Alice Hawkins (1863 - 1946)
Alice Hawkins was born in 1863 into a working class family in Stafford. She left school at thirteen to spend her working life as a shoe machinist and she worked for many years at Equity Shoes, Western Road in Leicester. A Blue Plaque has been erected there in her honour. The Equity factory had been formed as workers’ co-operative and actively encouraged workers to participate in political organisations. Alice quickly realised, however, that very little could be achieved through the trade union movement to improve the working conditions for women.
Many Leicester women were involved in the struggle to obtain the vote and became members of the Leicestershire Women’s Suffrage Society which was formed in 1887. A more militant movement was formed in Leicester in 1907 when the Leicester branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed. Alice Hawkins was a major figure in the movement and she attended her first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Hyde Park, followed by a march the same day to the House of Commons to demand the vote for women. As a result of this action Alice was arrested and imprisoned. The next month, she invited Sylvia Pankhurst to speak in Leicester. Shortly after the Leicester section of the WSPU was formed.
Alice was the president of the Leicester Independent Women’s Boot and Shoe Trade Union and she went to prison five times over seven years for the militant action she took, including chaining herself to railing, throwing a stone though a Home Office window and making a disturbance when Winston Churchill held a Liberal meeting that the Palace Theatre in Leicester. Suffragette activity ceased at the start of the Great War in 1914 in order to show support for the nation and Alice would never again engage in Suffragette activities although after the war she continued to support the local trade union and the labour movement.
Alice Hawkins died in 1946, at the age of 83 and her death was reported on the front page of the Leicester Evening Mail. Alice proved that she was a heroine of modern democracy who spoke out for what she believed in and was a true campaigner for women’s rights. A statue of Alice Hawkins is soon to be erected in Leicester Market, a place where she delivered many of her speeches. The statue will be dedicated not only to Alice but also to all women who have fought for women’s rights.