Mrs Elizabeth Abbott

elizabeth-abbott.png
Mrs Elizabeth Abbott in 1937

Mrs Elizabeth Abbott, 58, (1884-1957) was a Scottish suffragist, editor, and feminist lecturer, travelling extensively and a key player in the organisations of the time including Lady Rhondda’s Six Point Group and the Open Door Council.[1] [2]

SEATED BESIDE

An intriguing question is whether she has a connection with the young Scottish woman Frances Slimon at the table, about whom we know relatively little. In seating this group I would like to ensure the two younger members, Frances Slimon and Betty Archdale, had a good opportunity to engage with the seasoned campaigners whilst allowing the campaigners to share their own “war stories”. My suggested plan for the table of Abbott, Slimon, McFarlane, Helen Archdale, Mayo, Marsh, Betty Archdale and Moore would place her with the young Scot Slimon and the pioneering accountant Millie Moore – Elizabeth and Millie are the only senior members of the table who didn’t spend time at His Majesty’s Pleasure, literally doing things by the book.

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

Looking forward to good debate amongst friends, perhaps with some new campaigning strategies to discuss.

ELIZABETH’S STORY SO FAR

Elizabeth was born on 22nd May 1884 in Dundee, as Wilhelmina Hay Lamond, the daughter of Andrew Lamond, jute manufacturer and his wife Margaret, and she started to use the name Elizabeth as a young woman. Her older sister, Elizabeth Taylor almond, died in 1914. Elizabeth trained for secretarial and accounting work but then went to University of London for a course of ethics, philosophy and economics. In 1909 she began organising for the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and joined the executive committee of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies the next year.

During World War I she lectured in India, Australia, and New Zealand, for two years, raising money for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, and receiving “unbounded hospitality”[4]After the war she served as an officer of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and edited its paper Jus Suffragii, later known as International Woman’s Suffrage News. She also chaired the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene for ten years, and was active with the organization for much longer.[5]

In 1911 Elizabeth married the author, travel writer and war correspondent George Frederick Abbott, born in Saloniki, Greece (but then in Turkey) to a British father and Greek mother on 28th October 1874. They had one son, Jasper Andrew Richard Abbott, born on 5th October, 1911. He became a commander in the Royal Navy.

jasper
Son Jasper Andrew Richard Abbott, Commander R.N.[6]
In 1926 Elizabeth was a co-founder with Lady Rhondda and others of the Open Door Council, to promote economic opportunities for women, chairing the Council in 1929. In 1928 she attended the International Labour Conference in Geneva to speak on behalf of important women’s organisation, including the Open Door Council, the Six Point Group, the Women’s Freedom League, St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance, and the National Union of Women Teachers. In particular she set out to remind delegates of the existence of Clause 7 of the “Charter of Labour “ contained in Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles, which declared that the signatories shall accept “the principle that men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value”.[7]

Her presentational ability was acknowledged by the women’s journal Common Cause when she was supporting a presentation by Chrystal Macmillan to a House of Lords Committee, on behalf of the Open Door Council. We have the space to report it in some detail, with my underling, to give another glimpse of “their world”:

Common Cause 20th March 1931 page 7

Women and Ministers’ Powers

“On 11th March, at a meeting of the Committee on Powers of Ministers, held in the Chairman’s Room, House of Lords, Miss Chrystal Macmillan gave evidence on behalf of the Open Door Council which has the support of various other organizations of women in the matter. The point round which her evidence centred was what she declared to be the “constitutional impropriety ” of Parliament delegating power to affect the status of women relatively to that of men. In regard to this point the chairman, Lord Donoughmore, observed a little cryptically that “nothing that Parliament did constitutionally could be improper”. Nevertheless, he showed an impartiality and readiness to appreciate new points of view, which sets a standard for all in similar positions.

“For the most part a genial atmosphere of give and take obtained throughout the proceedings. Among those present were three permanent officials, Sir Warren Fisher, Sir Claude Schuster, and Sir John Anderson, with Sir John Withers and Miss Ellen Wilkinson.

“Miss Macmillan was assisted by Mrs. Abbott, and the clarity of thought, legal knowledge, and acquaintance with the detail of their subject, evinced by them, created a favourable impression. Space forbids a full report, but among the points made may be mentioned that Trade Boards in forty-two trades, affecting some 1,500,000 workers in Great Britain, have fixed minimum wages, and that in the great majority of cases these minimums were very much lower for women than for men.

“The witnesses made clear that their objection was not to the fixing of minimums, nor of welfare precautions and restrictions in themselves, but always as they injuriously affected the status and freedom to earn of the woman worker, and, further, as witnesses before the Committee, their objections were not even to these things in themselves, so much as that the matters were delegated and not dealt with directly by Parliament, so that the safeguards of public opinion, fully informed, could function, as was proper in things affecting the position of more than half the population of this country.

“The validity of this argument was unintentionally but effectively reinforced by Sir Warren Fisher, who, in the course of a little speech, said that “no useful conclusions could be reached when people discussed something so purely metaphysical” as status. Most of the seats allocated to the public were filled by women, and the general view appeared to be that Miss Macmillan with Mrs. Abbott deserved the warmest congratulations for their brilliant presentment of the case for securing that Parliament shall not delegate its powers when the status and liberties of the woman worker may thereby be jeopardized.

A. H.W.[8]

In 1934 Elizabeth moved to Penbury, Bucks, previously living in Chelsea and Burgess Hill.[9]

She continued work on women’s economic security, and in 1943 co-authored with Katherine Bompass “The Woman Citizen and Social Security, A Criticism of the Proposals Made in the Beveridge Report as They Affect Women”. Their efforts to change the report did not succeed.

“The status given to the married women in the report is not new, it is the reflection of her present status in law and insurance, that of a dependant without any right of her own person, by way of one penny of cash, though she doubtless can in both cases claim a legal right to subsistence…. It is with the denial of any personal status to the woman because she is married, the denial of her independent personality within marriage, that everything goes wrong”.[10]

Elizabeth was also a member of the Women’s Automotive and Sports Association.[11]

Elizabeth’s husband George died on 13th March 1947 at Tunbridge Wells. Elizabeth died on 17th October 1957, her probate granted to their son Jasper Andrew Richard Abbott, Commander, R.N. He received his O.B.E. in 1960, the year of his death at 48. Elizabeth herself had been the executor of Chrystal MacMillan’s will and Cicely Hamilton left her the copyright of all her books and plays.

BACK TO TABLE 18


[1] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 26.2.1937

[2] Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928, Routledge, 2003 

[3] Wilhelmina Hay Abbott

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, 15.1.1918,

[5] Wilhelmina Hay Abbott

[6] Picture source Ancestry

[7] Women’s Deputation to Geneva, The Times, 29.5.1928 p10

[8] A.H.W. Common Cause 20.3.1931 p7

[9] Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928, Routledge, 2003

[10] Passage from Abbott and Bompass 1943, cited in Elizabeth Wilson, Women and the Welfare State, Routledge, 2002

[11] Elizabeth Abbott, Hutchinson’s Woman’s Who’s Who 1934, Hutchinson & Co. London.

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