Edith Rigby

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Edith Rigby
Edith Rigby (1872-1948).JPG
Rigby in 1900
Born18 October 1872
Died23 July 1950 (1950-07-24) (aged 77)
Education Penrhos College
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s)Charles Rigby

Edith Rigby (née Rayner) (18 October 1872 – 23 July 1950) was an English suffragette and arsonist. She founded a night school in Preston called St Peter's School, aimed at educating women and girls. Later she became a prominent activist, and was incarcerated seven times and committed several acts of arson. She was a contemporary of Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst.

Suffragette member of the Womans Social and Political Union who advocated for womens right to vote

A suffragette was a member of militant women's organisations in the early 20th century who, under the banner "Votes for Women", fought for the right to vote in public elections, known as women's suffrage. The term refers in particular to members of the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women-only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which engaged in direct action and civil disobedience. In 1906, a reporter writing in the Daily Mail coined the term suffragette for the WSPU, from suffragist, to belittle the women advocating women's suffrage. The militants embraced the new name, even adopting it for use as the title of the newspaper published by the WSPU.

A night school is an adult learning school that holds classes in the evening or at night to accommodate people who work during the day. A community college or university may hold night school classes that admit undergraduates.

Christabel Pankhurst suffragette, co-founder of the Womens Social and Political Union

Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst, was a British suffragette born in Manchester, England. A co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), she directed its militant actions from exile in France from 1912 to 1913. In 1914 she supported the war against Germany. After the war she moved to the United States, where she worked as an evangelist for the Second Adventist movement.



Born Edith Rayner on St Luke's Day (18 October) in 1872 in Preston, Lancashire, she was one of seven children of Dr Alexander Clement Rayner and was educated at Penrhos College in North Wales. [1] [2]

Preston, Lancashire city and the administrative centre of Lancashire, England

Preston is a city and the administrative centre of Lancashire, England, on the north bank of the River Ribble.

Rydal Penrhos Independent day and boarding school in Colwyn Bay, Conwy, Wales

Rydal Penrhos School is an independent co-educational boarding school in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. It is the only Methodist school in the independent sector in Wales. It is located on multiple sites around the town with a site in the neighbouring village of Rhos-on-Sea where it keeps its watersports equipment for easy access to the beach.

North Wales unofficial region of Wales, United Kingdom

North Wales is an unofficial region of Wales. Retail, transport and educational infrastructure are centred on Wrexham, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Bangor. It is bordered to the rest of Wales with the counties of Ceredigion and Powys, and to the east by the English counties of Shropshire, Merseyside, and Cheshire. People from North Wales are sometimes referred to as "Gogs", derived from "gogledd" - the Welsh for "north".

She married Dr Charles Rigby and lived with him in Winckley Square in Preston. From an early age she questioned the differences between working-class and middle-class women and after she was married she worked hard to improve the lives of women and girls working in local mills. In 1899, she founded St Peter's School, which allowed these women to meet and continue their education which otherwise would have stopped at the age of 11. [3] [4] At home, she was critical of her neighbours' treatment of their servants. The Rigbys had servants themselves, but allowed them certain unconventional freedoms such as being able to eat in the dining-room and not having to wear uniforms. [5]

Winckley Square

Winckley Square is situated near the centre of Preston, Lancashire, England, at the west end of Avenham.


In 1907 she formed the Preston branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). [6] Rigby was a suffragette recruiter, gathering new members from among the local Independent Labour Party, [7] including Eleanor Higginson,[ citation needed ] who became a lifelong friend. [8] Rigby took part in a march to the Houses of Parliament in London with Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst in 1908. Fifty-seven women, including Rigby, were arrested and sentenced to a month in prison. [4] During this time (and her subsequent sentences, seven in total) Rigby took part in hunger strikes and was subjected to force-feeding. [4] [5] Her activism included planting a bomb in the Liverpool Corn Exchange on 5 July 1913, and although it was later stated in court that ‘no great damage had been done by the explosion’, Mrs Rigby was found guilty and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour. [4] [9] [10]

Womens Social and Political Union British womens organization for suffragism

The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was a women-only political movement and leading militant organisation campaigning for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom from 1903 to 1917. Known from 1906 as the suffragettes, its membership and policies were tightly controlled by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia.

Independent Labour Party UK political party

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a British political party of the left, established in 1893, when the Liberals appeared reluctant to endorse working-class candidates, representing the interests of the majority. A sitting independent MP and prominent union organiser, Keir Hardie, became its first chairman.

Eleanor Higginson Higginson [née Ellis], Eleanor Beatrice (1881–1969), suffragette

Eleanor Beatrice Higginson was a British suffragette.

Rigby had been given a Hunger Strike Medal 'for Valour' by WSPU.

Hunger Strike Medal

The Hunger Strike Medal was a silver medal awarded by the leadership of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) to suffragette prisoners who had gone on hunger strike for not being recognised as political prisoners while serving sentences in the prisons of the United Kingdom. Many women were force-fed.

