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A Deaf Women from the Suffrage Movement, Helen Kirkpatrick Watts (1881-1972)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 March 2018

There at least are two women from the suffrage movement who are of interest to the history of d/Deaf people.

This week, Helen Kirkpatrick Watts, was born on the 13th of July 1881, in Bishop Wearmouth, Sunderland.  Her grandfather Henry, was classics teacher in Sussex, and father, Alan Hunter Watts, was a Church of England clergyman, who was for many years Vicar at Lenton, Nottinghamshire.  Her mother, Ethelinda, was born to British parents in Oporto.  Helen was one of nine children.  One of her father’s brothers was John Hunter Watts, a life-long socialist who was a friend of William Morris.  I wonder whether he had any influence on her becoming politically active as a suffragette?

She does not appear on census returns a ‘deaf’ but we know that it those forms do not always reflect the reality, as the informant might not be aware of the hearing loss or might wish to ignore it.  However, from corroborating evidence we know that Helen had hearing loss, though how bad we cannot be sure.  Her friend Helen Blaythwayt said “She is a nice girl, but difficult to talk with because besides being very deaf herself she speaks so that it is very difficult to understand her.” (p.702, Crawford, 2001)

Crawford quotes Watts as saying,

“Votes for Women” will not be won by drawing room chatter. It has got to be fought for in the market-places, and if we don’t fight for it, no-one else will… The open-air meeting is a symbol of the principles, the method, and the spirit of the most vigorous movement towards Woman Suffrage in England today. The Suffragettes have come out of the drawing room, the study and the debating hall, and the committee rooms of Members of Parliament, to appeal to the real sovereign power of the country – THE PEOPLE.

Helen was imprisoned in Holloway gaol in 1909, and she spoke at many public meetings on socialist and feminist topics.  After she left the Women’s Suffrage Political Union Helen joined the Women’s Freedom League. During the war she nursed at the Mineral Water Hospital, Bath and later worked at the war office and Ministry of Labour before she emigrated to Canada for a while, perhaps intending to stay with her sister Ethelinda.  For some reason she returned to Britain, leaving a trunk of posessions and papers in Avonmouth Docks for many years.  She died in Somerset in August, 1972.

Read more about her on Elizabeth Crawford’s web pages.  I think much more could be put together about her life from all these disparate sources.

Crawford, Elizabeth, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928, 2001.


Suffrage Stories: Helen Watts And The Mystery Of The Unclaimed Trunk

The Times (London, England), Friday, Feb 26, 1909; pg. 7; Issue 38893

Census 1911 Class: RG14; Piece: 14657; Schedule Number: 101

Census 1901 Class: RG13; Piece: 3164; Folio: 129; Page: 18

Census 1891 Class: RG12; Piece: 639; Folio: 7; Page: 8


One Response to “A Deaf Women from the Suffrage Movement, Helen Kirkpatrick Watts (1881-1972)”

  • 1
    John Eversley wrote on 3 May 2018:

    Although not deaf at the time of her activism, you could also add Margaret McMillan who was deaf as result of scarlet fever between the ages of 4 and 14 and had contact with Charlotte Despard and Kate Harvey (See Woodford article)

    Also, Anna Munro of the Women’s Freedom League, had Deaf daughter called Margaret Ridgeway but I don’t know if there was any explicit impact on her approach to emancipation