The Church League for Women's Suffrage

In 1909 Claude Hinscliffe (who had previously been curate at St George-in-the-East) and his wife Gertrude founded the Church League for Women's Suffrage, which became the largest of several church-based groups campaigning for votes for women. Others included the Free Church League for Women's Suffrage and the Catholic Women's Suffrage League. (See chapter 6 of Sophia van Wingerden The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain 1866-1928.)

Claude was the first Secretary, and the renowned Dr Agnes Maude Royden [left as a young woman, and in 1937 leaving Waterloo Station for the USA] was Chairman [sic].
Its object was to bind together, on a non-party basis, Suffragists of every shade of opinion who are Church people in order to secure for women the vote in Church and State, as it is or may be granted to men. Its methods were devotional and educational. CLWS members made special intercessions for the League and its members at holy communion on the first Sunday of the month. A committee was set up to prepare draft recommendations for the revision of the Marriage Service in the Book of Common Prayer. One reference book says that the end of 1913 it had 103 branches and 5080 members, but another gives the figure as 66 branches with 3000 members, including 5 bishops.

Claude spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Windsor branch of CLWS in 1912, following Dr Helen Hanson of the Kinnaird Hospital, Lucknow on 'Women's Suffrage & Foreign Missions' (poster - below right - from a meeting in Horsham the following year):
The Rev. Claude Hinscliff [sic] who is the founder of the Church League, said he noticed that wherever he went every one seemed filled with what he called the deadly fear. The rich were afraid of the poor, the poor of the rich, and the learned of the ignorant, and there was also an enormous amount of fear in connection with woman's demand to take her rightful place in the world. People were afraid of what they called innovations, and so they went muddling along in the same old way. It was said, and in the most pious way, that the Church must not have anything to do with politics, and that was one of those half truths which blinded people to the real position. He agreed that the Church should not have anything to do with party politics, because they were transient, but there were other things which were as far removed from party politics as the north pole was from the south.

He asked them to look at the suffrage question from the HUMAN STANDPOINT and not to make it a sex question. The greatest discovery of the age was the value of the individual. The bottom of the social unrest of to-day, whether of the miner, the docker or the women 'suffragists', was a realisation of the sense of the dignity and value of human life and a demand for what he would call more elbow-room. They believed that it was God's intention that every human being should have the opportunity of living the fullest life. He had seen in the cemeteries the graves of little children, on the tombstones of which was often inscribed 'Thy will be done'. That was the biggest blasphemy in the world, because it was not God's will that thousands and tens of thousands of little children should just open their eyes and then close them again in death.

(Mrs Everett proposed a vote of thanks to the speakers, and mentioned that after the holidays it was proposed to hold regular monthly meetings of the league. The Rev. H. Tower seconded, and the motion was carried unanimously.)

The suffragette Alice Maud Arncliffe Sennett (née Sparagnapane), in The Child (C.W. Daniel 1937), gives this account of the build-up to the funeral on 14 June 1913 of Emily Wilding Davison (who had thrown herself in front of the King's horse Anmer at the Derby):
When the procession reached Bond Street there was a long halt, and fearing that the head of the procession would perhaps fill the church before our section arrived ... I slipped out of the march, crossed to St. James's Street, hailed a taxi and told the driver to drive to St. George's Church, Bloomsbury. It'll cost you 3s. 6d. if I do, said this opportunist Jehu. Get on as quickly as you can, I said and entered the taxi, and got as far as Holborn and the foot of a side street leading into Hart Street where the church is situated. I sprang out. Stop here, I said, and I'll walk through to Hart Street. I placed the money in his outstretched hand and vanished.
On getting to Bloomsbury Street it was a packed mass of humanity, and how to cross it to get to the pavement on the side of the church I knew not. But to get to that church I was determined if it cost me what the cause had cost the woman whose obsequies we were celebrating. I literally swam my way to the pavement, pushing people aside right and left as a swimmer does the water. Among the hoarse cries of a community who had come to see the remains of one 'butchered to make their English holiday', poor victims of the social systems of 'civilization' in our great 'industrial' cities, who get so few real 'holidays'. The King's 'orse! they kept on bawling,The King's 'orse! Chuck 'er out, said one of my own sex: these Suffragettes always spoil everyfink, forgetting that one now dead was giving them an entertainment. I wriggled my way on to the pavement, and for about a hundred yards or more wriggled in between them and on to my goal, the King's 'orse ringing in my ears. At one point a tall rather fine looking man, of the red hair and freckle order, put his arm round me to protect me, and did so in such an offensive and obscene manner that I literally shrieked out: Oh, Christ, to think that you died for such as these! He withdrew his arm quickly and said sternly, Let her pass, and helped me on a bit. Arriving at the church there was a double row of policemen across the pavement defending its entrance, and on the steps was our devoted friend, the Rev. Claude Hinscliffe, who had formed the Church League for Women's Suffrage, and several other clergymen, all tense and with white faces and in white surplices, awaiting the cortege ...

In February 1914 the League rejected a motion, proposed by its Worcester branch, that it should declare itself opposed to militancy; as a result it lost a number of members. Then came the war - but the work continued; as this letter [right] shows, the CLWS supported the Serbian Relief Fund. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, abolishing the property qualification for men and giving the vote to women over 30 with minimal property qualifications. Full female suffrage had to wait until 1928.

In the 1920s CLWS member Dr Helen Hanson wrote to Gertrude Mr Hinscliff [sic] was splendid, we do owe him so much.

As for women's rights in the church, in 1919 the Church of England (Assembly) Powers Act [commonly known as the Enabling Act] created the national Church Assembly (the precursor of General Synod), with powers to pass 'Measures' which have the same authority as Acts of Parliament; it paved the way for the creation of Parochial Church Councils in every parish. As a result, women increasingly began to take their place in local and national church governance, though it was a slow and sometimes painful process!

Like many other CLWS members, Claude Hinscliffe was also a member of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, and his wife of the Women's Freedom League. Margaret Nevison, of the WFL, who a generation earlier had been a 'lay collector' at Katharine Buildings, wrote a short story about clerical involvement in the cause; she described how a high-church parson (a bachelor and a keen boxer) was moved by the appeals of a young girl who received shameful treatment (based on events at Manchester Corn Exchange in 1905); he was 'converted' and appealed to 'our common manhood'. Margaret's journalist husband Henry was active as a moderate within the MLWS (for example, he opposed flour-bagging parliamentarians). See ch.1 of The Men's Share? ed. Angela V. John & Claire Eustance (Routledge 1997) for details of the various organisations.

Several branches had fine banners, some of which are now housed in museums [left is the Hampstead one, designed by Laurence Housman and maybe worked by his sister Clemence whom he described as 'chief banner-maker for the Suffrage Atelier'].  The League's main banner, designed by Oswald Fleuss and made by the Audrey School of Needlework, depicted St Margaret of Antioch.

After the First World War CLWS was retitled the 'League of the Church Militant' [right] and enlarged its horizons to include work for the ordination of women. It produced a series of pamphlets (as well as various leaflets), including

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