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Ethel Froud suffragette & NUWT secretary

2012 March 16
Ethel Froud

Ethel Froud

This is a summary of my entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography I also discuss her in my Deeds not Words


Ethel Elizabeth Froud  (1880-1941), feminist and trade unionist,and general secretary of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) was born in Loose, Maidstone, Kent, and became a teacher in the West Ham borough of east London. She campaigned unsuccessfully inside the National Union of Teachers (NUT) locally and nationally for the union to support votes for women. She was a speaker for the Women Teachers’ Franchise Union and a member of its committee between 1915 and 1917. Having also joined the feminist National Federation of Women Teachers, then a ginger group inside the NUT, she became its honorary secretary in 1913. In 1917 she resigned her teaching post and became the first full-time salaried secretary of the federation. She helped to lead the breakaway of the federation from the NUT and to establish the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) as a feminist autonomous union.

Ethel Froud was a militant suffragist in the WSPU and a member of the fife and drum band, led by drum major Mary Leigh. She can be seen in photos of the band in photographs taken by Mrs Broom, kept at the National Portrait Gallery.  She spoke for the suffrage at meetings and on one occasion was protected by railway officials from the fury of a mob by being locked into a waiting room until her train arrived. She was a ‘brilliant platform speaker’ and addressed demonstrations of teachers campaigning for equal pay in Trafalgar Square on several occasions. She was also a good organizer and skilled at creating harmony and a sense of unified purpose within the NUWT, which she represented in many joint campaigns with other feminist groups (particularly the Six Point Group and the Open Door Council) during the 1920s. She was the vice-chair of the Equal Political Rights Campaign committee; she spoke in this capacity at the Trafalgar Square demonstration for equal suffrage in July 1927 and led the last deputation to the prime minister on the full franchise for women under thirty. She represented the NUWT at meetings of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in Paris in May 1926.

Ethel stood unsuccessfully for St Pancras borough council in November 1925 on the Labour Party platform since she believed that women should take more part in public affairs. The slogan of her election campaign was ‘deeds not words’, the slogan of the WSPU. She was a member of the Teachers’ Labour League, although very critical of its equivocation over equal pay, and was part of a delegation organized by the league to investigate the state of education in the Soviet Union in 1926 calling her visit ‘One of the most interesting experiences in my life’.

Ethel Froud never married. She seemed to be happy with this position , writing that ‘we can’t have it said that we celibates are only some fraction of a human being’. On her retirement in 1940 she moved to the Sussex Downs, naming her house in Saltdean Rhondhurst after the militant suffrage leaders Viscountess Rhondda and Emmeline Pankhurst.

Ethel Froud believed that hard work brought its own rewards, having the following inscription in stained glass in her office at the NUWT headquarters: ‘The dreams of those that labour are the only ones that ever come true’

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Paul Booth permalink
    June 11, 2014

    Hello Hilda, Just wanted to say thank you for the article. I am currently doing my family history and investigating my Great Grandmothers family. Seems that Ethel is my Great Grand Aunt, and up until today I didn’t know anything about her.


    Paul Booth

    • Hilda Kean permalink
      June 11, 2014

      Hi Paul Your great grand aunt was a pretty amazing woman! You are also lucky as a family historian since there are lots of records of her life and work – and images. You will find loads of interesting material in the NUWT archive in the Institute of Education in London. I used it extensively for my book on suffrage teachers Deeds not Words that discusses her more fully. I will also send you some other bits I have. You should check out a photo of her in the WSPU fife and drum band (I kid you not) in a small photo book Mrs Broom’s Suffrage Photographs.

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