Among the movement’s leaders was Flora McKinnon Drummond, a formidable character known for her indefatigable commitment to gender equality. Donning a military uniform and often leading marches on horseback, she earned the nickname ‘The General’.
Early Life: Roots in Scotland and Manchester
Flora McKinnon Drummond was born in Manchester, but her family heritage traced back to the Isle of Arran in Scotland. It was in Arran that she spent her formative years, instilling in her a strong sense of self and community. As a young woman, she trained to become a postmistress but found her ambitions curtailed by a height requirement she narrowly missed. This early experience with systemic inequality inspired her lifelong commitment to advocating for social justice.
A Keen Academic and a Return to Manchester
Further education led her to acquire skills in shorthand and typing, qualifications that would later significantly enhance the Suffragettes’ communication efforts. In 1898, she married Joseph Drummond, an upholsterer, and returned to Manchester. Working briefly in factories, she acquired first-hand knowledge of the subpar conditions working-class women faced—another catalyst for her activism.
The Pankhurst Influence and the Independent Labour Party
Flora and Joseph Drummond became members of the nascent Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Manchester, where Flora met Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. However, the ILP’s half-hearted support for women’s suffrage left Flora and the Pankhursts disillusioned. Witnessing the arrest of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kearny at a 1905 Liberal Party meeting, Flora was swayed by the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) motto, ‘Deeds not Words’, and decided to become an active participant.
Leading from the Front
In 1906, Flora relocated to London, the epicentre of political activity. Among her early triumphs was a daring attempt to confront the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, an action that led to her arrest, though the charges were later dropped. From commandeering a boat to disturb MPs on the terrace outside Westminster, to leading numerous marches, including those to Trafalgar Square and others in Edinburgh and Glasgow, her feats were myriad.
The Human Cost of Activism
The struggle for women’s suffrage took a toll on Flora’s health, particularly through her frequent hunger strikes. Nonetheless, she remained undeterred. During one of her nine stints in Holloway Prison, she was even pregnant with her son, whom she named Keir Hardie Drummond, honouring the Labour Party leader.
The War Years and Beyond
The outbreak of World War I saw a shift in Suffragette strategy, with Flora joining the Pankhursts in endorsing the war effort. When the Representation of the People Act was finally passed in 1918, granting some women the right to vote, Flora campaigned for Christabel Pankhurst, who contested in the general election as a candidate for the newly formed Women’s Party.
Flora McKinnon Drummond continued her activism until her death at age 70 in Scotland. Today, she is commemorated on the plinth below the statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett in Parliament Square, forever etched in the annals of history as a luminary who fought for women’s rights and social justice.
In the streets of London, where protests and marches once punctuated the air with calls for gender equality, the story of Flora McKinnon Drummond serves as a source of inspiration for ongoing struggles for justice and equality. The commitment and valour she displayed over a century ago remain as pertinent today as they were during the turbulence of the Edwardian era.