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Emma Sproson

Emma Sproson c.1921

A key player in the suffragette movement and women's rights in Wolverhampton was Emma Lloyd Sproson, also known as Red Emma.

It is believed that her interest in politics stemmed from attending a political meeting at which she asked Lord Curzon a question. He refused to answer because the question had been asked by a woman who did not have the vote.

Emma joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1895, she met Frank Sproson, the local party secretary, whom she married in 1896. Frank was supportive of the movement for women’ suffrage.

Frank, as secretary of the ILP, invited Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst to speak in Wolverhampton. The Pankhursts stayed with the Sprosons in Hordern Road. Emma was invited to take part in a suffragette march to Parliament Square, London in February 1907. Emma joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), shortly after this visit and began a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers.

At the demonstration, more than 700 suffragettes made two attempts to force entry into the Houses of Parliament. Mounted police were called out to deal with the riot. Subsequently, Emma was arrested, along with 66 other women and served 14 days in Holloway Prison. After her release Emma went on a WSPU speaking tour of the Black Country.

Emma Sproson and another Wolverhampton suffragette, including Mrs Elizabeth Price, were arrested in a further protest at the House of Commons on 18th March 1907. By the time of her second arrest, anti-suffragette sentiments were widespread and the public attitude to Emma was aggressive on her return to Wolverhampton, traditionally a Liberal stronghold.

When the activities of the suffragettes were temporarily halted with the advent of war in 1914, Emma devoted her time to the ILP and social welfare work. With the end of the First World War, Parliament finally granted some women the right to vote. Every man aged over 21 could now vote, but women had to be aged over 30 and be either a householder, married to a householder or paying £5 a year in rent. It was not until 1928 that all women aged over 21 were given the right to vote.

Women were now also allowed to stand as councillors on their local council. Emma stood as Labour candidate for Park Ward in 1919 and 1920 but lost on both occasions. Finally, in 1921 she stood for and won the Dunstall Ward, becoming Wolverhampton's first female councillor.

On receiving the news of victory she waved a red flag from the Town Hall balcony – earning the nickname 'Red Emma'! During her years with Wolverhampton Borough Council, Emma was very outspoken about abuse and malpractices. She was thrown off the Health Committee for publicly denouncing corruption involving the Borough Fever Hospital that stood in Heath Town.

Emma was also involved with several committees concerned with the care of the 'blind, distressed and mentally ill, as well as child welfare and maternity rights. Following disagreements with the Labour Party in 1927, Emma stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Socialist candidate. Although she remained in the ILP this was effectively the end of her active political life.

Emma Sproson died on 22nd December 1936.