Thursday, 7 January 2016

Susanna Inge: a life after Chartism

Susanna Inge and Mary Ann Walker occupy a walk-on part in numerous histories of Chartism and of women’s involvement in 19th century radical politics.

They were the leading lights in launching the City of London Female Chartists Association, and for a few months their willingness to confront head-on the disapproval and downright misogyny directed against the idea of women’s involvement in politics earned them a certain degree of infamy.

Then, just as suddenly as they made their appearance in the pages of the Northern Star, The Times (which devoted a leader column to its disapproval of them), Punch and a slew of local newspapers fascinated and horrified in equal measure by the “she-chartists”, they disappeared from view.

I have long wondered about their lives outside of Chartism, but when I wrote up what was known about them for Chartist Ancestors a few years ago, was unable to track them down in the public record with any certainty.

Happily, that has now changed.

I recently came across an online discussion about Susanna Inge, posted by descendants of her brother on the Rootschat family history forum.

With this information, I was then able to find Susanna Inge in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and to see what later became of her once her involvement in Chartism came to an end. Which means I have been able to add to the story of Susanna Inge and Mary Ann Walker on Chartist Ancestors.

I am indebted to historians Katrina Navickas and Sarah Wise for their rapid responses to my request for help in working out the entry for Susanna Inge in the 1841 census. That "FS" more than likely means that at that point she was a family servant.

Mary Ann Walker remains a mystery. However, on reading through the Northern Star’s various reports on her speeches, I was struck by a rather over-heated description of Miss Walker’s appearance that I had previously overlooked…

“The body of her dress was partially and becomingly low, displaying a very graceful bust…” (there is more) reads more like a Victorian bodice-ripper than a piece of political reporting and can hardly have been any more acceptable then than it should be now – if, possibly, for different reasons.

I shall continue to keep an eye out for Miss Inge and Miss Walker and update if anything more comes to light.

Read about Susanna Inge, Mary Ann Walker and the City of London Female Chartists Association.

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