Miss Charlotte Marsh

Charlotte the Standard Bearer (Photographer: Christina Broom) ©Museum of London [1]
Miss Charlotte Marsh, aka “Charlie”, 46, (1887-1961) a very militant suffragette and Colour/standard bearer cum poster girl, and later a social worker.[2] In the photograph she poses for the photographer Christina Broom, before a male crowd assembled for a rally at Hyde Park – the suffragette procession of 18th June 1910 in support of the Conciliation Bill. Holding the WPSU great silk standard, on her chest she bears her hunger-strike medal recently issued after she had endured three months of being force fed in prison.


My suggested plan for the table: Abbott, Slimon, McFarlane, Helen Archdale, Mayo, Marsh, Betty Archdale and Moore would see her seated behind fellow jailbird Winifred Mayo and the young up and coming barrister Betty Archdale (presumably learning how to keep future clients out of jail), so a chance to reminisce and a chance to inspire the young.


In the middle of the age-range of this table, Charlie is perhaps thinking about what more she can do to improve the lot of her fellow citizens, as she focuses her energies on social work.


Charlotte Augusta Leopoldine Marsh, aka “Charlie”, was born on 3rd March 1887 at Alnmouth, Northumberland, the second of five daughters of Ellen Hall (1864 – 1942), Tyneside-born daughter of a mining engineer, and Arthur Hardwick Marsh (1842–1909), Manchester-born watercolourist and genre painter (and Associate of The Royal Watercolour Society). Arthur had two other daughters from a previous relationship. Educated at St Margaret’s School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Roseneath, Wrexham, Charlotte studied for a year in Bordeaux. Her experiences as one of the first women to train as a sanitary inspector – witnessing the lives of many women – led her to drop that career to join the women’s suffrage movement in 1908, joining the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union).

In 1908 Charlie was arrested in Parliament Square (and spent a month in Holloway). In 1909 she staged a rooftop protest at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, with fellow protester Mary Leigh, when Asquith was due to speak. It took three policemen to drag them down, hoses and stones having failed. That resulted in three months’ hard labour at Winson Green, Birmingham. She went on hunger strike and was one of the first suffragettes to be forcibly fed, 139 times. The back page of the 1909 Christmas Eve edition of Votes for Women was dedicated solely to her photograph, after her release from Winson Green.[3] In 1912 her final prison sentence, for smashing West End windows, was for six months at Aylesbury Jail, where she was force fed and released after four and a half months.

Duncan McAra, [4] a great-nephew of “Charlie”, and a literary agent in Scotland, has kindly sent us a link this article he wrote quite recently on his illustrious ancestor’s struggle: A hunger for women’s rights; Can the forcible feeding of hunger strikers ever be justified?

Charlotte is the first interviewee in this 1955 BBC film filmed 21 years after the dinner.[5] The statue had been unveiled 25 years earlier on 6th March 1930 by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in the presence of Charlotte Marsh, Cicely Hamilton, General Drummond, Evelyn Sharpe and F.W. Pethwick-Lawrence.[6]

Charlie over the years[7] [8] [9] [10]


Watch this 1955 BBC film of Charlotte and Lilian Lenton speaking in front of the new statue to Mrs Pankhurst in St Stephen’s Gardens by the Houses of Parliament. Revolutionaries with cut-glass accents! Can you identify for me the others pictured in the film? https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/news–suffragettes-anniversary/zktf2sg

In 1911 at 23 she was living at 4 Pelham Road, Southsea and participated in the Vanishing for the Vote protest so the census form, left unsigned, states “This person spent the night at St. James’ Hall Landport and returned the next day to 4 Pelham Road the next day. Absolutely refuses to fill up paper”…. And “Birthplace: N K believed to be Portsmouth” and “Organising Secretary, Women’s Suffrage League.”[11] Her ODNB biographer Michelle Myall writes “A beautiful and striking figure with long golden hair and an elegant poise, [she] was often chosen as standard-bearer for WSPU processions.” More solemnly, in 1913 she led the funeral procession for Emily Wilding Davison- though it would hard to pick her out in the films:

