suffragette Movement: new feminist perspective, Manchester University Press, 1998) sees Fabians such as Blatch as an important influence, Blatch is quoted as saying “women are the source of the race.  It’s supreme smoulders.  To do that work efficiently, they must be politically and economically independent beyond all call.  Free they cannot be under capitalism: the capitalistic systems and feminism are at war”. 

St Cross Hand-Loom Workers, Haslemere

Godfrey Blount advertised under the title of ‘St Cross School of Handicraft’ for “a few lady artists or craftswomen to carry out, under my direction, a new style of wood carving, based on a traditional Swiss pattern, and particularly applicable to furnishing and architectural purposes.  The students will live together at cost price in my present house, which I am just leaving, and they will work for definite hours in a studio in the garden.”  Advertizing for female wood carvers is indeed unusual.  It is not clear where Blount was leaving St Cross to go to, or whether he is referring to his previous address of Foundry Cottage (where he was living with his wife Ethel in the 1901 census).

A leaflet produced sometime during World War One and signed by Godfrey Blount, Warden and Catherine A. Jones, Treasurer is headed the ‘New Crusade Toy Industry for Unemployed Educated Women, in connection with the Women’s Emergency Corps, Baker Street, W.’  It states that “The women we employ belong to that class of artists, actors, companions, governesses etc. who are unfitted by their temperaments and training to accept the majority of the situations vacated by men who have volunteered for service during the war: and the most appropriate work we have found for these women to do is to make a better class of toys than those grotesque and mechanical ones which we cannot believe are really popular with the public to-day.”


  1. It is interesting how the economic empowerment and independence for women was seen as a vital element of many of these organizations and groups. I wonder whether they can be place, at least partially, within the women's movement of the period.

  2. Hi Kate,
    I've been reading about C R Ashbee a contemporary of William Morris, an architect, silver and jewelry designer, publisher and a romantic socialist who founded the guild of Handicraft in the East End of London. ]
    ( Later moving it and his East End Craftsmen out to the Cotswolds.)
    There are an alterpiece and stalls he designed in 1900 in St Stephen's Church in Shottermill . He knew Shaw and Watts, Lutyens and Morris and his wife wore loose flowing Arts and Crafts rational clothing. There has to be some connection.

  3. John, I think there were definite links to the women's movement of the period. The Haslemere Suffragette banner was weaved by the nearby St Edmundsbury weavers and said something like 'weaving to freedom', I need to check my references on that! Whilst the Hine sisters, Maude & Ethel, have been described as 'quiet suffragettes' the structure of this weaving industry empowered women in a way that may not have been traditional.

    Ethel and Maude write about the emancipation of women through craft, and whilst this was not a purely political stance, it supports the move to giving women the vote. Ethel says in The Story of the Homespun Web "Will they (women) fret and consume things of life merely, or will they create and preserve? It is a question which may well be asked of our women to-day, for on their answer depends our civilisation. May they soon begin to choose to be housewives again, makers of homes as well as of cloth!"

  4. Hi Dadaist

    Yes, there are definitely connections. C.R.Ashbee's wife and Ethel Blount were both reported to be members of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union. Ashbee is reported to have been a friend of Godfrey Blount. Blount was Chairman of the English Handicraft Society.

    The road that the Peasant Arts Society was operating from, is the road to Shottermill which is less than a mile down the road.

  5. I suppose you know there's a weaver living and working in the Weaving House.

  6. Hi, yes I do know that. I live a few doors away! Are you local?


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