Elsie Duval & Hugh Franklin

LSE Library

A tragic story of love, pain and death, with the women's suffrage movement as a backdrop.

Elsie Duval (front centre) grew up in a family of supporters for women’s suffrage.

Elsie joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1907 when she was just sixteen but she was too young to take part in militant action. Elsie was arrested for the first time on 23 November 1911 on a charge of obstructing the police. She was discharged.

Elsie was accepted for the next militant protest in 1912.

These are instructions for the window-smashing campaign on 4 March 1912. If Elsie did take part, she was not arrested.

Elsie was arrested in July 1912 for breaking a window in Clapham post office.

Whilst on remand, Elsie had her “state of mind inquired into" writing "They have got it into their heads that I am sixteen years of age. You know I refuse to give my age."

She was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and was forcibly fed nine times. She was released on 3 August 1912.

In March 1913 Elsie became engaged to Hugh Franklin, just before her last imprisonment.

They decided not to marry because “the Cat and Mouse Act rendered our plans too unsettled to marry.”

On 3 April 1913 Elsie was arrested for ‘loitering with intent’ with “Phyllis Brady” (Olive Beamish). She was forcibly fed while on remand and during her sentence.

Her prison diary written on toilet paper described how she had “pains at heart” after the feeding.

Elsie was the first prisoner to be released on 23 April 1913 under the Cat and Mouse Act. Elsie took the alias “Eveline Dukes”, fled to the continent, never to return to prison.

Elsie’s letter to Hugh Franklin describes how she resisted being force-fed.

Hugh's family were also involved in the suffrage movement. His mother, Caroline, and his aunt, Henrietta (“Netta”), were members of the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage, part of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

A Jewish League for Woman Suffrage badge.

Hugh first joined the Fabian Society and Independent Labour Party at Cambridge where he was a student.

In 1910 Hugh became the Private Secretary to Sir Matthew Nathan at the Post Office.

He had to resign two months later after he was arrested (not charged) during the protest in Parliament Square on 18 November, the day that became known as Black Friday because of police brutality towards the women demonstrators.

Hugh blamed Winston Churchill for this police violence, and took a whip to him on a train journey from Bradford to London.

Hugh’s father, Arthur, wrote to the Chief Rabbi to discuss his son’s actions towards Winston Churchill.

This was the reply: “Pray do not worry about your son. Hugh’s act was foolish, but happily there was nothing dishonourable. We have reason for anxiety, as our only son is still very ill.”

Between 1910 and 1913, Hugh was a voluntary organiser of the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement, founded by Elsie Duval’s brother, Victor.

On 8 March 1911 Hugh was arrested for trying to smash Churchill’s windows in Eccleston Square.

He was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and went on hunger strike.

Hugh received many letters of support for the “brave stand” he was taking.

This letter from Christabel Pankhurst said: “I am afraid that you have suffered very much. We are very proud of our men friends who are fighting so bravely for us.”

Hugh was arrested five times in all, serving three prison sentences with forcible feeding.

In April 1913 he was released under the Cat and Mouse Act after two months’ forcible feeding out of a nine month sentence.

He took the alias “Henry Forster”, escaped to the continent to recoup his health and never went back to prison.

During the First World War, Hugh served as a clerical officer at the Ordnance Factories at Woolwich.

Elsie offered to work at the hospital in France run by Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray as part of the Women’s Hospital Corps.

In this letter she describes her life of exile as a “suffragette mouse”. Elsie doesn’t seem to have worked at the hospital, as she was selling suffrage papers in London in July 1915.

Elsie wrote to Emmeline Pankhurst in June 1915 asking her to be a witness at her wedding. Emmeline declined as she would be out of the country but wished them well.

Elsie married Hugh at the West London Synagogue on 28 September 1915.

Hugh’s mother, Caroline, was a witness at the wedding but Hugh’s father disinherited him for “marrying out” of the Jewish faith.

In 1917 Elsie joined Mrs Pankhurst’s short-lived Women’s Party.

Elsie died from heart failure on 1 January 1919 caused by septic pneumonia during the influenza epidemic.

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