THE LAST living suffragette, Victoria Lidiard, has died at the age of 102. She had been a vegetarian since 1899; was one of the first women opticians, in 1927; a campaigner for animal welfare and charities; and for the last 10 years worked for the ordination of women priests.
When being photographed she insisted that a framed photograph of her meeting Mrs Thatcher be in the shot. A woman prime minister was the affirmation and vindication of the work of the early feminists and suffragettes.
It is for her involvement in the Women's Social and Political Union's militant campaign for women's suffrage that she is best known. She had vivid recall of her friendships with some of the senior figures of the militant movement: the Oldham mill-girl Annie Kenney who became Christabel Pankhurst's deputy; Mary Allen, one of the first policewomen during the First World War; Jessie Spinx, known as Vera Wentworth, who with wit and daring 'pestered the politicians'; and Elsie Howey, who led suffragette processions dressed as Joan of Arc (the WSPU's patron saint) in full armour on a white charger.
On 4 March 1912 Victoria Simmons (as she was born) took part in the Pankhursts' window-smashing raid on Whitehall, a protest at the Liberal government's refusal to give women the vote. She broke a window at the War Office, and she and 200 other suffragettes were jailed. Victoria got two months. Her memory of Holloway was of one of her own sisters shouting encouraging messages from across the street, standing on a chair in her cell and singing out of the barred window, and the black beetle in her porridge.
Most of her suffrage work was done in her home town, Clifton, Bristol. She chalked pavements; sold Votes For Women (and was spat on by a local clergyman for so doing); addressed meetings at Bristol Docks from the back of a lorry; and was told by a docker to get back to the kitchen and the bedroom where she belonged.
She came from a large middle-class family: her mother had 12 children of whom only eight survived. Victoria and her mother and sisters paid no attention to her father's opposition to the WSPU and joined up.
Aggrieved at his refusal to provide them with an education equal to their brothers, they threw themselves into the militant campaign early in 1907. Victoria had been sent to a dame- school and she recalled spending a great deal of time standing in the corner for asking too many questions.
Leaving school at 14, she learned shorthand and bookkeeping at evening classes and worked in photographic studios in Margate and Clifton. During the First World War she and her sister ran a guest-house in Kensington for professional women, and made anti-aircraft shells at Battersea Power Station at the weekends.
In 1918 she married Major Alexander Lidiard MC, of the Fifth Manchester Rifles. He had been active with the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement and they had met while she was selling Votes For Women. They were married for 54 years, and worked as opticians, with practices in Maidenhead and High Wycombe.
In her 99th year she published her first book, Christianity, Faith, Love and Healing, and in her 100th year, Animals and All Churches. She canvassed all women MPs to support the campaign to improve the conditions under which animals are transported. The ordination of women priests had concerned her for the last 10 years. Recently she asked a young curate the theological reason for not ordaining women and he replied that it was the belief that women were impure at certain times of the month.
She saw a distinct parallel between the fight for the vote and the fight for women priests: 'It seems the fight for the ordination of women priests is meeting with the same prejudice as women faced to get the vote. There is no physical, moral, mental, theological or spiritual reason why women should not be ordained . . . the opposition to the ordination of women is just the same opposition as when we fought for the vote. They could not reason. I don't mind people giving reasons, but not stupid prejudices.'
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