Mid Sussex Suffragettes
Edith Bevan, founder of the Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society, had good reason to fly the feminist flag. She was the youngest child of Richard Bevan of Horsgate, Brighton banker and Cuckfield’s “leading citizen”. Although born into wealth and privilege, she was denied both marriage and career, and was expected to devote herself to looking after her parents in their old age.
The inaugural meeting of the Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society was held in the spring of 1909 at Horsgate and Edith Bevan headed the Cuckfield contingent in the historic Brighton to London “Suffragist Pilgrimage” of July 1913. She can be identified in the Douglas Miller photograph of the Suffragists setting off from Cuckfield on the second day of the march.
During a period of five years the Mid Sussex Times followed the Suffragists’ progress closely, emphasizing the distinction between suffragists and suffragettes. Prominent local personalities involved included Edith Payne, of Cuckfield Library fame, and solicitor William Stevens, whose son Eric, a passionate advocate of women’s rights, was to be killed in the War. Mrs Fred Miller, wife of the watercolour artist, was an active member along with her photographer son Douglas and his wife.
The Cuckfield group soon developed into the Central Sussex Women’s Suffrage Society. Edith organised meetings throughout area covered by the Mid Sussex Times, and ensured additional publicity by staging events such as the Women’s Sweated Industries Exhibition in Haywards Heath in 1912. In July 1914, before the outbreak of war caused the campaign to be discontinued, Edith had Millicent Garrett Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, speak in Cuckfield’s Queens Hall.
Following Richard Bevan’s death in February 1918, just days after the enfranchisement of women over 30, Edith Bevan moved to East Chiltington to set up house with two suffragist friends. The story of her political activism was left to be discovered in the columns of the Mid Sussex Times.
Article written by Frances Stenlake.
Mid Sussex Suffragists, written and published by Frances Stenlake, follows previous accounts of the Bevan family of Horsgate, Hanlye Lane, Cuckfield. These include From Cuckfield to Camden Town, the story of artist Robert Bevan (Cuckfield Museum 1999), and Robert Bevan, from Gauguin to Camden Town (Unicorn Press 2008), and Frances is well-known in the Haywards Heath area as an adult education tutor for many years and as former Curator of Cuckfield Museum.