She also claimed to have set fire to the bungalow of Sir William Lever, Bt (later Lord Leverhulme) on 7 July 1913. [11] [12] The property, near Rivington Pike on the West Pennine Moors, contained a number of valuable paintings and the attack resulted in damage costing £20,000. [9] Afterwards she said:

William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme English industrialist, philanthropist, and politician

William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme was an English industrialist, philanthropist, and politician. Having been educated at a small private school until the age of nine, then at church schools until he was fifteen; a somewhat privileged education for that time, he started work at his father's wholesale grocery business in Bolton. Following an apprenticeship and a series of appointments in the family business, which he successfully expanded, he began manufacturing Sunlight Soap, building a substantial business empire with many well-known brands such as Lux and Lifebuoy. In 1886, together with his brother, James, he established Lever Brothers, which was one of the first companies to manufacture soap from vegetable oils, and which is now part of the Anglo-Dutch transnational business Unilever. In politics, Lever briefly sat as a Liberal MP for Wirral and later, as Lord Leverhulme, in the House of Lords as a Peer. He was an advocate for expansion of the British Empire, particularly in Africa and Asia, which supplied palm oil, a key ingredient in Lever's product line.

Rivington Pike mountain in United Kingdom

Rivington Pike is a hill on Winter Hill, part of the West Pennine Moors, overlooking the village of Rivington in Lancashire, England. The nearest towns are Adlington and Horwich. The Pike Tower is a prominent local landmark and is located at the summit, the area is popular with hill walkers and for mountain biking.

West Pennine Moors

The West Pennine Moors is an area of the Pennines covering approximately 90 square miles (230 km2) of moorland and reservoirs in Lancashire and Greater Manchester, England.

I want to ask Sir William Lever whether he thinks his property on Rivington Pike is more valuable as one of his superfluous houses occasionally opened to people, or as a beacon lighted to King and Country to see here are some intolerable grievances for women. [5]

Rigby disagreed with the WSPU's decision not to campaign on suffrage issues during World War I. She joined the Independent Women's Social and Political Union split, forming a branch in Preston. [13]

Later life

Edith Rigby plaque in Winckley Square, Preston, featuring incorrect year of death Edith Rigby 1872 - 1948 - Suffragette.jpg
Edith Rigby plaque in Winckley Square, Preston, featuring incorrect year of death

According to Elizabeth Ashworth in Champion Lancastrians, in 1888, Rigby was the first woman in Preston to own a bicycle. [4] During World War I, she bought a cottage near Preston named Marigold Cottage and used it to produce food for the war effort. [5] With short hair and wearing men's clothes, she grew fruit and vegetables and kept animals and bees, following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. [4] She had a happy marriage with her husband, who lived with her at her cottage. [4] They adopted a son called Sandy. [4] In the 1920s, Rigby was a founding member and the president of the Hutton and Howick Women's Institute. [5]

In 1926, Charles Rigby retired and the couple built a new house, called Erdmuth, outside Llanrhos, North Wales. Charles died before it was finished, however, and Edith moved there alone at the end of 1926. [14] [4] [8] She continued to follow Steiner's work, forming an "Anthroposophical Circle" of her own, and visiting one of his schools in New York. [4] Into old age she enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, bathing in the sea, fell walking and meditating in the early hours of every morning. [4] She eventually suffered from Parkinson's disease and died in 1950 at Erdmuth. [14] [4]

See also

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  1. Crawford, Elizabeth (2001). The Women's Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, 1866–1928. Routledge. pp. 598–599. ISBN   0-415-23926-5.
  2. Hesketh, Phoebe (1992). My Aunt Edith, The Story of a Preston Suffragette. Preston: Lancashire County Books. pp. 1–13. ISBN   1-871236-12-6.
  3. Roberts, Marian. "Biography of Mrs Edith Rigby". WinckleySquare.org.uk. Retrieved 31 May 2007.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Ashworth, Elizabeth (2006). Champion Lancastrians. Sigma Leisure. pp. 79–82. ISBN   1-85058-833-3.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Oldfield, Sybil (1994). This Working-day World: women's lives and culture(s) in Britain, 1914–1945. Taylor & Francis. p. 29. ISBN   0-7484-0108-3.
  6. "Avenham Walks – Stop 7 – Edith Rigby". Avenham Walks. Archived from the original on 8 February 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2007.
  7. Atkinson, Diane (2018). Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. Bloomsbury. ISBN   9781408844069.
  8. 1 2 3 Gilroy Wilkinson, Peter. "Edith Rigby: the later years" (PDF). Prestonhistoricalsociety.org.uk. Preston Historical Society. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  9. 1 2 Mrs Rigby committed to trial, The Times, 18 July 1913, page 14, column c.
  10. ‘The Explosion At Liverpool Exchange’, The Times, 31 July 1913, p. 8.
  11. "A Desperate Woman. Suffragette Confesses to Deeds of Violence, Says She Fired Sir W. Lever's Bungalow". The Nottingham Evening Post. 10 July 1913. p. 5. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  12. Rivington Bungalow Fire, Confession by a Doctor’s Wife’, Bolton Evening News, 13 July 1913, p. 4
  13. Smith, Harold L. (2009). The British Women's Suffrage Campaign 1866-1928. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN   978-1408228234.
  14. 1 2 Brown, Heloise. "Rigby [née Rayner], Edith". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50080.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)