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Diary of Whitechapel suffragette Kate Frye discovered 100 years later

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:21 08 February 2018

Kate Parry Frye, organiser for the New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage

Kate Parry Frye, organiser for the New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage

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The diaries of suffragette Kate Parry Frye who was twice arrested in Whitechapel for holding an ‘unlawful’ street meeting has come to light after 100 years, discovered rotting in a damp cellar.

Committee room in Whitechapel of New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage Committee room in Whitechapel of New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage

Book dealer Elizabeth Crawford stumbled across the diaries rotting in a damp cellar.

The discovery turned out to be the only record of a little-known ‘New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage’ organisation.

“Her diaries were piled in boxes in a dripping cellar,” Elizabeth reveals in this week’s East London Advertiser. “Curiosity got the better of me and I bought them as a book-dealer.

“I was loathed to reject this record of one woman’s entire life, however unsellable the soaking volumes appeared.

Kate Parry Frye, organiser for the New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage. Picture source: Francis Boutle books Kate Parry Frye, organiser for the New Constitution Society for Women's Suffrage. Picture source: Francis Boutle books

“I began reading them once they were dried out—and Kate Frye came to life.”

The diaries record meetings Kate Frye organised, as well as detains of her lodgings, landladies, even what she ate.

“It is a picture of one of those shadowy suffrage societies,” Elizabeth added.

Entries from 1910 to 1915 detailed Kate Frye knocking on doors, arranging meetings and speaking from carts in market squares while enduring indifference and incivility.

Author Elizabeth Crawford's book on the 'Kate Parry Frye' diaries. Picture source: Francis Boutle books Author Elizabeth Crawford's book on the 'Kate Parry Frye' diaries. Picture source: Francis Boutle books

The manuscripts now published as Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary (Francis Boutle books), brings to life the experience of the working life of a Suffragette in Whitechapel, where she was arrested twice—once by “a foolish young policeman”.

It records ‘Black Friday’‚ November 18, 1910, when Parliament was to be dissolved and the Conciliation Bill for universal suffrage was be killed.

Some 300 women set out for Parliament Square, but were met with violence, a day that has gone down in Suffrage history as ‘Black Friday’.

Kate recorded: “I felt sick for hours, a most horrible experience. I have rarely been in anything more unpleasant. The loud laughter and hideous remarks of so-called gentlemen, even the correctly attired top-hatted kind, was truly awful.”

But the campaigning continued, noted each day by Kate.

Saturday, September 27, 1913: “Another boiling day. On top of a bus to Whitechapel. A meeting of women and girls and a tea given by Miss Mansell. The girls were so nice—nearly all Jewesses. The pitiful tales they tell of the sweated work is awful and they are so intelligent and quite well dressed. The Jews are an example to the gentile in that way.”

Wednesday, October 1, 1913: “Train to St Mary’s, nearest station to the Whitechapel Committee room. We gave out bills. It was a great success—the Whitechapel folks were entertained and very few were rude and rough. One has to be on the lookout for everything and the mud and dirt in the gutter is so horrid. I went off to Tower Hill to give out bills. Had sardines on toast at Lyon’s and then to the committee room at 136 Whitechapel Rd at 7.45pm. We all went off to Mile End Waste for an open-air meeting.”

Thursday, October 2, 1913: “To Whitechapel at 10.30am. Miss Goddard and I went off to the London Docks to give out handbills.

“We had a funny morning, as I got arrested twice. The first time by a young and foolish policeman with a most savage pull at my arm and nearly knocking me over, for holding a public meeting. It was so absurd.”

Nothing of the New Constitutional Society’s archive has survived, likely to have been destroyed when the organisation dissolved once the vote was won and its work done. Kate Frye’s diary is the best account that exists.

But there is a final, poignant entry from 1926, with Kate watching Sylvia Pankhurst’s last public speech.

Saturday, July 3: “Mrs Pankhurst addressing the last Suffrage demonstration to persuade the government to give votes to women at 21 and for peeresses to be given a seat in the House of Lords in their own right.”

She notes Pankhurst “was quite delightful”. Kate Frye died in 1959 aged 81.

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