Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Theresa Garnett - a scolding for Mr. Churchill

"Take that, in the name of the insulted women of England!"

3 p.m. on Saturday 13th November 1909 and Winston Churchill is alighting from a railway carriage at Bristol station. Suddenly a mad woman comes rushing towards him brandishing a dog whip. “Take that, you brute!” she screams as she tries to beat Mr Churchill with the whip. 

The woman is Theresa Garnett, a 21-year old suffragette militant from a time in which feminists preferred physical confrontation to baring their boobs. Her assault on Mr Churchill was reported in The Times as follows:

'Mr Churchill … had just alighted from the carriage and had introduced his host, Sir William Howell Davies, M.P., and others to Mrs Churchill. Surrounding the party was a number of Bristol detectives in a semi-circle. Mr Churchill was recognized, and a crowd began to assemble. Suddenly a woman broke through the cordon of police, shouting frantically and flourishing a dog whip. She gripped Mr Churchill’s coat with one hand, and with the other which held the whip she aimed a blow at Mr Churchill. She failed to hit him with the whip. Her hand alone hit him in the face. Mr Churchill was not hurt at all. He saw the blow coming and grappled with the woman. For a moment there was a struggle. …. The woman was shouting frantically and the words “Take that, you brute, you brute!” could be heard. Mr Churchill wrenched the whip from his assailant’s hands, and in another moment two police officers placed her arms by her sides. She was promptly hurried outside the station, and as she disappeared, still shouting and struggling, Mr Churchill put the whip into his overcoat pocket'. [The Times 15 Nov., 1909]

Theresa is taken the police station for interrogation. She refuses to give her name but is recognized as a well-known activist with an impressive CV: 

April 1909 - chains herself in the House of Commons.

27 June 1909 -  imprisoned for throwing bricks at Whitehall. Goes on hunger strike and is accused of assaulting a prison officer.

August 1909 -  climbs onto the roof of Sun Hall in Liverpool. Is sent once more to prison and once more goes on hunger strike. 

13 November 1909 assaults Mr Churchill at Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

She is charged with disturbing the peace and given a term of one month’s imprisonment. Once again she goes on hunger strike and is force fed with a tube. In protest she sets her cell on fire and is placed in a punishment cell. 

The Times has no further mention of Theresa Garnett until Wednesday 17 March 1954 when it reports her being present at the funeral of Lady Pethick-Lawrence.

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