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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Olive Wharry

Olive Wharry became involved in the struggle for women's suffrage and joined the Church League for Women's Suffrage and Women's Social and Political Union. On 4th March, 1912, Wharry took part in a window-breaking demonstration. This time the target was government offices in Whitehall. According to Votes for Women: "From in front, behind, from every side it came - a hammering, crashing, splintering sound unheard in the annals of shopping... At the windows excited crowds collected, shouting, gesticulating. At the centre of each crowd stood a woman, pale, calm and silent."

Wharry was one of the 200 suffragettes were arrested and jailed for taking part in the demonstration. She was found guilty of breaking windows worth £195 and was sentenced to six months in prison. As Holloway Prison was full she was sent to Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. She took part in a hunger strike and was released in July. According to the prison doctor, Wharry was "mentally unstable". However, Elizabeth Crawford argued that "Olive Wharry's prison notebook contains no hint of insanity. It is full of delightful drawings of prison life, along with poems, satirical and amusing."

In July 1912, Christabel Pankhurst began organizing a secret arson campaign. According to Sylvia Pankhurst: "Women, most of them very young, toiled through the night across unfamiliar country, carrying heavy cases of petrol and paraffin. Sometimes they failed, sometimes succeeded in setting fire to an untenanted building - all the better if it were the residence of a notability - or a church, or other place of historic interest." Occasionally they were caught and convicted, usually they escaped. Attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes.

The WSPU began a campaign to destroy the contents of pillar-boxes. By December, the government claimed that over 5,000 letters had been damaged by the WSPU. The main figure in this campaign was May Billinghurst. A fellow suffragette, Lilian Lenton, argued: "She (May Billinghurst) would set out in her chair with many little packages from which, when they were turned upside down, there flowed a dark brown sticky fluid, concealed under the rug which covered her legs. She went undeviatingly from one pillar box to another, sometimes alone, sometimes with another suffragette to do the actual job, dropping a package into each one."

Olive Wharry was one of the young women involved in this arson campaign. Along with Lilian Lenton she embarked on a series of terrorist acts. She was arrested on 19th February 1913, soon after setting fire to the tea pavilion in Kew Gardens. In court it was reported: "The constables gave chase, and just before they caught them each of the women who had separated was seen to throw away a portmanteau. At the station the women gave the names of Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry. In one of the bags which the women threw away were found a hammer, a saw, a bundle to tow, strongly redolent of paraffin and some paper smelling strongly of tar. The other bag was empty, but it had evidently contained inflammables."

On 7th March 1913 she was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months. Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "She was released on 8th April after having been on hunger strike for 32 days, apparently without the prison authorities noticing. His usual weight was 7st 11lbs; when released she weighed 5st 9lbs."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wwharry.htm

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