The Little GENERAL; Feisty Campaginer: Flora Drummond Is Led Away by Police in London's Hyde Park in April 1914

Daily Mail (London), September 20, 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Little GENERAL; Feisty Campaginer: Flora Drummond Is Led Away by Police in London's Hyde Park in April 1914


ON horseback and resplendent in her military uniform, Flora Drummond surveyed the crowds in the Edinburgh sunshine.

They had crammed ten deep along Princes Street to enjoy the spectacle she had masterminded - and it did not disappoint.

A seemingly unending procession of ornately decorated floats snaked along the famous street flanked by marchers waving banners, striding to the skirl of the pipes.

Mrs Drummond's big event was, as one newspaper put it, witnessed by 'most of the city's population'.

The atmosphere was certainly celebratory but this was no frivolous event. Its purpose was deadly serious. For this was 1909 and the grand procession was an exclusively female parade involving women from all walks of life, from maidservants to aristocrats.

Each of the floats depicted a key woman in Scottish history, from 11th century Queen Margaret to Bonnie Prince Charlie's saviour, Flora MacDonald. The theme was 'what women have done and can do and will do'.

The event was another Flora Drummond extravaganza, another public relations coup in the battle for the hearts and minds of the populace and ultimately to win votes for women.

Mrs Drummond knew there were few other avenues for women to put across their point. As she later wrote: 'To see a woman speaking at a street corner on a soapbox made her fair game for rough house, and to be told to "Go home and darn socks" was the mildest form of abuse.' Overseeing the 1909 parade, Mrs Drummond's mount gave her not only metaphorical stature but, at 5ft 1in tall with a figure that could charitably be described as rotund, muchneeded literal stature too.

Not that it concerned her. Mrs Drummond may have been small but she was a feisty campaigner and a magnificent orator whose pseudo-militaristic dress and precision planning had earned her the nickname The General.

The Edinburgh pageant had been a home-coming for the campaigner. She had grown up on Arran but her role in the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) had taken her to London as the right-hand woman of the Pankhursts.

If the genteel and cultured Emmeline Pankhurst was the Tony Blair of the organisation, Mrs Drummond was her John Reid. As Jeremy Paxman might have put it, she was the Pankhursts' Scottish attack dog - a tough-talking strategist whose down-to-earth manner could unite the upper and lower echelons of the often disparate WSPU.

But how did a young woman whose only ambition was to become postmistress to the village of Pirnmill evolve into this charismatic and cunning strategist who lobbied those at the heart of government and endured derision, imprisonment and hunger strikes? The fact that Mrs Drummond was never allowed to take up her longed-for career as a postmistress may have been the catalyst for a lifelong battle against injustice.

She had studied business and economics at college in Glasgow to gain the qualifications necessary to take over behind the counter but at the 11th hour new civil service height regulations meant she was just one inch too short for the position. It was a slight she never forgot.

In the wake of that rejection, Flora continued with her studies and at 20 married an upholsterer from Manchester named Joseph Drummond.

They set up home there and became involved in the fledgling Independent Labour Party.

But in 1905, at the age of 27, Mrs Drummond attended a political meeting that was to change her life. She had become drawn to the growing campaign to win votes for women and had befriended some activists - one of whom was Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter Christabel. During the meeting, Christabel interrupted the predominantly male gathering to ask the platform about votes for women.

As Mrs Drummond recalled: 'I saw the effect of this question on the people around them. One man jumped up and put his hand over Christabel Pankhurst's mouth and they started to drag Annie Kenney down through the hall towards the platform.

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