Elspeth Douglas McClelland (1879–1920) was an architect and a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) also known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement. In the late 1800’s women did not have the right to vote in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. The goal of the Suffrage Movement was to win the right to vote for woman using peaceful, and at times, even violent means.
Elspeth is most notorious for her creative efforts to grab attention during Suffrage. In 1909, after unsuccessfully trying to schedule a meeting with the Prime Minister of England, Elspeth, and fellow activist Daisy Solomon, mailed themselves to him. The postal service guidelines had been severely eased to allow people to be “mailed” by express courier. Elspeth and her companion leveraged these new rules to secure a covert audience with the Prime Minister.
Elspeth and Daisy were addressed to “The Right Hon H. H. Asquith, 10 Downing Street, SW” (London). The stamp for this journey cost only 3 cents at the time. A.S. Palmer, a postal boy, transferred the pair to Downing Street, where on-duty police officers permitted them through to number 10. However, a government official arrived and protested the delivery. The official told the delivery boy that the pair cannot be presented and must be returned to sender – “these are dead letters”.
Elspeth and Daisy were taken back to the office of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The delivery arrived at the office of the Prime Minister as planned and the public relations stunt won even greater attention for their cause. An image of this eventful day is in the British museum and the Prime Minister is said to have been “amused” by the occasion.
Based on the efforts of activists like Elspeth, woman made steady progress and won the right to vote in the British colony of New Zealand in 1893. Australia granted this right to non-Aboriginal woman in 1902. Voting rights were extended to woman in most western powers after the First World War. In particular, Canada (1917), Britain and Germany (1918), Austria, the Netherlands (1919) and the United States (1920). It is hard to imagine, but the mail also had a role in this process.
On Thanksgiving we want to say thank you to ALL who have fought so hard for the rights and liberties that we all enjoy today!
Daisy Solomon and Elspeth McClelland with a post boy, police and an
official outside 10 Downing Street, attempting to get themselves delivered as letters
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