As part of the gem project, I have been researching E.M. Gardner, a watermill enthusiast who is responsible for a large collection here at the Mills Archive. I was intrigued during my research by Liz’s blog post about Miss Gardner last year, which mentioned that she had been involved in a caravan tour campaigning for votes for women. With my curiosity piqued, I set about seeing what else I could find.
At the start of my research, I developed the impression that Miss Gardner was not that heavily involved in the suffrage movement, and had played a relatively minor role. However, after working with Elizabeth and finding her mentioned numerous times in the Woman’s Franchise, I realised her involvement went a little deeper - although I still didn’t quite realise how deep, until we came across her entry in the 1911 census as an event organiser for NUWSS. It was then the pieces began to fall into place.
Further research led to more of the story coming to light, including some pictures of Miss Gardner on tour around Yorkshire in 1908 (she is the woman on the far left of this photo). Coming to what I thought was the end of the story, I went to the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics to go through some files which I originally had thought were letters from the Yorkshire tour. Yet Miss Gardner had one more twist in store for me!
Upon arriving at LSE (and after managing to get my bag stuck in their lockers), I discovered that the letters written by Ray, who I had assumed was the male driver of the caravan, were actually written by Rachel Costelloe from an earlier tour. If spending a month in a small horse-drawn caravan in Yorkshire didn’t seem enough of a challenge, it turns out Miss Gardner had also been involved in this earlier and much longer tour. Beginning in Cambridge, she alongside a few others from Newnham College travelled by train to Glasgow to then travel back via caravan all the way to Oxford, campaigning along the way. This huge undertaking made for a journey of roughly 1380.29 miles!
Following this incredible story has been hugely rewarding as each twist and turn led to another story more spectacular than the last. With this year marking one hundred years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act, it is fantastic to find that the determination and energy Emilie Gardner brought to the preservation of watermills can also be seen in her pioneering spirit as she toured the country campaigning for the vote.
Picture of the Caravan Tour used with the kind permission of the Women's Library at LSE.