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A Prisoner’s Speech

July 1914 — Knightsbridge Hall, High Road, London, UK


It almost seemed to me as I lay in prison, and during the week when I lay in bed, after my release, that speeches, whether inciting or not, should now be done wy with. I was so fr in agreement with the Government who have imprisoned General Drummond and myself for making speeches, because it seemed to me that we required no more words, and that deeds are the jewels in our crown.

Now, I would say a word or two about incitement. You know that the charge upon which the General and I were tried was incitement. But it is not we who incite. it is the Government. It always has been the Government, and it always will be the Government. Look back upon the career of this Union. See the little deeds to which women were incited growing more and more, until to-day two thousand police are bidden out to stop a handful of women presenting a petition to the King. I speak in ironical terms when I say “handful.” That is what some of the newspapers say. The whole point is the irony of the thing. If we are a handful, think of the power there is in that handful. I never remember such a scene outside the monarch’s palace in this country. Most of us have lived in the reigns of three monarchs, and nothing of this kind has ever happened. 

I heard an official at Scotland Yard, holding a high position there, speaking to a friend the other day, and comparing our movement to the Fenian movement. But I can tell him wherein it is more powerful than the Fenian movement. Those men never brought the law into disrepute. They would go into the courts and listen to the rubbish talked by the prejudiced judge; listen to the verdict given by the packed jury, and then serve their sentences.

I am not in the least disparaging these men. I only want to point out to the Government spies, who may be present this afternoon, that there has never been anything like this Movement, and that the Government cannot crush it. To those of you present in this hall to-day, who are the spies of the Government, I say to you, go tell your masters what you have heard.

I want also to couple my praises for my colleague, Miss Grace Roe, with those of the Chairman. I have been in close touch with her since the last raid, and I want to pay tribute to her. If one is to be picked out of the galaxy of gems in this wonderful Union, I think, during the last year, the name of Grace Roe stands very prominent.

I could tell you things which perhaps none of you know, because I, being constantly with her, have seen it, how perhaps for some days she would have no food at all, working till two and three in the morning, and many times all night; going about her duties always with a light heart, always with her eyes fixed on the one thing, inspiring us who were fortunate enough to work under her. I wish I could convey to you what this great woman has been to us during that time.

I want to say that her trial and her fight is in keeping with all that she has shown us in the last year. I remember her saying to me, “I am not going to rely upon speaking when I go into the dock. I am no speaker, but I shall take other ways.” And yet you see she was given a voice and words, eloquent words, to make her fight, and to bring that Court into disrepute and ridicule.

Now, I want to tell you a little of my prison experience. They are amusing and were interesting to me. I adopted the course of refusing to undress, or wash, or eat, or drink, or do anything except that which I wished to do; and I lay upon my bed in my clothes from the moment I was taken there.

Then I had a visit from the chaplain. I had not seen him before. He said “Good morning, Mrs Fox!” I said, “You hypocrite! and you torturer! You disgrace the Master you represent. Get out of my cell!” I never say him again. And then I saw two doctors, and eery time they came in I told them the same thing, that they were torturers and ruffians, and if they did not get out of my cell I would get up and strike them.

When they took my fingerprints I smashed every window in my cell with that useful implement — the heel of my boot. Everything smashable was smashed. Then the Governor came in, and he said, “Norah Dacre Fox, you are reported for doing this, that, and the other, and you will now be sentenced to seven days’ close confinement and bread and water diet.” as I was already in close confinement and was eating nothing at all, this was preposterous. That was the last I saw of the Governor until I was going away. These were my tactics in prison, and you know that I was eventually released. 

I had gone into prison for the first time, knowing nothing of it. I shall ever forget the atmosphere of the place. For us Suffragettes, what does it matter! wherever we are our surroundings touch us not at all; but it was the other women; the ordinary prisoners; it was the way those women are spoken to. It was the look in the eyes of the prisoner who came to wait in my cell — that frightened, hunted look! 

Here in the 20th century men can still conceive that this is civilisation and they are prepared to go on with the present system, which no words can describe. Whoever gets into that prison, perhaps people not all bad, are likely to be turned out dangerous criminals. 

So far as I am concerned, I remember the words of Ernest Jones the Chartist. He said, “I went into prison a Chartist. I cam out a revolutionary. I went into prison a Militant Suffragette. I cam out fifty militants rolled into one. 

I learnt a verse out of the Bible when I was in prison, which I am going to repeat to you this afternoon. St Paul says to the Romans: “I am persuaded that neither life nor death, neither angels nor powers, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, can separate us from that which we believe to be right.”



Source: The Suffragette, 10 July, 1914.