Celebrating the centenary of women’s right to vote

Beginning with the women’s suffrage petition in 1866, it was many years until the first women were given the right to vote in 1918 and a further 10 years before women in Britain finally achieved equal voting rights with men in 1928.  

The importance of female suffrage and equality has always been recognised and celebrated at College; from pioneering girls' education since 1853, to our prominent Guild members (alumnae) who were involved in WW1 and the suffrage campaign, and the ongoing fight for gender equality across the world, which still underpins teaching and life at College. 

Throughout the war, many girls at College undertook Red Cross training, volunteered as nurses at St Martin's Hospital, 'dug for victory', and took up roles with the suffrage movement, in order to help the war effort and irreversibly alter attitudes towards women and equality. 

Today, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, our girls and archivist have been talking to local TV and Radio about the importance of educational reformer Dorothea Beale, the suffrage movement and continuing to work towards gender equality. 

To mark this centenary at College, we are looking back at some of our inspirational Guild members who pioneered votes and equality for women. 

Una Stratford-Dugdale Duval (nee Dugdale) (1879-1975)

Una Dugdale, suffragette and marriage reformer, was educated at College before studying in Hanover and Paris. In 1907, after hearing Christabel Pankhurst speak in Hyde Park, Una joined the Women's Social and Political Union. Una worked alongside Emmeline Pankhurst to campaign for women's rights and the vote in Scotland.

She was part of confrontational direct actions undertaken by suffragettes and, in 1909, was arrested and imprisoned for a month following her involvement in the raid on the House of Commons. Una was the co-founder and treasurer of the Suffragette Fellowships.

Una married Victor Diedrichs Duval in 1911 and caused great controversy by refusing to say the words 'I obey' during the marriage ceremony. She saw marriage as an equal partnership, a stance she later outlined in her pamphlet Love and honour but NOT obey.

Dorothy Pethick (1881-1970)

Dorothy Pethick was educated at College until 1898, before working in a Women's University Settlement in London. She worked with suffragette Annie Kenney, arranging her 1908 speech and the protests during Churchill's visit to Bristol the following year.

In 1909, Dorothy was arrested twice, once during the WSPU deputation to the House of Commons and later alongside actress Kitty Marion during David Lloyd George's visit. Kitty, who broke a window, was sentenced to one month, while Dorothy, who failed to do any damage, received 14 days in prison. 

From 1910, Dorothy worked on the election campaign and in 1911, she was sentenced to another 14 days in prison for her role in London's 'Black Friday' demonstration. That year, Dorothy also planted a tree in the Blathwayt Suffragette Arboretum.

She left the WSPU in 1912 when her sister was ejected by Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst after disagreeing with plans to intensify militancy. In 1914, while speaking about female suffrage in New York, Dorothy confirmed that she still agreed with their cause. During WWI, Dorothy also joined the Women's Police Force, the United Suffragists, and was treasurer of the British Dominions Woman Suffrage Union.

Clara Winterbotham (1880-1967)

Clara was a day girl at College until 1899, when she went to Germany to learn the language and gain experience in nursing. Following her father's death in 1913, Clara was poised to take up the duties of running the family home but the events of the First World War were to transform her life.

In 1914, Clara trained as a nurse in a London hospital, returning to become a VAD staff nurse at Gloucester Road School Hospital. She was appointed as the quartermaster in April 1918, also serving on Cheltenham's Food and Fuel Control Committee. Her dedication to duty was recognised with an MBE.

When the war ended and the hospital closed, Clara was co-opted and then elected onto Cheltenham Borough Council as their first female Councillor. She was then elected as Mayor in 1921, one of only two female mayors in the country.

As a result of her work, Clara was the second women to be presented with the honorary freedom of the borough, former Principal Miss Dorothea Beale having been the first.

Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967)

Helen was educated at College until 1896, going on to study Botany at King's College London. In 1907, while at university, she formed the University of London's Suffrage Society with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.

She then became a lecturer at Birkbeck College, eventually rising to the position of Head of the Botany Department and, on the outbreak of WWI, joined the Red Cross and became a VAD.

Helen was invited by the War Office to help form the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). As Chief Controller stationed in France, she was instrumental in creating a respected and disciplined organisation.

Helen was then transferred to the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) in 1918 and given the powers of a Brigadier. Again, she began the task of re-organisation and quickly revised the Standing Orders, opened Berridge House for officer training, authorised the new blue uniform and introduced military protocol.

Her professionalism and dedication to duty helped to transform male attitudes towards women in the air service. 

In June 1919, in recognition of her achievements she was awarded a DBE.