By Alison Bailey April 2022
Women in public life
The inspiration for this week’s article on the educationalist and suffragist, Caroline Franklin of Chartridge Lodge, was this weekend’s attack on the MP Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Rayner robustly defended herself saying “I stand accused of a ‘ploy’ to ‘distract’ the helpless PM – by being a woman, having legs and wearing clothes. The anonymous Tory MPs clearly have a big problem with women in public life”. That women in 2022 are still having to defend their right to work in the ‘public sphere’ reminded me of our pioneering local women’s fight for suffrage.
One woman, Caroline Franklin, came to mind as she also defied the limitations and expectations of her ‘class’ and position. In contrast to Angela Rayner who has achieved phenomenal success despite her underprivileged background, Franklin started from a position of wealth and social advantage. However, whilst other prominent members of the local gentry, such as the Rothschilds, Lady Susan Truman and the Libertys were forming and donating to Anti-Suffrage organisations, she was a committed suffragist.
Amersham Museum’s collection contains a 1936 biography Caroline Franklin 1863-1935 An Appreciation which states that she “worked quietly to give an equal chance to women in education and social life”. Her obituary described her as “a highly respected and valued worker in many public capacities”. Her pioneering role in the ‘public sphere’ was as a co-opted member of the newly formed Bucks County Education Committee from January 1903, an important position she held until her death. She started with Lady Verney when the law was changed to allow women to sit on education committees for the first time, although the number was limited to only two women per committee! It was another five years before women were allowed to vote in, or stand for election, to town and county councils.
Franklin was interested in all forms of education and had a great deal of experience working with schools in the East End of London. She succeeded her mother as President of the Jewish Mothers’ Welcome and Welfare Centre in Stepney, one of the first welfare services to be established. She was a leader in the foundation of Boys Clubs and a member of the Religious Education Board.
Here she worked tirelessly for the Bucks Education Board, regularly visiting local schools and offering “sympathetic advice to the teachers”. She also sat on the Chesham School Managing Committee and the Governing Board of Amersham Grammar School. Here she would have worked closely with her fellow governor, educationalist Henrietta Busk, who was the first woman elected to Amersham Rural District Council in 1910.
Caroline Franklin was born Caroline Jacobs in London in 1863. She was the fourth daughter of a successful Jewish merchant, Edward Jacobs, and his wife, Julia Weiller. Her parents, who were born and met in Germany, moved to London at the start of their marriage. It was a religious household and she married into another when she wed Arthur Ellis Franklin, a partner in the merchant bank Keyser and Co, when she was just 20 years old. Arthur Franklin’s collection of Jewish ritual art is in the Jewish Museum in London.
Loyalty to tradition and to her husband apparently guided her orthodox practice. A Tabernacle, decorated with flowers and fruit grown on the estate, was erected in the grounds of Chartridge Lodge each Autumn Festival. The family would eat here, and friends and neighbours were always welcome.
The Franklin family home was in Pembridge Gardens, Kensington but in 1899 they decided to purchase a small poultry farm in Chartridge, just outside Chesham as a holiday home for their six children. The house was gradually extended in a grand Arts & Craft style, and Caroline Franklin took particular interest in creating a beautiful garden out of the farm fields surrounding the property. This became the centre of much village activity with the family hosting fetes, an annual horticultural show and the Chartridge Sports Day in the grounds. According to her obituary “she always did her best to make visitors to her gardens feel that they were her guests and were meeting her on equal terms”.
Each year she entertained at Chartridge the staff of the publishers George Routledge and Sons, with which her husband and son were closely connected, and the Notting Hill Electric Light Co, of which her husband was chairman. Lunch and tea were served in a large marquee with sports and games in the garden.
Caroline Franklin contributed to the local community from the start founding a holiday home for professional people of limited means at Ballinger and a similar home for members of the Jewish clergy. Around 1903 she established a Reading Room on the site of an old smithy in Chartridge. This became the centre of many village activities, particularly the WI she founded here in 1919 (one of the earliest in the county). She was an active member of this WI and its president for 15 years.
Thanks to her encouragement, Caroline Franklin’s devotion to public service was continued by her children who certainly did not inherit her stated “aversion to agitation”. Her son Hugh was a militant suffragette, repeatedly imprisoned and force-fed. Her eldest daughter, Alice, a committed suffrage campaigner, was one of the founders of the Townswomen’s Guild and secretary of the Fawcett Society. Helen was a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party and chair of London County Council. Her other sons were also active in social work, but I think the children merit their own later article.
Caroline Franklin died suddenly at Chartridge Lodge in 1935, at the age of 72, after being married to Arthur for 52 years. She left behind nine grandchildren to whom she was devoted. She “loved to treat them, and at the same time to encourage their development, rejoicing in their school successes”. Her granddaughter, Rosalind Franklin, certainly earnt her place in the ‘public sphere’. She was a scientist whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structure of DNA and advanced the study of viruses!
Caroline Franklin 1863-1935 An Appreciation
British Newspaper Archive
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