Cicely Marion Ellis

Ewell's Secret Suffragist

Procession of the religious leagues for women's suffrage, c.1914.
Procession of the religious leagues for women's suffrage, c.1914.
Image Source LSE Library via Flickr

Introduction

As with many articles I have done for this website, surprising people pop up in odd places and tip out from someone else. Cicely Marion Ellis was one such person. She was the daughter of Herbert Moates Ellis, who lived in West Hill for a time, and then Ewell in his later years, and the granddaughter of Caroline Augusta Flora Moates of The Parade, Epsom.

Herbert married his first wife, Marion Elizabeth Corsellis (born 1868 Wandsworth), in 1891 and they had three children, being the aforementioned Cicely (1892 Wimbledon), Edgar Frederick (1895 Wimbledon) and Christopher Herbert Evelyn (1901 Raynes Park). Marion died in 1907 and the following year Herbert married Jane Elizabeth Hamilton (born 1874 Hackney). Herbert and Jane had one child together but he need not concern us here.

Although the Ellis family did not always live in Ewell, they were usually in Surrey somewhere and they could be found in Ewell from at least 1924 (per Kelly's Directory, albeit that Captain Herbert Ellis is wrongly described as Captain Albert Ellis). The address was Ouzelwood, Chessington Road, West Ewell, which, if later clues are anything to go by, was Number 20 or 22 - the one that wasn't Ouzelwood was called Lavender Hedge, presumably because it had one of those. Herbert had bought Garbrand Hall in 1925 but then quickly sold it on to Margaret Glyn, either to make a financial killing or, quite possibly, because his health wasn't up to dealing with it: he had been quite poorly since his sterling service in the First World War (he was a Captain in the Labour Corps, served in France and received the Military Cross). It is said that both he and Jane supported the suffrage cause and Cicely's activities.

Cicely's War

Cicely's part in the First World War came about as a result of Dr Elsie Inglis, a pioneer in Scottish medicine and probably someone many people have never heard of: she was never properly honoured in her own country (although Scotland is just getting round to it, a century after her death, and counting) but very much appreciated elsewhere, particularly in Serbia and France. We all know that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first qualified female doctor in Britain (discounting Margaret Ann Bulkley, who masqueraded as a man for her whole adult life and was known as Dr James Barry), but it is no coincidence that many of the female medical pioneers were also suffragists, for the two things went hand in glove. The male medical establishment, and indeed most parts of the male establishment, did its level best to keep women out, thus fuelling the suffrage movement, but people like Dr Inglis were not the sort who torched houses or went on hunger strike - they promoted women's rights by speech and charitable actions. It's no coincidence either that Dame Millicent Fawcett, who has recently been honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, was a tireless campaigner for women, since she was a younger sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Cicely was a follower of the Fawcett organisation, which advocated peaceful means, but Pankhurst & Co tended to get all the headlines and credit - until now.

Dr Inglis founded the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH); she was already middle-aged when war broke out and wanted to do her bit but, because she was a woman, the War Office sent her away with a rebuff. Undeterred, she set about building up her own organisation, raising funds and obtaining supplies. The first hospital was opened at the Abbaye de Royaumont, under the auspices of the French Red Cross, with surgeon Dr Frances Ivens in charge. Dr Ivens was awarded the Cross of the Légion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre (with palm). It took the British until 1929 just to give her a CBE and that had more to do with her work in British obstetrics and gynaecology than anything else.

Staff of the Scottish Women's Hospital, located in Royaumont during the First World War.
Staff of the Scottish Women's Hospital, located in Royaumont during the First World War.
Image Source Wikimedia

The Scottish Women's Hospital Abbaye de Royaumont
The Scottish Women's Hospital : in the Cloister of the Abbaye at Royaumont.
Dr. Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient.
Painting by Norah Nielsen Gray. Image Source © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3090)

Cicely went out to France as an orderly/auxiliary nurse in 1915 and stayed for more than two years: she was part of a very small Wimbledon contingent headed by Dr Beatrice Ann McGregor. Royaumont and its satellite establishment at Villers-Cotterêts had an excellent record - Wikipedia tells us that, in total, nearly 11,000 patients were treated, with a mortality rate of just 1.82%, which was better than most military hospitals. Royaumont was 40 kilometres from the Western Front, with Villers-Cotterêts even nearer, and casualties from the Somme poured in by the trainload. Gas gangrene was one of the main hazards, but Royaumont had X-rays and bacteriologists and pioneered new treatment techniques.

Hôôpital Auxiliaire d'Armée 301 - Abbaye de Royaumont
Hôpital Auxiliaire d'Armée 301 - Abbaye de Royaumont
Painting by Norah Nielsen Gray. Image Source Wikimedia

After the War

Cicely belonged to the Church League for Women's Suffrage and wrote articles for their publications. One such article, published in May 1920, contained the following passage.
'Imagine the case put thus simply and baldly to young women who are told also that in a Christian State there is no bar whatever to their taking up any position or occupation from a farm labourer to a barrister for which they may be intellectually qualified! The position is grotesque to say the least of it.

There are three courses of action open. Either the young woman may accept without question the teaching of St Paul with regard to women nearly nineteen hundred years ago in the city of Corinth, admit her subordination in function to her brothers solely on the score of sex, and debase her intelligence in order to achieve this feat: or she may in bitterness of spirit reject a point of view which is to her manifestly untrue and in disgust drop out of the Church; or she may occupy the rather uncomfortable and more useful position of a Church member in open revolt against what she considers unjust and harmful not only to her sex but to all church people and the nation at large.'
In 1922 she was involved with a deputation to the Bishop of London, who seems to have been reluctant to implement resolutions from the Lambeth Conference, which were far from earth-shattering to the modern eye, allowing for women to become lay preachers - but only for services other than Holy Communion, Matins etc and then only to congregations of women and children (and it took a further 72 years before females were ordained in the Church of England). She then had a go about children being in prisons and the fact that female prisoners, specifically prostitutes, were not only in there but also dressed in hideous and depressing uniforms. And so it went on. As far as I know, Cicely never chained herself to a railing or committed arson, but she went about the cause in her own way, rather like a woodpecker tapping on a tree. She was clearly a leading light of the Church League for Women's Suffrage, but took a break around 1924 because of a serious illness in the family: reports said that it was her brother but it is more likely to have been her father, since Edgar had already died and Christopher was about to emigrate to Canada. The suffrage fight was over by 1928, although there was still a lot to battle for in other respects (ordination of women being a prime example).

I cannot find much else about Cicely during the later 1920s and 1930s but the 1939 Register is illuminating. Mrs Jane Ellis, now widowed, was at 22 Chessington Road and Cicely was at Number 20, described as a 'foster mother - taking charge of children apart from parents'. Four names at the address are blanked out, which would mean they were young enough still to be alive now, so they would have been children. There was one other adult with Cicely - a Miss Winifred May Kathleen Chapter - and they had been together as far back as 1924, in Hendon.

Epilogue

Cicely and Winifred remained together, the only change being that during or after the war Jane moved back in to Number 20, until she died in 1957 (her address then being 20b). By 1960 Cicely and Winifred had moved to 16 Mount Pleasant, Ewell. Winifred died in 1962 and Cicely in 1977, by which time she had moved to Leatherhead.

Main Sources:

Linda Jackson, 2018