Sometimes those who have played a significant and arguably pivotal role in changing our society can be somewhat overlooked and their contribution may become undervalued and overshadowed by others. When we think of the struggle for British female suffrage one immediately thinks of the Pankhursts and the Women's Social and Political Union personified by the term Suffragettes but it could be argued that of equal and perhaps more significance were members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies led by Millicent Fawcett known as Suffragists. President of this organisation for many years who used her considerable political and organisational skills together with her family connections was the aristocratic Lady Francis Balfour the subject of this well researched., thorough but readable biography by Joan B Huffman.
Born into the aristocratic Campbell family, her father was the Liberal politician and Scottish peer George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Sutherland-Leveson-Gower (eldest daughter of the 2nd Duke of Sutherland) Francis was always perceived as the cleverest of the Duke's numerous children. By marrying Eustace Balfour she became the brother in law of Arthur Balfour a future Conservative Party prime minister. In addition Eustace's uncle Lord Salisbury was also a three term Conservative Party prime minister. Francis's two great passions were politics spending many hours in the public gallery at the House of Commons and religion with her devotion to the Church of Scotland. The biography charts her remarkable life with her myriad acts of service including being President of the Travellers Aid Society and the foundation of the Lyceum Club for women. She would now be known as a political insider at a time when women of her class were expected not to get involved. Francis was able to use her contacts to pursue her chosen causes.
The author expertly charts us through the somewhat complicated political scene at that time with Liberal, Liberal Unionist and National Liberal party candidates being evidenced and the fissures that emerged regarding Irish home rule and free trade, Francis is best described as a Unionist Whig, conservative by inclination but possessing a belief in free trade and against collectivism with an over riding belief in maintaining the union which at that time was focused on preventing home rule for Ireland. The somewhat at times abrasive personality of Francis is explored together with the relationships she had with other family members. There is a section containing photographs that assist us with the narrative.
How Francis would have fared in the modern world is of course just a matter of speculation but with the unexpected emergence of Scottish conservatism as the principal opponent of nationalism then there would be no doubt that she would have relished being at the forefront of the debate regarding preserving the union. I really liked this biography and as I live in the Lothians I was thinking of visiting Whittingehame House but sadly this has been converted into apartments and is no longer open to the public. If you like biographies, interested in British politics or history then I would recommend this book to you.
by G Heard (via NetGalley)