Scarborough man tells mother's suffragette story

Violet Mary Toy nee Doudney
Violet Mary Toy nee Doudney
Share this article

A Scarborough man has told the astonishing tale of how his mother joined the suffragettes and was sent to prison for smashing the home secretary's window.

It was a very different world 100 year’s ago and today marks the centenary anniversary of women being awarded the vote.

John Toy with a picture of his mum Violet

John Toy with a picture of his mum Violet

A woman’s role was domestic, encompassing little outside having children and taking care of the home. But the suffragettes movement changed this.

John Toy, who lives in Scarborough, has told the story of his mother Violet Mary Toy nee Doudney who received a medal from Emmeline Pankhurst for joining the hunger strike in Holloway Prison.

In 1912, aged 23, Violet moved to London after studying at St Hilda’s College in Oxford with dreams of being a teacher.

She joined the Women's Social and Political Union, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, and backed the campaign breaking windows of senior politicians to make a stance against the treatment of suffragettes in prison on hunger strike.

She attend St Hilda's College in Oxford

She attend St Hilda's College in Oxford

Fighting against injustice, Violet smashed the windows of the then home secretary Reginald McKenna on Friday June 28.

“She was arrested by a policeman immediately,” said John. “She was before magistrates court the following morning where a magistrates asked her to be sorry for what she had done.

“She said she was not sorry and she had done it as a protest against the home secretary’s policies.”

She was sentenced to two months hard labour at Holloway Prison, in London.

Her medal for hunger strike

Her medal for hunger strike

“My mother was comparatively weak physically but she joined the hunger strike regardless and was subjected to force feeding," added John

“They were fed with a tube through your mouth but if you refused the tube would be put through your nostrils - it was horrific.”

As the daughter of a well-known businessman in Leicestershire, her parents wrote to the home secretary to ask for Violet’s early release due to ill health.

Her mother promised that if she were to be released Violet would no longer involve herself in suffragette activities.

John, who is now 87, said: “Mother was furious when she found out that was why she had been released after three weeks.

“She wrote immediately to the home secretary to say she was 23 and able to make her own decisions."

Her letter reads: "I understand that you ordered my release from H.M Prison Holloway on account of an undertaking given by my parents that I would do no more militant work.

"I wish you to understand that no pledge of any kind whatsoever has been even offered to me and that I have give no undertaking whatsoever. Moveover I am of age and I do not consider myself in any way bound by any pledge given without my knowledge or consent and I certainly intend to take, "militant" or otherwise which may appear necessary to me to be necessary and justifiable in advancing a cause which I have at heart.

She added: "If upon receipt of this letter you think you have released me on false pretences and wish me to return to Holloway I am willing to do so."

Violet never received a response and took on secretarial work for the suffreagettes for two years before becoming a teacher in 1914.

Throughout her life Violet was a teacher of English literature and drama for 25 years. She married Sidney Toy in 1929 and had her first of three boys, John, in 1930 aged 40.

“My father was a typical Victorian man and wasn’t in favour of women having the vote,” said John. “He asked her not to talk about this episode and she didn’t tell us until the day the Second World War broke out.

“I’m very proud of what she did. She always taught us to be angry at any injustices.”