Emilie Peacocke, 50, (1882-1964) was a pioneering journalist “who refused to be beaten by the all-male environment of Edwardian Fleet Street”, confidante of the suffragettes, “the girl with a mass of hair”, who encouraged women to go into journalism and whose daughter herself carried the flame for many years. She also particularly disliked the “miserable custom observed by many London restaurants of serving ladies’ portions” – and so it is no surprise that she appears on Table 12, the only woman, with three of the prominent restaurateurs of the time. At the dinner she was three days short of her 51st birthday.
Emilie would have made a good dinner partner for anyone on this table. Perhaps she had dined chez Boulestin or at one of Fothergill’s inns. If she had I hope she had a decent helping of everything. She certainly had no problem about being in the domain of menfolk.
WHAT’S ON HER MIND?
Whilst perhaps not top of her real interests, she may have been on the lookout to see if she got a decent size meal or whether the Rembrandt was hoping they could serve 100 or more smaller portions to a dinner of ladies.
EMILIE’S STORY SO FAR
Mrs Emilie Hawkes Peacocke, née Marshall, was born in Darlington on 26th March 1882, to Mildred Dorothea Hawkes (a British subject born in Freys, Belgium, a daughter of a newspaperman) and her husband, John Marshall, proprietor and Editor of the Northern Echo. Emilie was thus brought up steeped in journalism; “The young Emilie would listen, hidden under a table, absorbing it all” and started work on her father’s paper as a proof reader’s assistant.
Her father resigned his job when refusing to support the South Africans war and the family moved to London. Things were difficult and after he died in 1903 Emilie had to work to support the family. She got a job on the Church Family Newspaper and sent to cover the joint convocations of Canterbury and York, but being a woman, was not allowed to attend the meetings. After much protest she was permitted to sit behind a red silken cord, indicating her non-presence.
She got her next position after approaching her father’s predecessor at the Northern Echo, W.T. Stead, for a job on his new venture, the Daily Paper. She succeeded but the paper closed after five weeks. She obtained an introduction from one John Vandercook, an American correspondent, to the Editor of the Daily Express, the American R.D. Blumenfeld “RDB” and in March 1904 Emilie became the first full time woman reporter on the paper, at £3.10 a week, which she says was standard for men. Being permitted to use the staff room and mix with the male reporters was the next hurdle but she overcame that and soon established herself as one of them and received from them nothing but courteous assistance and camaraderie. Generally asked to cover topics thought appropriate to women, such as food, children, and the weather, she distinguished herself and won a pay rise [to £4.10)when she obtained by deception a scarce proof copy of the revised Hymns Ancient and Modern which many male reporters had requested in vain.” That particular story had been of special interest of the paper’s founding owner, Sir Arthur Pearson, whose mother was a daughter of Henry Francis Lyte, author of “Abide with Me”. Pearson gave instructions that a reply paid telegram should be sent to every clergyman in Crockford asking him what he thought of the innovation (and many old favourite hymns were to be omitted) – that order was cancelled as it would have bankrupted the paper.
“(Miss Marshall) Has gone to see a theatrical lady with an undecipherable name who writes to us an imploring letter that some notice be taken of the death of her beloved pet lemur. This engaging and dangerous beast, it appears, has been the pet of the entire theatrical profession. It has scratched Marie Lloyd and was kissed by Henry Irving. One of its chief pastimes was riding on donkeys. It fell a victim to the fashionable malady appendicitis.
Is also taking tea with Mrs George Alexander at the St. James’s Theatre where she will listen to 12 theatrical ladies from Veronique to The Girl who Lost Her Character discussing the woes of beautiful broke ballet girls. Tonight, at the Camberwell Baths will dance a holy cake walk with the Rev. Kent White as partner. Her conversion is earnestly prayed for.”
Private Eye anyone?
An American style “stunt” story had unexpected consequences. Emilie was asked to run a fifty pound trousseau stunt, offering prizes for the ideal trousseau for the daughter of a man in the £75-800 a year class. To the dismay of the paper the winner was a not-so-young spinster daughter of a leading Mayfair business house, who had ‘no apparent prospect of needing a trousseau’. The winning trousseau was displayed in the windows of a store chosen by the paper to make it. As a result the store achieved the distinction of becoming the first shop to be prosecuted under new legislation which made the too attractive shop window liable on a charge of obstruction.
More seriously the Express took a lead in specialising in stories of the women’s trade union movement. Mrs Peacocke cooperated with Margaret Bonfield (later the first woman Cabinet Minister) and Mary MacArthur in rounding up a group of woman ‘rebels’ for a full page of pictures.
Throughout her career Emilie met discrimination over her sex, though often found a way around (including getting married in secret in 1909 – but losing her Daily Mail job when found out, perhaps the “crime” being heightened by marrying an Express reporter, Herbert Peacocke). The response “we already have our lady on the paper” was common. Initially she was installed in a top back room with the staid woman editor who worked on the regional papers. When a farewell banquet was given for Spenser Sarle, an Anglo-India contributor who was leaving to join a new daily, The Tribune, it was intimated that the three women on the staff – Emilie, the day librarian and the editorial secretary – might prefer not to attend though they were welcome to contribute to the dinner fund. Blomenfeld stopped that, saying he would refuse the chair the dinner under such circumstances. The dinner committee apologised.
Her biggest scoop was being the only journalist in the House of Commons when Keir Hardie introduced a suffrage resolution. Her ODNB biographer tells us “Her Tribune colleague Philip Gibbs modelled the heroine of his novel The Street of Adventure (1909) on Emilie, a woman for whom Fleet Street embodied all adventure, excitement, and romance.”
