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Dora Marsden


John Simkin
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Dora Marsden, the daughter of a woollen waste dealer, was born in Marsden, near Huddersfield, in 1882. Her father left home soon after she was born and the family suffered extreme poverty when she was a child. At the age of 13 she became a probationer and then a pupil-teacher at the local school.

In 1900 she entered Owens College on a Queen's Scholarship. After graduating she taught in Leeds, Colchester and Manchester. A close friend of Mary Gawthorpe and Teresa Billington-Greig, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). By 1908 she was organising demonstrations and speaking at public meetings alongside Christabel Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

In March 1909 Marsden resigned as headmistress of the Altrincham Pupil-Teacher Centre to become a paid organiser of the WSPU. Soon afterwards she was arrested at a demonstration outside the House of Commons and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment. On her release she became the organiser of the WSPU in North-West Lancashire.

On 4th September 1909 Marsden and Emily Davison were arrested for breaking windows of a hall in Old Trafford. Two days later she was sentenced to two months' imprisonment in Strangeways. Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999) has pointed out: "Dora Marsden refused to wear prison clothing and spent her time in prison naked, stripping off her clothes each time an attempt was made to dress her." Eventually she was placed in a strait jacket but managed to wriggle out of it, because, according to the prison governor, "she was a very small woman". After going on hunger-strike she was released.

Like many women in the WSPU she began to question the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. Marsden and her friends objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. They also felt that a small group of wealthy women like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were having too much influence over the organization.

Marsden eventually joined the Women's Freedom League (WFL), an organisation formed by Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Margaret Nevinson and Charlotte Despard. Dora Marsden died of a heart attack in 1960.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WmarsdenD.htm

Dora Marsden being arrested in 1909

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