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Photograph by kind permission of Oldham Local Studies and Archives.

Oldham Local Studies; also have the following literature in their library for interested researchers:

  • Crawford, E . The Women's Suffrage Movement: A reference guide 1866-1928.
  • Liddington , J and Norris J: One hand tied behind us.
  • Various Oldham Chronicle and other newspaper cuttings appertaining to Foxdenton Hall and its occupants, as well as reports on the Suffrage movement.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

September 1999.

The Mayor, Councillor John Battye, with the Mayoress Mrs Annette Battye (left) and Councillor Margaret Riley, at the unveiling of the Lydia Becker Blue Plaque at Foxdenton Hall, Foxdenton Park. 28th September, 1999.

Something of the pioneering spirit of Lydia Becker must have influenced Margaret Riley, as before, and during her term of office she campaigned for a Blue Plaque for this incredible lady.

As Margaret Riley observed, 'Lydia Becker was important to Suffrage because she kept the flame alive when interest wained. There was interest in the 1860's, which arose again in the beginning of the 20th Century. Lydia Becker bridged the gap. There is nothing more heroic than to work for a cause in which you believe, which is no longer fashionable'.

 
LYDIA BECKER - THE LIFE AND TIMES.
1827 - 1890  

 

Lydia Becker was a remarkable lady, devoting her life to humanitarian causes, and in particular Women' Suffrage and feminist campaigns.

Foxdenton Hall, was the family home and Lydia (the eldest of fifteen children), was the daughter of Hannibal Becker and Mary (Duncroft). Her father owned a Chemical plant in Chadderton, Lancashire, her grandfather having founded the firm when he emigrated from Germany. As was the custom among middle-class families Lydia and her sisters were educated at home.

After the death of her mother in 1855, Lydia had the responsibility of looking after her younger brothers and sisters. She also took up interests in Botany and Astronomy, winning an award in 1864 for her collection of dried plants. She wrote a book 'Botany for Novices' which was published in 1866 and also 'Elementary Astronomy'. It was this interest which began an acquaintance with Charles Darwin and eventually persuaded him to send one of his papers to the Manchester Ladies' Literary Society's, which she had founded.


THE BEGINNING OF SUFFRAGE.

1866 was a milestone in Lydia's life for as well as having her book published in October of that year she attended a local meeting organised by the National Association for the promotion of Social Science, and it was at this meeting that she found her 'purpose'. It was here that she heard Barbara Bodichon reading a paper 'Reasons for the enfranchisement of Women'. 'There was no reason why the single ladies and widows…..' she heard, 'should not form as sensible opinions on the merits of candidates' as male voters.(1) From then on Lydia was committed to the cause of suffrage.

She was supposedly a very forthright speaker, not without a sense of humour, and in fact one of the most famous anecdotes, was in reply to a heckler's plea, "Who is going to make all the puddings and pies if girls are going to be educated?". She replied in no uncertain terms, "No true man should want to be the husband of a domestic slave."(2)

So the scene was set, and Lydia now had a goal in life, in a more restrained way than the radical suffragettes who came to the notice of the public in the early 20th Century.

Lydia's way was by persuasion, but a persistent persuasion that could not be ignored .

One example was in 1867 the name of Lily Maxwell appeared by accident on the electoral roll in Manchester. Lily was a widow who ran her own small business paying rates, and was just what Lydia was looking for for a test case! She then accompanied her to the Polling Booth where Lily successfully cast her vote for Jacob Bright.

In 1868 she became treasurer of the Married Women's Property Committee.

Also in 1868 the Manchester Suffrage Society held the first Women's suffrage meeting at the then new Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The Mayor of Salford took the chair and Lydia moved the resolution. The following year, London Society organised its first public meeting, (What Manchester thinks today London thinks tomorrow:)(3)


A further campaign followed to persuade women to submit claims for their inclusion on the electoral register. She set herself a target of canvassing 7000 women in the Manchester area. As she believed in the personal approach, this must have been an inconceivable task, bearing in mind the difficulty of communication in those days. Nevertheless she perservered and was delighted that the response was well above the target she had set herself.

Lydia went on to edit the Women's Suffrage Journal. from 1870 till her death in 1890

If this was not enough, she was also on the Board of Governors for several Manchester Schools. In 1877, laying the foundation stone for the fifth school to be built by the Manchester Board, she discovered to her dismay that the school was to specialise in cookery. In her speech she condemned this and to quote, 'If she had her way, every boy in Manchester would be taught to mend his own socks and cook his own chops'.(4)

Lydia Becker died in Aix-les-Bains July 18th 1890 before she could realise the main objective. (The full vote for women eventually being obtained in 1928). Undermined by all the frustrations, hard work, and the apparent defeat of her supporters she contracted diphtheria and did not have the strength to fight this last battle.

 

 

 

 Footnotes:

1] Rise up, Women! A. Rosen
2
] Oldham Chronicle, 9th June 1962
3] The Cause, R. Stacey p118
4] Oldham Chronicle, 9th June 1962

Books of reference Lydia Becker:

'Lydia Becker and the Cause': Audrey Kelly.
'One Hand Tied Behind us' Jill Liddington and Jill Norris.
'The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928' by Elizabeth Crawford, published 1999.
Chadderton Historical Society acknowledges the considerable help given in compiling this web page to Oldham Local Studies and
Archives,
for the various newspaper cuttings, and the books ,already mentioned , in their Archives.

The Oldham Evening Chronicle for giving permission for the use of the photograph of the unveiling of the Blue Plaque.  

 
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  Last Modified 08/05/2010 Copyright Chadderton Historical Society 1999-2010

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