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Sophia Strangways

Tree planted by Sophia Strangways

Early Life

Sophia Georgina Strangways,  was from a wealthy Somerset family and her father was an Australian politician.

Henry Bull Temple Strangways, who was Premier of South Australia. Born in Somerset, Henry qualified as a lawyer in London and moved to Adelaide, Australia, becoming Attorney-General and Premier before returning to Somerset in 1871, settling on his family estates and acting as a Justice of the Peace, until his death in 1920.  He was married to Maria Wrigley in 1861. Press in Australia described him as a 'progressive politician, a clear thinker and a man of fine judgement'. The town of Strangways, Lake Strangways and the Strangways river are named for him. Sophia appears to have held her father in affection, writing letters about his legacy to the Australian press.

Sophia had at least one sister, Cordelia.

Activism

Sophia gave evidence for the WSPU in the 1913 trial of the suffragette leadership following the window breaking campaign in March 1912. Her testimony is cagey, and gives an insight into the attitude of an Establishment supporter of Votes for Women. She said that she had first begun to think about suffrage for women when some of her friends were imprisoned for standing on the corner of a square.

She testified that she had not committed a militant act, and denied being a member of the WSPU, but admitted she had supported the organisation financially. However, she claimed that this was to steer the organisation away from militancy. 'Money had more effect on people than anything else.' She also said that she believed the firing of houses was done by anti-suffragists. 

Sophia wrote several letters to the press on the issue of women's suffrage. On 2 July 1912, she wrote a letter which was published in the Wells Journal, recalling her present at a demonstration in the House of Commons. Paraphrasing Joseph Chamberlain, she asked 'Why should women always take everything lying down?' She concluded that militant acts were necessary to get the attention of men: 'Immediately after the sound of broken glass, every woman had a member to speak to.' Her address at this point was the Manor, Shapwick. 

Sophia also gave evidence for the WSPU in the 1913 trial of the suffragette leadership following the window breaking campaign in March 1912. Her testimony is cagey. She said that she had not committed a militant act, and denied being a member of the WSPU, but admitted she had supported the organisation financially. However, she claimed that this was to steer the organisation away from militancy. 'Money had more effect on people than anything else.' She also said that she believed the firing of houses was done by anti-suffragists. 

Sophia also wrote to the Australian press on legislation on trafficking in women – then called the white slave trade. In this letter, she compares the reluctance of male MPs to endorse flogging for traffickers with the treatment of suffragettes in gaol.

One reader of the Globe newspaper, in 1913, took issue with Sophia's definition of a classical phrase in a letter to the newspaper. He explained that Maenades did not mean 'follower of Bacchus', but 'mad women'. The correspondent continued 'Hence its peculiar appropriateness to the militant suffragettes.' 

Sophia was, according to the Bridgwater Mercury a member of the WSPU in 1914 and wrote the local newspaper to inform them of the WSPU cessation of violence. 

Sophia planted a holly tree (Ilex Aquifolium) on 30 April 1910. The plaque has survived and is in the Roman Baths museum in Bath.

Later Life

In 1917, Sophia donated a pound to the 'Victory Fund'. In 1920, she wrote again to the Globe, protesting that the Mayor of Cork (the Sinn Fein activist Terence MacSwiney who had died on hunger strike) had been given a 'state funeral' and recommending that a roll of honour be published of police officers who 'gave their lives in the service of Empire.

In 1929, the Daily Herald's columnist 'Gadfly' published a satirical article poking fun at Sophia's staunchly conservative views. Appealing to Somerset women voters, Sophia, it seems, has been urging them not to vote Labour, as that party was 'under orders from Moscow' to 'smash the British Empire.'  Sophia declared she would vote Conservative because she was not 'mentally deficient.' 

Sophia died on 18 July 1932 – there is a memorial to her in the Blessed Virgin Mary churchyard in Shapwick, Somerset. She was lay rector of the village. 

Quote

“Breaking something seems to be the only language which appeals to the majority of men." Sophia Strangways, Wells Journal, 11 July 1912.