Remembering the suffragettes
You’d think emotions would make it difficult to give away a family heirloom.
Kathy Bromby says, not so much.
She’s parting with a cedar table that once belonged to her grandmother, suffragist Gladys Morrell.
“I’m ready to kiss the table goodbye,” said the 60-year-old.
“It is something I was a bit sentimental about, but when you get older you have to downsize. You don’t need things as much.”
In the 1930s, the table was frequently seized by authorities as Mrs Morrell refused to pay property taxes because women weren’t allowed to vote. Friends would then buy the piece of furniture at auction, and return it to her.
Now, it’s on the block again at the Bermuda National Trust Jumble and Auction Sale.
Ms Bromby said it was similar to a larger dining table at the Verdmont Museum in Smith’s.
“It has beautiful spindles and twirls,” she said.
She laughed at the suggestion that someone might buy it and give it back to her, as they did in her grandmother’s day.
“No, I just hope it finds a good home,” she said.
She is deeply proud of her grandmother’s work in the 1920s and 1930s to get Bermudian women the vote.
“I never go to vote without thinking of my grandmother,” said Ms Bromby, whose late mother Rachel Bromby was Mrs Morrell’s only child. “It is something I never take for granted. Everyone should vote. If you don’t, you can’t complain about how things turn out.”
She remembered her grandmother, who died in 1968, as “wonderful”.
“She died when I was 12, so I have a child’s memories of her. She held awesome parties. I remember having to pass out bits at her parties.”
She also remembers having to help polish beforehand.
“After that, I always vowed I’d never have silver,” she laughed.
Mrs Morrell went to Bermuda High School in the early 1900s before going to England to further her studies.
She wanted to become a lawyer, but women couldn’t do so until 1919. She studied English at London University instead, becoming one of the first Bermudian women to obtain a university degree.
In 1913, she joined the suffragette cause, helping to organise a women’s rights pilgrimage in the UK through Cornwall.
When the First World War broke out, she went to Verdun, France to hand out aid to wounded soldiers.
In 1923 she returned to Bermuda, and began vigorously campaigning for the vote.
Five years later, she married retired British Navy officer Lt Commander John Sinclair Morrell.
“She had a supportive husband,” said Ms Bromby. “There were a lot of women whose husbands weren’t supportive at the time.
“They were often embarrassed and would pay the taxes themselves. My grandfather offered to pay the taxes for her, but she said no. She’d handle things in her own way.
“The police would call up and say they were coming to seize her furniture to pay her taxes. Her friends would come over and she’d dish out the money for them to buy it back.”
Women in Bermuda finally got the vote in 1944.
The National Trust Auction takes place in the Jack King Building at the Botanical Gardens tomorrow, from 10am-6pm.
A preview of items can be seen today between 8.30am and 2.30pm.
For more information see www.bnt.bm.
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