Vera 'Jack' Holme

LSE Library

The life of a cross-dressing actress, suffragette, and chauffeur to the Pankhursts and Pethick-Lawrences

Vera was born in 1881, the daughter of a timber merchant, growing-up mainly in Lancashire, with some convent education abroad.

She remained close to her brother Gordon (pictured here).

Although Jack received a small allowance from her father, by 1903 she had to go out and earn her own living.

She chose to become an actress and singer.

Publicity photographs show her in a suit and tie, performing one of the many cross-dressing music hall acts.

It is thought that her nickname lies in the stage character that she played called ‘Jack’.

Jack was involved with the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) by 1908.

Here is her transcription of a WSPU meeting at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 March 1908.

Emmeline Pankhurst had just been released from Holloway for obstructing police at a deputation from the ‘Women’s Parliament’ in Caxton Hall to the House of Commons.

Jack is on the left, wearing a WSPU scarf.

Jack’s poem, ‘An Organ Record’, was published in Votes for Women on 7 May 1909.

It describes how she hid in the organ at Bristol’s Colston Hall and disrupted a political meeting by calling out ‘Votes for Women’ through the organ pipes.

In the Hyde Park demonstration of June 1909, Jack worked as a mounted marshal.

On 22 November 1911, Jack was arrested for "wilfully obstructing the police". She was imprisoned for five days in Holloway, but did not go on hunger strike.

Jack’s sketch of her prison call while she was imprisoned in November 1911.

Jack was a chauffeur to the Pankhursts and Pethick-Lawrences.

An article in The Chauffeur magazine commented that: “Anybody who has seen Miss Holme starting up, changing gear, and steering in and out of traffic, will freely acknowledge her right to call herself a chauffeur.”

During the suffrage period, Jack began an important romantic relationship with Lady Evelina Haverfield, which lasted until Eve’s death in 1920.

She was 14 years older than Jack, and married to a wealthy Baron.

Eve was also involved in the suffrage movement as an accomplished horsewoman, and had a masculine style.

No love letters have survived between Jack and Eve, so their relationship must be pieced together from what has survived.

Here is an acrostic love poem written by Jack for Eve in 1909.

At the beginning of the First World War, Eve Haverfield established a women’s auxiliary unit – the Women’s Volunteer Reserve (WVR).

There were branches all over London that trained women for war work, particularly in transport.

In 1915, Jack and Eve joined the transport wing of the Scottish Women’s Hospital, and were sent to Serbia.

Eve was head of the transport unit, and Jack was an ambulance driver.

In a letter to Celia Wray and Alick Embleton, Jack describes her physical transformation:

‘I have my hair cut short and it is awfully wavy and curly, and I look like an impresario – Eve says – and she loves it.’

In 1918 Jack was awarded the Samaritan Cross by the King of Serbia, in recognition of her work with the Scottish Women’s Hospital, and a Russian medal for Meritorious Service.

After the war, she helped to set up the Haverfield Fund for Serbian Children, and continued links with the Serbia after Eve’s death in 1920.

In the 1920s, Jack moved to Scotland and shared a home with artists Dorothy Johnstone and Anne Finlay, pictured here.

In her later years, Jack was an active member of her local Women’s Institute. She died in Glasgow in 1969, aged 88.

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