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Flora Drummond: The Suffragette GeneralSheila Hanlon | Historian | Women's  cyclingFlora McKinnon Drummond (née Gibson) (4 August 1878, Manchester – 17 January 1949, Carradale), was a British suffragette.[1] Nicknamed 'The General' for her habit of leading Women's Rights marches wearing a military style uniform 'with an officers cap and epaulettes'[2] and riding on a large horse, Drummond was an organiser for the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was imprisoned nine times for her activism in the Women's Suffrage movement. Drummond's main political activity was organising and leading rallies, marches and demonstrations. She was an accomplished and inspiring orator and had a reputation for being able to put down hecklers with ease. Her name and picture (and those of 58 other women and men's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.

Flora McKinnon Gibson was born on 4 August 1878 in Manchester to Sarah Cook and Francis Gibson.[3][4] Her father was a tailor and whilst Flora was still a small child the family moved to Pirnmill on the Isle of Arran, where her mother had her roots. On leaving high-school at the age of fourteen Flora moved to Glasgow to take a business training course at a civil service school where she passed the qualifications to become a post-mistress but standing at 5 feet 1 inch (1.55 m) was refused a post as she did not meet the newly introduced minimum 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m) height requirement. Although she went on to gain a Society of Arts qualification in shorthand and typing she still carried a resentment about the discrimination which meant that women, because of their smaller average height, were prevented from being postmistresses. After her marriage to Joseph Drummond she moved back to the town of her birth and along with her husband was active in the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party.[5] Drummond became the main earner when her husband lost his job. She was a manager at the British Oliver Typewriter Factory.[5]

Flora Drummond, 1879 - 1949. Suffragette | National Galleries of Scotland

Turbulent Londoners: Flora Drummond, 1879-1949 | Turbulent London

NPG x29896; Florence Flora Drummond; Dame Christabel Pankhurst - Portrait -  National Portrait Gallery
Flora Drummond and Christabel Pankhurst

Flora Drummond with Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, (unknown), Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard and (unknown), 1906–1907

Flora Drummond in centre with suffragettes in tartan sashes: "Ye Mauna Tramp on the Scotch Thistle Laddie"

Flora Drummond joined the WSPU in 1906. Following a Liberal Party election meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were imprisoned for pressing the candidate, Winston Churchill, to answer the question 'If you are elected, will you do your best to make Women's Suffrage a government measure?'. When the two women were released the WSPU held a celebratory rally in Manchester which Flora, who had witnessed their arrests, attended and was persuaded to join the movement.[6] Shortly afterwards Flora moved to London and by the end of 1906 had served her first term in Holloway after being arrested inside the House of Commons.[7] Flora was known for her daring and headline-grabbing stunts, including in 1906 slipping inside the open door of 10 Downing Street whilst her companion Irene Miller was being arrested for knocking on the door.[8] In 1908 Drummond and Helen Craggs[7] were campaigning successfully against Churchill again.[9] That year, Flora also became a paid organiser at the WSPU headquarters[5] and hired a boat so that she could approach the Palace of Westminster from the River Thames to harangue the members of parliament sitting on the riverside terrace.[7][8] When Mary Phillips, who had worked in Glasgow WSPU, was released from prison after serving the longest (3 month) sentence she was welcomed by Flora Drummond, with bagpipes and other suffragettes who posed in tartan [10] for a picture under the slogan "Ye Mauna Tramp on the Scotch Thistle Laddie". The Scottish suffragettes present compared their struggle to the campaign of William Wallace. Drummond also welcomed Catherine Corbett and others released from hunger strike at Dundee Gaol after riot at Winston Churchill's meeting in Dundee.[9] Flora Drummond was a key organiser of the Trafalgar Square rally in October 1908 which led to a three-month term in Holloway along with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst for "incitement to rush the House of Commons".[11] The women had been given the option of being bound over to keep the peace for twelve months instead of a custodial sentence but all three opted for Holloway. Flora was in the first trimester of pregnancy when she was imprisoned and after fainting and being taken to the hospital wing she was granted early release on the grounds of ill-health. As Drummond was leaving the prison Emmeline Pankhurst broke the "silence rule" which forbade the suffragette prisoners from speaking to each other and called out 'I am glad because now you will be able to carry on the work'.[12] Drummond had been given a Hunger Strike Medal 'for Valour' by WSPU, after 9 imprisonments and a number of hunger strikes.[5] In October 1909, Drummond was the organiser of the first militant procession in Edinburgh as a response to a critical comment from the WSPU leadership in their newsletter Votes for Women which said 'Beautiful, haughty, dignified, stern Edinburgh, with your cautious steadfast people, you have not yet woken up to take part in our militant methods.' The theme of the march was 'have done and can do and will do' and featured women carrying banners and playing bagpipes dressed either in their working clothes or as female historical Scottish figures.[13] Tens of thousands turned out on to the streets of Edinburgh to watch the parade and the event was considered by the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch to have been a success.[14]

In 1913 Drummond and Annie Kenney arranged for WSPU representatives to speak with leading politicians David Lloyd George and Sir Edward Grey. The meeting had been with the proviso that these were working class women representing their class. They explained the terrible pay and working conditions that they suffered and their hope that a vote would enable women to challenge the status quo in a democratic manner. Alice Hawkins from Leicester explained how her fellow male workers could choose a man to represent them whilst the women were left unrepresented.[15] Drummond was leader of the WSPU Cycling Scouts, setting out to the country from the capital with women's suffrage message.[5] In May 1914 Drummond and Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam) besieged the homes of Lord Carson and Lord Lansdowne, both prominent Ulster Unionist MPs who had been directly inciting militancy in Ulster against the Home Rule Bill then going through Parliament. Drummond and Dacre Fox had both been issued with summonses to appear before magistrates for 'making inciting speeches' and encouraging women to militancy. Their response to journalists who interviewed them was that they thought they should take refuge with Lord Carson and Lord Lansdowne who had also been making inciting speeches and encouraging militancy in Ireland, but who appeared to be safe from interference from the authorities for doing so. Later the same day both women appeared before a magistrate, were sentenced to imprisonment and taken to Holloway where they immediately commenced hunger and thirst strikes and endured a period of force feeding[16]

Drummond's terms in prison, including several hunger strikes took a physical toll on her and in 1914 she spent some time on Arran to recover her health and after her return to London on the outbreak of the First World War concentrated her efforts on public speaking and administration rather than direct action thus avoiding further arrest.[7] She remained prominent within the movement and in 1928 she was a pall-bearer at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst. Her politics moved away from the labour socialism of her youth, as she travelled around the country persuading workers not to strike,[5] and in 1926 Drummond again led a parade, the Great Prosperity March against the unrest predating the General Strike.[5]

In the 1930s Drummond formed the Women's Guild of Empire, a right-wing league opposed to communism and fascism. Her one-time militant partner Norah Elam, who had become a leading member of Mosley's British Union of Fascists wrote a scathing attack of the Guild calling it an anti-fascist circus describing her former friend as an 'extinct volcano'.[16] Flora and Joseph Drummond divorced in 1922 and later that year she married a cousin, Alan Simpson. Alan was killed during an air-raid in 1944; Flora returned to Arran, was denied the permission to build a cottage and so lived in a makeshift corrugated iron roofed shed, until her neighbours took her in when she became ill,[17] and she died in 1949 following a stroke at the age of 70.

In 2001 a headstone was placed for the 'Suffragette General' on her grave in Kintyre.[21]

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