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Discrete CollectionsThe Women's Library
TitleRecords of the Actresses' Franchise League
Ref No2AFL
Box Fetch NoBox FL598
Extent0.25 A box (6 folders)
Admin Biographical HistoryThe Actresses' Franchise League (1908-1934) was one of several suffrage societies founded in this period.

At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the economic position of actresses was precarious due both to the nature of their work and the inequality of rates of pay between themselves and their male colleagues. Influenced by the argument that working women needed the vote to improve their economic and working conditions, the Actresses' Franchise League was founded in 1908 by Gertrude Elliot, Winifred Mayo, Sime Seruya and Adeline Bourne. The first meeting was held in Dec 1908 in the Criterion Restaurant in London and was attended by nearly four hundred actresses. Membership was open to those of the profession who wished to support efforts to achieve suffrage for women and the main office was established in the Adelphi theatre. At the first meeting, it was decided that the group should not affiliate to either the constitutional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies or the militant Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) as many individual members were already part of one or the other. However, by 1909, leaders in the WSPU and the Women's Freedom League were regularly being asked to address their meetings. A number of members who held non-militant views, including the Vice president, Irene Vanburgh, consequently resigned from the group in 1910. However, few actresses involved with the organisation took part in militant action as this could have disastrous consequences on their careers, as another member, Kitty Marion, discovered. By 1911, provincial branches had been created in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Eastbourne and Liverpool and its members included Cicley Hamilton, Ellen Terry, Edith Craig, Lena Ashwell, Sybil Thorndyke, May Whittey, Eva Moore, Lillah McCarthey and Elizabeth Robins. It held some meetings and distributed literature but its initial principle role was to support the work of other organisations' campaigns. They regularly put local suffrage organisations in touch with its touring members so that the latter could offer their services in that area by staging suffrage events, speaking at lectures, reciting and writing plays. In 1912 the League became part of the Federated Council of Suffrage Societies and in 1913 a men's group was added. It was around this time that the group undertook a new activity: the creation of the independent Women's Theatre Company, an extension of propaganda and pageant work hitherto carried out for others. Over time, the close links with the WSPU faded and those with the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Men's League for Women's Suffrage grew stronger. Membership rose from 360 in 1910 to 900 in 1914. However, less that two weeks after the start of the First World War, their normal activities were suspended and they joined with the Women's Freedom League and the Tax Resister's League to form the Women's Emergency Corps. This began to lay the foundations of a register for women who were willing to take part in war work. In addition, from 1915 the Actresses Franchise League helped organise the British Women's Hospital. However, when this work was treated with indifference by the government, their efforts were transferred to creating a Theatre Camps Entertainments group which toured military bases throughout the country. Though it took little active role in the post-war campaigns for an equal franchise for women, the organisation continued in existence until 1934.
Custodial HistoryThese papers were originally found on the shelves of the Fawcett Library main book sequence, originally coming from the UDC collection. As they form part of the archives of the organisation it was felt that they would be more appropriately listed with the archive collections.
DescriptionThe archive consists of two annual reports 1911, 1916; secretary's reports; printed reports with accounts, annual statements of accounts; leaflets including lists of officers and league's objects and list of members; programme.
Related MaterialThe records of the London Society for Women's Suffrage (2LSW) includes a file of correspondence and papers from the Actresses' Franchise League 1909-1913. The autobiography of one member, Kitty Marion is also held by the Women's Library (see 7KMA).
Published plays etc can be found in the main TWL printed book sequence and the Printed UDC collection. See also the Printed UDC and Ephemera collections for programmes of dinners and events.
Related Record2LSW
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThis collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library @ LSE in advance of their first visit.
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