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Rosa May Billinghurst

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rosa May Billinghurst
Rosa May Billinghurst died 1953.jpg
Billinghurst demonstrating
Born 31 May, 1875
Died 29 July, 1953
London Borough of Lewisham
Nationality United Kingdom
Known for protesting despite her disabilities

Rosa May Billinghurst (31 May 1875 – 29 July 1953) was a suffragette and women's rights activist.[1] She was known as the "cripple suffragette" as she campaigned in a tricycle.

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Early life

She was born in Lewisham, London. Her mother came from a family who manufactured pianos and her father was a banker.[2] As a child she survived polio which left her unable to walk. She wore leg-irons and used either crutches or a modified tricycle.[2] She became active in social work in a Greenwich workhouse, teaching in a Sunday School and joining the temperance Band of Hope.[3]


She was a useful member of the Women's Liberal Association and later in 1907 a member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Despite her disability she took part in the WSPU's march to the Royal Albert Hall in June 1908. Billinghurst helped organise the WSPU's response in the Haggerston by-election in July 1908.[3]

Two years later, she founded the Greenwich branch of the WSPU. As its first secretary she took part in the 'Black Friday' demonstrations. She was able to attend because she used an adapted tricycle.[3] She was still arrested after the police had capsized her from the trike. Billinghurst knew that she was helpless when this happened but she was quite prepared to take the added publicity to benefit the suffrage cause. The police also exploited her disability leaving her in a side street after letting her tyres down and pocketing the valves.[2]

Billinghurst would place her crutches on both sides of her tricycle and would charge any opposition.[2] She was arrested several more times in the next few years. The prison authorities were confused when she was sentenced to one month hard labour and gave her no extra work. She was befriended by the many other prisoners including Dr Alice Stewart Ker who got her to smuggle a letter out to her daughter when Billinghurst was released.[2] When she was sentenced to eight months for damaging letterboxes she went on hunger strike in Holloway Prison. Billinghurst was force-fed along with other suffragettes. She became so ill that she was released two weeks after being force fed.[3]

She spoke at a public meeting in West Hampstead in March 1913. On 24 May she chained herself to the gates of Buckingham Palace and on 14 June she was dressed in white on her trike in Emily Wilding Davison's funeral procession[4] after she became a martyr to the cause.[3] Billinghurst supported the Pankhurst's lead when they decided to priorise the war over the campaign for womens rights. She helped in Christabel Pankhurst's campaign to be elected in Smethwick in 1918. She had however joined the Women's Freedom League and became part of the Suffragette Fellowship.[3]

Billinghurst stopped her activity for women's suffrage after Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 gave some women the vote. She later attended Emmeline Pankhurst's funeral and the unveiling of Emmeline's statue in 1930.[2]


Billinghurst lived in the garden house of her property "Minikoi", Sunbury, Surrey (but then in Middlesex), with her adopted child, "Beth". Her brother was Alfred John Billinghurst, an artist[5] whom she lived with after 1914.[6]

She died on 29 July 1953 at a hospital in Twickenham.[6]

See also


The archives of Rosa May Billinghurst are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics.[7]


  1. ^ "Billinghurst, (Rosa) May at". 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "May Billinghurst". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Rosa May Billinghurst | The Suffragettes". Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  4. ^ Elizabeth Crawford (2 September 2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. Routledge. pp. 173–. ISBN 1-135-43401-8. 
  5. ^ "Alfred John Billinghurst (1880-1965), The Thames at Westminster, c. 1920 | SEPTEMBER NEW WORKS". Court Gallery. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  6. ^ a b Hayley Trueman, ‘Billinghurst, (Rosa) May (1875–1953)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 9 Oct 2017
  7. ^ The Women's Library ref=7RMB, London School of Economics
This page was last edited on 4 February 2018, at 15:49.
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