Family inspired by great-great-aunt’s bravery as a Portsmouth suffragette

A suffragette rally in Guildhall Square in Portsmouth
A suffragette rally in Guildhall Square in Portsmouth
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BRAVE Mary Caldwell is inspiring her family generations on after joining the fight for the vote for women in Portsmouth.

Becky Lowe’s great-great-aunt was a seamstress in Portsmouth in 1891, aged 15, and like many others joined up to trade unions which is where her family believes she first got involved in the suffragette movement.

Becky said: ‘I have always grown up being told she was a suffragette.

‘We believe she was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Portsmouth Branch, and Portsmouth (Hayling Island) Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association.

‘Family mythology has it that she chained herself to the railings of Portsmouth Guildhall during a suffrage protest.’

Becky says her mum remembers Aunt Mary as a formidable character and a stickler for good manners.

Becky said: ‘My mum remembers going to stay with her and her husband, in their rather grand house on Hayling Island.

‘Though she had no children of her own, she seems to have enjoyed my young mother’s company.’

Mary, who married Walter Speck in 1904, was born in Glasgow on March 4 in 1876 to William Caldwell and Martha Anne Pitt.

The seamstress lived in various places in the city including Eaton Place and Blackfriars Road before moving to Southsea wither her husband in 1904.

Becky said: ‘As a woman, I’ve always been very proud of having a family member who was part of the fight for the vote, and I always vote in every election.

‘Sometimes it is easy to take our right to vote for granted, but when I remember how hard women had to fight for this basic right, I feel very humbled.

‘I am quite politically engaged, but I don’t think I would have had the courage to do what she did.’

Becky feels as a mother herself she feels the need to show her daughter the importance of what her ancestors did.

She added: ‘As the mother of a feisty, outspoken and free-thinking nine-year-old daughter, I’ve taught her that a girl can do anything a boy can do, and she is equally proud of her suffragette ancestor.

‘I like to think great-great-aunt Mary would approve.’