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Henry Harben

John Simkin

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In June 1913 Henry Harben and his wife Agnes were delegates to the International Women's Suffrage Alliance in Budapest. He represented the Men's League For Women's Suffrage and she the Fabian Women's Group. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Chrystal Macmillan, formed the Women's International League of Great Britain. Other women who joined this group included Sylvia Pankhurst, Mary Sheepshanks, Charlotte Despard, Helen Crawfurd, Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollan, Ethel Snowden, Ellen Wilkinson, Margery Corbett-Ashby, Selina Cooper, Helena Swanwick and Olive Schreiner.

C. E. M. Joad met Henry Harben during this period: "Looking back, I can date the change from a meal which I had with Mr. H. D. Harben in the autumn of 1914 and the homily which it provoked. H. D. Harben was a Socialist; he was rich, he was a gentleman, and he had a large place in the country. He was also an ardent suffragist. Suffragettes, let out of prison under the Cat and Mouse Act, used to go to Newlands to recuperate, before returning to prison for a fresh bout of torture. When the county called, as the county still did, it was embarrassed to find haggard-looking young women in dressing-gowns and djibbahs reclining on sofas in the Newlands drawing-room talking unashamedly about their prison experiences. This social clash of county and criminals at Newlands was an early example of the mixing of different social strata which the war was soon to make a familiar event in national life. At that time it was considered startling enough, and it required all the tact of Harben and his socially very competent wife to oil the wheels of tea-table intercourse, and to fill the embarrassed pauses which punctuated any attempt at conversation."

On 6th February 1914 a group of supporters of women's suffrage, who were disillusioned by the lack of success of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and disapproved of the arson campaign of the Women Social & Political Union, decided to form the United Suffragists. This included Henry Harben and his wife. Other members included Henry Harben, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Evelyn Sharp, Mary Neal, Henry Nevinson, Margaret Nevinson, Hertha Ayrton, Barbara Ayrton Gould, Gerald Gould, Israel Zangwill, Edith Zangwill, Lena Ashwell, Louisa Garrett Anderson, Eveline Haverfield, Maud Arncliffe Sennett, John Scurr, Julia Scurr and Laurence Housman.

During the First World War Harben joined forces with Sylvia Pankhurst and George Lansbury to establish the League of Rights for Soldiers' and Sailors' Wives and Relatives. Pankhurst later recorded: " "When I read in the newspapers that Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel were returning to England for a recruiting campaign, I wept. To me this seemed a tragic betrayal of the great movement to bring the mother-half of the race into the councils of the nation… We set up a League of Rights for Soldiers' and Sailors' Wives and Relatives to strive for better pensions and allowances." Harben also purchased the Hotel Majestic in Paris to turn it into an English hospital. He also donated money to the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELF).

A member of the Labour Party he stood and was defeated in 1920 for the Woodbridge constituency in Suffolk. A close friend of Sylvia Pankhurst he helped to pay for her son's education at the London School of Economics.

Henry Devenish Harben died in 1967.


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