This week in honor of the impending Thanksgiving feast, we’re talking about food found on our character’s table. Victoria Darling, my protagonist in a A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, is British, but she’s no stranger to feasting. Last year, I wrote about how her fellow Edwardians ate, so this year I wanted to talk about how her fellow suffragettes ate. It sounds funny that suffragettes would eat differently than the general population, but they did—a great number were vegetarians.
Famous veggies among the suffragette ranks included Charlotte Despard, Agnes Leonard, Florence Haig, Charlotte Marsh, Dr. Helen Wilson, Grace Roe, and Marion Wallace Dunlop (the first hunger striker), the Tollemaches (who were suspected arsonists), and Leonora Cohen (who broke the class case holding the Crown Jewels).
Why so many suffragettes chose vegetarianism might have been a sign of the times. The vegetarian movement was very trendy in the late nineteenth century, and it was thought that meat caused disease. Animal welfare was on the rise with many people turning against meat eating, hunting, vivisection, and the wearing of fur and feathers (Murderous Millinery). Therefore many women were already vegetarians before they turned suffragettes. But there was also a practical reason. In 1907, suffragette Margaret Cousins stated that women should switch to a simple grain, fruit, and nut diet in order to save time preparing meat-based meals. Cousins wanted to help women become free in every way “for in the present absurd housekeeping arrangements a woman truly has no time to think, and if she should get an hour or rest and quiet, she is physically so used up that she has no desire to worry her mind with intellectual and social problems.”
Suffragette Maud Joachim wrote in her book My Life in Holloway Gaol (1908): “It is a strange fact that the ranks of the militant suffragettes are mostly recruited from the mild vegetarians, and the authorities have allowed us a special vegetarian diet.”
The prison choice Joachim referred to included two “jacket” potatoes, an egg, and cauliflower or other vegetable. So foul was the meat choice that militant suffragettes, who’d been incarcerated before, advised prisoners to choose the vegetarian option. Lady Constance Lytton, a staunch vegetarian, was horrified when she learned she was force-fed Bovril, a meat extract.
Lectures on the ethics of vegetarianism and cooking demos were offered at several suffrage branches, especially with the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The WFL opened veggie restaurants throughout London during World War I. In the Edwardian era there were 34 vegetarian restaurants in London. Because no alcohol was served, many suffragettes could gather safely at such restaurants and discuss tactics. A popular vegetarian restaurant with suffragettes was the Eustace Miles Restaurant, on 40 Chandos Street, in Covent Garden. Sylvia Pankhurst loved this restaurant, and suffragettes leaving prison would have their first meal there. Popular choices at Eustace Miles included cauliflower au gratin, cheese fritters, French bean omelet, postponed mushroom pie (a mock steak and ale pie), and vegetable soup. You can read all about Mr. Miles’ menu in his book: MUSCLE, BRAIN, AND DIET: A PLEA FOR SIMPLER FOODS available on Google Books.