Emma Sproson & the 1911 census

Suffragette organisations urged women to boycott the census of 1911. Many did. Some inscribed their schedule with words of protest while others evaded the census enumerator so that they couldn’t be counted. Emma’s own account of April 2nd 1911 does not match her census return however and we must keep an open mind about this part of the archive. She recalls in her memoirs:

‘when the census was taken, it was not a true census owing to our policy. We decided that as women did not count in the state, they should not be counted. We packed numbers of women in place where they would not be counted… and in my own case after my husband had filled up the paper I took it out of the envelope and cut out all the females that slept in our house that night; in due course the collector called for the form. I handed him the paper and he took it out of the envelope, after looking at it he said with amazement ‘what does this mean?’ ‘I have nothing to say on the matter’ I said ‘except that as women do not count in the state I do not see why they should be counted. Good day’, and closed the door… This was a serious breach of the law’.

However, Emma’s census return shows that she and Frank complied. It is perplexing as to why Emma wrote that she had cut out sections of the census return. Although Emma was extremely politically engaged from an early age, and prepared to go to prison, perhaps she wasn’t as extreme in her actions as her fellow campaigners. Jill Liddington suggests in Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and the Battle for the Census (Manchester University Press, 2014, p. 188) that Emma may have misremembered it or that it was wishful thinking, but perhaps more convincing is Liddington’s suggestion that the Sprosons’ Independent Labour Party preference for adult suffrage possibly influenced their behaviour.

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