Splatt, Miss Edith

Splatt, Miss Edith, 33 Herschell Road, Exeter

Edith Splatt[1] (1873-1945) was born on 3 January 1873, the daughter of James Anning and Agnes Splatt, at Bank Farm, Kenton, where her father farmed 140 acres . She had an older brother Philip (b.1871) and a  younger brother and sister, Charles (b. 1874) and Ethel (b.1877). Although the family lived on in the area for a while after Edith’s father died in 1883, moving to 5 Belle View Terrace Kennford by 1891. Edith, her mother and sister later moved into Exeter. In 1901 the three of them were living at 96 Queen Street where Agnes worked as a housekeeper, Edith as a dressmaker and Ethel as a milliner. In 1904 her sister Ethel died at home from tuberculosis.

Splatt was described as a ‘scientific dressmaker’ on the census in 1891. ‘Scientific’ dressmaking’, at the height of its popularity when women’s fashion in the 1890s included complex basque designs, was based on drawing patterns from measurements of the customer’s body rather than on the traditional methods of  ‘pin to the form’ to produce a pattern in a cheap material from which to work.[2] She continued to work as a dressmaker in Queen Street and later at 67 Sidwell Street, but she had aspirations to write. She is probably the author, known only as ‘Exonian’., who wrote the account of the Exeter contingent of the WSPU attending the Hyde Park rally in 1908.[3] By 1909 she was writing for the Express and Echo, perhaps through the influence of her brother Charles, who was employed there as advertising manager.[4] She became the author of their well-known ‘Womanland’ column in which she combined fashion notes with news of the suffrage movement and other topical issues. She also wrote romantic serials for newspapers, such as A Rustic Penelope and The Courting of Molly Ann, and Who is the Girl?[5]. She also joined the National Union of Journalists.[6]

By the time of the 1911 census her mother is recorded as living at 33 Herschell Road, a 6-room house in one of Exeter’s terraced streets in the Mount Pleasant ara This was to be Edith’s home for the rest of her life, and is likely that the omission of her name on the 1911 census entry was as a result of Edith’s determination not to be ‘counted’ as she did not ‘count’ for a government that refused her the vote. When her initial interest in women’s suffrage arose is unclear, but Edith was certainly had general concerns about the unequal status of men and women by the second dhal of the 1900s. She conducted a one-woman protest about fares on the trams when she found that women and girls going to work were not allowed to buy a cheap ‘workman’s ticket’.[7] She was a member of the Exeter Sunday Society (a forum for discussion on current affairs) and her contributions there shows she was well aware of the historical background to the suffrage movement and also of international progress.[8] She also referred at a Sunday Society discussion to the potential conflict between suffrage activism and old-fashioned religious teaching. The “new woman”, she said, ‘had found her salvation from the higher criticism, which showed that the position marked out for women in some of the epistles was not necessarily the world of God to be bound upon them all down the ages.’[9] Otherwise they could not have remained in the Church. During the war, she proposed and succeeded in obtaining support for a motion condemning Devon County Education committee for permitting boys aged 12 to leave school to work on farms, asking how the nation would fare in the future if boys were allowed to grow up into an ‘ignorant peasantry.’[10] She also spoke at a Crediton branch meeting of the Women’s Total Abstinence Union, arguing for the creation of ‘efficient and comfortable substitutions for drinking shops’.[11]

Splatt was one of a handful of women in Exeter who belonged both to the militant and the constitutional societies working for Votes for Women. She is probably the Exeter woman who went with the WSPU contingent to the 1908 Sunday March of the Suffragettes and Rally in Hyde Park, and recorded her impression for the Western Times.[12] She supported the suffragettes who attempted to disrupt the Exeter meeting in 1909 where Lord Carrington, a Devonian and a Liberal Government Minister, was speaking.[13] But she also became a committee member of the Exeter branch of the NUWSS.[14]  She made a point of attending open-air meetings where the Anti-Suffrage League supporters were making speeches and of asking questions and arguing her case. In a debate with Mr Calderon of the Anti-Suffrage League in July 1910 she twitted him with the range of aristocrats in influential positions in the Anti-Suffrage League and contrasted it with the representation in the NUWSS of the cause of working women. She argued that direct action was the way to succeed: ‘Our forefathers broke the law and that is why they have the vote’.[15] She also supported open-air meetings held by women canvassing support for Board of Guardians and City Council Elections.[16] While she was not one of the speakers generally called upon by Exeter NUWSS she did address the first suffrage meeting ever in Kennford where she had lived as a young woman[17] and also spoke addressed meetings in Silverton first on the 1913 suffrage pilgrimage and subsequently at Silverton Debating Society.[18]

After the war she stood for election to Exeter City Council, finally gaining a seat in 1921 representing Belmont Ward. She was re-elected councillor every three years until her death at home on 3 June 1945, when her estate was valued at £2383. An article appraising her work as a city councillor, ‘Challenge, Conformity and Casework in Interwar England: the first women councillors in Devon’, was published in 2013.[19]



Entry created by Julia Neville, August 2018

[1] Census and family information from www.ancestry.co.uk

[2] Wendy Gamber, ‘“Reduced to Science”: Gender, Technology and Power in the American Dressmaking trade, 1850-1910’ in Technology and Culture, Vol. 36, No 3 (1995), pp 455-482. Popular guides were produced, such as Louis Molpoer’s Every Lady Her Own Dressmaker, published in Washington in 1891.

[3] WT, 23 June 1908.

[4] WT, 17 April 1915.

[5] Who is the Girl? was promoted in WT, 23 July 1915 which refers to her earlier work. The serial began on 30 July 1915.

[6] Entry in ‘Scoop’, https://www.scoop-database.com/. Accessed 8 Feb 2018.

[7] WT, 1 Jul 1915, referring to ‘two or three years ago’

[8] For example, see WT 25 Oct 1909, where she refers to legislation affecting women and to the experience of New Zealand’s thirteen years of women’s enfranchisement.

[9] WT, 25 Nov 1912.

[10] WT, 14 Mar 1916.

[11] WT, 16 Apr 1915.

[12] WT, 23 Jun 1908.

[13] Splatt’s family have preserved a piece of fabric from a banner in WSPU colours with a note saying ‘Relics of the Suffragette banner carried on the occasion of Earl Carrington’s visit, July 31st 1909.’ (Personal communication.)

[14] First referred to as such in WT 8 Nov 1910.

[15] DEG, 28 Jul 1910.

[16] WT, 7 Apr 1913.

[17] WT 5 Jul 1912.

[18] WT, 8 Jul 1913,; 6 Feb 1914.

[19] Julia Neville (2013) Challenge, Conformity and Casework in Interwar England: the first women councillors in Devon, Women’s History Review, 22:6, 971-994, DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2013.780846


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