Mary Henrietta Dering Curtois (1854 – 1928)
by Alison Bailey
Artist Mary Curtois, from a prosperous Lincolnshire family, lived at Ridgewell House, Little Missenden. She studied at the Lincoln School of Art and later in Paris where she exhibited at the Salon before returning to England and establishing a studio in Earls Court. She exhibited at the Royal Academy, the New Gallery and the Society of Portrait Painters. She was a member of the Lyceum Club, an important women’s networking club of the time, and was an active member of the Lyceum Debating Society. As an excellent lecturer and public speaker, she put these skills to good use speaking at suffrage meetings, joining the Mid Bucks Suffrage Society and the Artist’s Suffrage League. Later, she was also a founder member of the Chiltern Club of Arts and Chairman of the Art Section.
In 1914 she went on a caravan tour around the rural villages of Buckinghamshire to raise awareness of the votes for women movement and sell the suffragist newspaper, The Common Cause. This wasn’t for the faint hearted because suffrage caravans didn’t always get a friendly welcome, often being pelted with rotten fruit and dead mice. However, things appear to have gone well on this tour as she explained to a journalist of the Bucks Herald, “It was very gratifying to find that the working-men grasped the justice of our claim. One proud father pointed to his baby in his arms and said, “I wish her to have the vote, as I know what it has done for me”.
Such caravan tours inspired leading suffragist Katherine Harley to plan the 1913 Great Pilgrimage in which our local suffragists participated. In June, women headed for London from different towns across the country, setting off in caravans, on bicycles, on horseback but mostly on foot. On Saturday, 26 July, the marchers and others converged on Hyde Park for a rally which over 50,000 people attended. This protest march showed the government how many women wanted the vote. It also allowed them to campaign and fundraise along the way, and to demonstrate that they were law-abiding and not militant.
The Watling route, led by Lady Rochdale, started in Carlisle and included some 90 women by the time it reached Thame. Here they were given a very hostile reception. When they arrived in High Wycombe a riot ensued, and the marchers were pelted with rotten eggs and mouldy fruit. The pilgrims were forced to abandon their planned speeches and head straight to the safety of Godstowe School where they camped in the grounds and were able to stable their horses. Apparently, they received a far more civilised reception when they reached Beaconsfield.