World War saw the WPSU cease militancy and for a while Charlie worked as a motor mechanic, then as a chauffeur for Lloyd George, then as a Land Girl. After the War she worked briefly for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and from 1928 focused on social welfare work, first in San Francisco for the Community Chest Organization, (perhaps as her half-sister Phillis/Phyllis was living in California), then for the Overseas Settlement League, and after 1930 until retirement for the National Assistance Board. A member of the Six Point Group, she was vice president of the Suffragette Fellowship until her death.

Reminding us that dinners and get-togethers of the suffrage movement were frequent, on 6th February 1931 Charlie was in the chair for the Votes for Women Celebration at Mack’s Restaurant, 100 Oxford Street, with Cicely Hamilton proposing the toast to “The Suffragette Spirit”. 7pm. Tickets 4 shillings.[12] In November Miss C. Marsh of 132 Cheyne Walk, London SW3 (then indeed her address) was selling tickets for the 22nd November 1931 dinner at Florence’s Restaurant in Soho in honour of Cicely Hamilton. On 13th October 1932 Charlie also attended a “suffragettes” reunion in London: “Fifty white haired women carrying banners of green, white and purple”.[13]


In 1934 Charlie was working with the Public Assistance Dept. of the LCC.

In May 1935 the Daily Herald [14] published a letter co-signed by Charlie and others including Sylvia Pankhurst:

“On May 18, which is being set aside here and in other countries as women’s “international day of good will”, women’s and peace organisations of most divergent opinions have been invited to take part a peace procession that will terminate at the Caxton Hall for an evening meeting which will be addressed by well-known speakers from women’s and peace movements. It is hoped on this day to demonstrate the overwhelming desire of women for peace, and a strong appeal has been made all women’s organisations, whatever their political, philosophical and religious beliefs, who are firmly opposed to war, to support this project. Further information and tickets for the meeting can obtained from the hon. secretary, Goodwill Day Procession.” Mrs. Arland. Witham House, Somerset-road, New Barnet, Herts.  Signed by SYLVIA PANKHURST. MONICA WHATELY. MAY EDMUNDS. CHARLOTTE MARSH. STORM JAMESON.

We may find out more about her later years. We do know she enjoyed a reunion with other campaigners in 1955, as we have seen in the film. Charlotte died on 21st April 1961 at 31 Copse Hill, Wimbledon.[15]


[1] Digital Image Copyright of the Museum of London

[2] http://spartacus-educational.com/WmarshCH.htm

[3] Votes for Women, 24.12.1909 p17

[4] Duncan McAra, great nephew of ‘Charlie’ Marsh, has contributed to The Scotsman, The Herald, Birmingham Post and London Magazine.  It was a treat when he contacted us with his contribution.  It is most appropriate, for our Dinner Puzzle milieu, that he is a literary agent.

[5] I am sure she is the first person: compare the photographs, she mentions three imprisonments, Winson Green and a Miss March [sic] is listed

[6] Common Cause, 14.3.1930

[7] Younger image from Spartacus Educational online accessed 30.3.2019

[8] Sourced from Ancestry. Also the image on the back page of Votes for Women, 24.12.1909.

[9] CALM in the face of Oppression? Accessed 1.4.2019

[10] Screenshot from BBC film http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/suffragettes/8316.shtml

[11] Census form 1911 and As cited in Jill Liddington, Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and the Battle for the Census, OUP 2014

[12] Vote, 6.2.1931

[13] Gloucestershire Echo, 6.10.1932.

[14] Daily Herald, 2.5.1935 p8

[15] Michelle Myall, Marsh, Charlotte Augusta Leopoldine (1887–1961), Oxford Dictionary for National Biography, 23rd September 2004

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