• Mapping Women's Suffrage

'A silly subterfuge'? The 1911 census boycott

Vicky Iglikowski-Broad, Principal Diverse Histories Records Specialist, The National Archives.

For this blog I was asked to pick my favourite census protest. I was excited but overwhelmed - how to possibly choose my favourite?

There are so many rich stories to be found in the census about suffrage supporters who did and didn’t evade. The census allows us a wonderful window into these women’s lives; a starting point for researching their stories.

In this blog, I will discuss one of my favourite census protests, that of Eleonora Maund of 8 Edith Road, Hammersmith London.

The 1911 census was uniquely the first census where the forms which were completed by the Head of the Household have survived. This makes these records particularly rich as they often have layers of fascinating information on the forms, written by people inside the house themselves.

Census schedule for husband and wife Edward Arthur Maund and Eleonora Maund in Hammersmith. The National Archives, catalogue reference: RG 14/227.

Eleonora’s protest is an excellent example of this. Her census form gives us an insight into both the census boycott and the complex family politics behind her protest.

On census night in April 1911, Eleonora tried to evade the census. As the head of the household her husband had included her details anyway. Defiantly, she crossed out her name. If she wasn’t to be treated as a citizen with a vote, why should she be counted?

However, the form has additional comments from her husband Edward. In red ink he re-added Eleonora’s census details and the following comments:

My wife unfortunately being a Suffragette put her pen through her name, but it must stand as correct it being an equivocation to say that she is away she being always resident here & has only attempted by a silly subterfuge to defeat the object of the Census. To which as “Head” of the family I object. E A Maund

These comments display the complexity for many of involvement in the movement for women’s suffrage. To her husband, Eleonora’s belief in votes for women was ‘a silly subterfuge’.

A copy of the Seventh Annual report of the WSPU, 1913. The National Archives, catalogue reference: HO 45/10700/236973

Overall, we know very little about Eleonora’s life and political affiliations. She married her husband Edward in 1892 in St Pancras, when she was just 19 years of age and he was 42. He was the Director of the British South Africa Company and together they had several children. By 1911 they had been together for almost 20 years, their marriage spanning many key moments in the women’s suffrage protests, from the founding of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 to the peaceful Mud Marches of 1907 and violent clashes outside parliament on Black Friday in 1910.

Despite the fraught tensions at home Eleonora appears to have been committed to her local suffrage society, the Hammersmith Branch of the WSPU. This was a particularly active branch of the union. She is listed as supporting the raising of funds for self-denial week, where suffrage supporters would deprive themselves of luxuries and fundraise for the union, and helping out with their jumble sales. While these might seem ‘mundane’ activities, in many ways they underpinned the work of the whole organisation. The WSPU could not instigate its mass militant actions without sufficient funds and support. For many local branches this would have been their core activities. In addition, the suffrage press indicates that on occasion, Eleanor used her home to store items for WSPU exhibitions, took in WSPU postal communications, and even held some meetings there. What would her husband have made of this?

Image from The Suffragette showing preparations for Self Denial Week at Lincolns Inn House. The National Archives, catalogue reference: ASSI 52/212.

Without this census form capturing Eleonora’s protest we would know so much less about her. The wonderful thing about the census boycotts is that they capture many suffrage supporters we would otherwise know very little about. The very nature of the census is to try (suffragette evasion aside!) to capture everyone, no matter their class, political affiliation or background.

I think it is now easy for many of us to believe we would have boycotted the census or engaged in campaigns for the vote. But ultimately this was often a very tough decision for people to make. In getting involved in census boycotts, they risked fines but also potentially a safe home or a happy marriage.

The case of Eleonora and her census protest shows the potential complexities of engaging in protests for votes for women.

Eleonora Maund (WSPU) is now on our map -

About the Author

Vicky Iglikowski-Broad, Principal Diverse Histories Records Specialist, The National Archives.

Vicky has worked at The National Archives since 2012 and has an MA in women and gender history from Royal Holloway University, where her dissertation focused on the late 19th-century British women’s movement.

She specialises in communicating her research through public engagement activities, working with community groups and artistic practitioners to reach wider audiences. Her developing research interests include the history of British society and culture, gender and sexuality, and 20th-century social change and protest.


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