On 24th January 1929 “Mrs Peacocke” attended a Six Point Group “White Press” luncheon chaired by Lady Rhondda. Also there from our 1933 dinner were Miss Edith Shackleton (Evening Standard), Miss Rebecca West, Mrs Scott-James, Vera Brittain, Cicely Hamilton and Winifred Holtby – whilst Mr Brailsford had sent apologies.
At the time of the dinner (aged 49, a widow of two years) Emilie was head of the women’s department of the Daily Telegraph which she had joined in 1929 and stayed until retirement in 1941.
WHAT EMILIE DID NEXT (SEE ALSO POSTSCRIPT)
A member of both the Institute of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists, in 1933 Emilie became was one of the first women to be admitted to the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. Three years after the dinner she wrote Writing for Women, A. & C. Black (1936) to advise and encourage women to join the profession – and to seize any opportunity when it came. Her daughter Marguerite D. Peacocke would become the president of the British Federation of University Women (BFUW) and the first woman President of the Institute of Journalists, in 1967 (see Postscript below). Marguerite was named as a trustee of the fellowship for aspiring women journalists intended to be established according to Lady Rhondda’s will.
At the time of the 1939 census mother and daughter were both living at 1 Champion Grove, Camberwell (house since rebuilt), occupations, journalist, daily newspaper staff, and journalist reporter, respectively, and with her sister Muriel D. Marshall, a charity appeals secretary.
Emilie died on 25th January 1964 at the home she then shared with her daughter Marguerite, 12 Hillsleigh Road, Kensington, London.
Emilie Peacocke has not been forgotten and her daughter Marguerite’s career also helped to keep the flame alive.
In 1967 The Guardian featured her daughter, when she became the first woman president of the Institute of Journalists, going on to acknowledge her pioneering mother “the girl with a mass of hair”.
Jubilee journalist – a woman president
THE INSTITUTE OF JOURNALISTS, founded in 1886, granted a charter in 1890, has its first woman president this year. The National Union of Journalists, which has just celebrated its diamond jubilee, has never had a woman president, and though its 20,000 members include 2.300 women, there is not one woman on its present executive. Odd, seeing that women are always willing organisational horses, that ever since the NUJ negotiated its first agreement they have had equal pay, and that journalism is a profession where women have never had to fight for acceptance (except in the backroom jobs).
But it is rather pleasant that Marguerite Peacocke should be president this year, because the two journalistic organisations, which have sometimes been at odds, are now on a year’s “trial marriage” dual membership which may lead to a real merger. Miss Peacocke has been a dual member since 1938.
She is a freelance journalist who makes the Royal Family her intriguing and no doubt profitable speciality, and is the daughter of a pioneer woman journalist, Mrs Emilie Peacocke. Emilie came to Fleet Street from Darlington in 1902, and was so much in the confidence of the suffragettes that the appearance of “the girl with a mass of hair” alerted the police to impending trouble. In 1928 Mrs Peacocke joined the “Daily Telegraph” as women’s page editor and stayed there many years.
At the end of this month Marguerite Peacocke leads her Institute forces to Ostend for their annual conference – almost a week of discussions, trips to Brussels, Bruges, Knocke, on an approved supplementary allowance of £35 foreign currency.
Then in 1994, some thirty years after the death of Emilie, BBC2 television ran a 30 minute film “A Lady’s Portion” featuring Emilie and one of her campaigns, which surely explains why she is seated with our three restauranteurs. The Guardian noted it in its programme guide as follows:
The Guardian 8th May 1994
A Skirt through History 9.30 – 10.00 pm BBC2. “A Lady’s Portion”. Emilie Peacocke (played by Elizabeth Bradley) was born in 1883 [sic] and became a trainee reporter at the age of 16. She was the first woman reporter on the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. She was a vigorous campaigner and particularly disliked the “miserable custom observed by many London restaurants of serving ladies’ portions – a legacy from the genteel Victorian notion that nice women only toyed with their food”.
Emilie was one of two women featured on the programme, the other being Bessie Parkes who founded the English Woman’s Journal in 1858 and refused to wear corsets. The BBC released a publication subsequent to the programme, A Skirt through History 1612-1950.
And five years later, on 21st June 1999, BBC Radio broadcast a radio play by Janys Chambers under the title “Sirens of Fleet Street, Miss Thingummybob” based on Emilie’s life. It was last broadcast on 24th January 2018, on BBC Radio 4 extra.
The Guardian 21st June 1999
2.0 The Archers
2.15 Afternoon Play; Sirens of Fleet Street, Miss Thingummybob”, by Janys Chambers. Drama chronicling the life and work of Emilie Peacocke, who refused to be beaten by the all-male environment of Edwardian Fleet Street”
 Elizabeth J. Morse, Peacocke née Marshall, Emilie Hawkes, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, revised May 2006
 The DE’s First Woman Reporter Emilie H. Marshall, Mrs Peacocke, an Express Story 18 February 1957. On 2 typed sheets, unpublished, privately held
 A Skirt Through History, BBC Education, 1994
 Which I intend to mine for more stories. Emilie Hawkes Peacocke, Writing for Women, A. & C. Black (1936)
 But the estate in fact wasn’t sufficient to fulfil all the bequests. Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p538
 Elizabeth J. Morse, Peacocke (née Marshall), Emilie Hawkes (1882–1964) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 25th May 2006
 The Guardian 4.5.1967 p6
 The Guardian 8.5.1994 p86
 Felicity Goodall et al, A Skirt through History 1612-1950, BBC Education
 The Guardian 21.6.1999 p57