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MCILQUHAM Harriet (1838- 1910?)


A note on one of the Womens Library archive entries notes that Harriet Mcllquham was the first married woman Poor Law Guardian (this relates to a paper which includes a list of outdoor paupers in the Tewkesbury Poor Law Union), which probably means she was a member of the Tewkesbury Union.

According to the Women's Library archive "Harriet McIlquham was born in London in 1837. When young, she attended social and political lectures in the Gloucestershire. By 1877, she had become a member of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage as well as the Bristol and West of England Society for Women's Suffrage. In February 1881 she and Maria Colbey were the organisers of the Birmingham Grand Demonstration which took place in February as well as one of the speakers at the Bradford demonstration held in November. That same year, she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian for Boddington in the Tewkesbury Union. An appeal was lodged to annul her election on the grounds that she was a married woman but it was found that she held her qualifying property independently of her husband and therefore remained in place. However, her attempt to be elected as a county councillor in 1889 failed. By 1889, McIlquham was a member of the Central National Society and a friend of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy. It was the latter who proposed her as president of the Women's Franchise League that July but two years later the pair transferred to the Women's Emancipation Union where McIlquham became a member of the council. It was in 1892 that her first pamphlet 'The Enfranchisement of Women: An Ancient Right' was published and was widely read. Her writing continued in 1898 when the Westminster Review published a series of articles by her on Mary Astell, Lady Montague Wortley an eighteenth century journalist known as 'Sophia' and other enlightenment advocates of women's rights. She was also an active public speaker and in February 1893 gave a speech on women as poor law guardians; this was soon followed by an address to the Women's Emancipation Union conference in held in Bedford the following year. Her audience and readers were drawn from across the spectrum of the suffrage movement. She was a member of the Cheltenham branch of the moderate National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies but also lobbied MPs in the House of Commons alongside members of the more militant Women's Social and Political Union in February 1905. Later, in 1908 and 1909 she donated sums to both the WSPU and the Women's Freedom League respectively. Just before her own death, she helped organise a 'Grateful Fund' to which those who wished to show their appreciation of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy's suffrage work could contribute. She died in 1910 after a short illness"

Extract from Dictionary of National Bibliography:

Local government law vis-à-vis the position of women was full of anomalies: although the clerk of the union refused to allow her to vote in respect of her own property because she was married, he none the less let her nomination go forward. When the result was contested, the Local Government Board ruled that on the question of the election of married women it saw no reason why Mrs McIlquham should not ‘lead the way’. Many other women, married and unmarried, followed in her footsteps, although not until the Local Government Act of 1894 were the rights of married women both to vote and serve enshrined in statute. Harriett continued to blaze a trail: she was subsequently appointed an overseer for the parish of Staverton, a unique position for a woman to hold, became the first chair of Staverton parish council in 1894, and served as returning officer at the second parish council election. She also acted as rural district councillor for Boddington, served on the Boddington and Staverton school board, and after the 1902 Education Act sat on the board of management of the education committee. In 1888 she was one of four women selected by campaigners to test the eligibility of women to sit on the new county councils: she stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the central ward of Cheltenham, which proved to be the only failure in a distinguished career in which she ‘abundantly vindicated women's claim to a share in every branch of local government work’ (Cheltenham Chronicle).

There is a reference to Harriet McIlquham forming the Cheltenham Womens Suffage Society in 1896 in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia in the entry ralating to Frances Swiney

Harriet McIlquham is recorded in the 1891 census as living at Staverton House, Staverton. Her husband, James, occupation is shown as District County Surveyor. Her occupation is shown as farmer aged 53 (born in St Lukes Middlesex) and her husband's as 58 (born in Cheltenham). At the house are her husband's brother, William, aged 73(born in Cheltenham), their married daughter Harriet Gee (aged 29 born Staverton), grandaughter (aged 10months born Bishopsworth Somerset) and 2 sisters in law (of James) therefore may be Harriet's sisters Emma Wood (aged 43 married born in St Lukes, Middlesex) and Lavina Burford (aged 14 born in Staverton) and a servant Anne Light.

At time of the 1861 census they are shown as living at 94 High Street, Cheltenham with their son aged 1, James's father (aged 77, who is recorded as a civil engineer & surveyor who was born in Scotland), James's sister (aged 38 who was born in Swindon, Wilts) and a lodger, Helen Fowler (aged 28 occupation teacher born in Renfrewshire, Scotland). By 1871 they are shown as having moved to Staverton where James is shown as a farmer ( and Harriet is not shown as being at home).

Her death, at age 72, appears to be recorded in Jan- Mar 1910 Quarter for the Cheltenham District vol 6a page 269.

Sources   (for Dictionary of National Biography entry)

Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic (29 Jan 1910) · Women's Penny Paper (1889–92) · Women's Suffrage Journal (1880–90) · Report [Women's Emancipation Union] (1892–9) · Annual Report [Women's Local Government Society] (1893) · H. Blackburn, Women's suffrage: a record of the women's suffrage movement in the British Isles (1902) · L. Bland, ‘The married woman, the “new woman” and the feminist: sexual politics of the 1890s’, Equal or different: women's politics, 1800–1914, ed. J. Rendall (1987), 141–64 · Women's Library, London, box 86 · b. cert. · m. cert. · P. Hollis, Ladies elect: women in English local government, 1865–1914 (1987) · S. S. Holton, Suffrage days: stories from the women's suffrage movement (1996)

Archives  (for Dictionary of National Biography entry)

Women's Library, London, autograph letters collection · Women's Library, London, box 86 |  Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy collection, Add. MSS 47449–47455

Likenesses  (for Dictionary of National Biography entry)

photograph, repro. in Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic

Wealth at death  (for Dictionary of National Biography entry)

£5996: resworn probate, 9 May 1910, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Chas Townley

Decemer 2006


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