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Call for public’s help to piece together life of Norfolk suffragette Caprina Fahey

PUBLISHED: 14:48 02 November 2017

Suffragette Caprina Fahey's Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) medal, which is in Norfolk Museum Service’s collection. It is inscribed ‘for valour’ and dated March 14, 1914 and May 21, 1914. The medal may have been awarded in recognition of the prison sentence she served at HM Prison Holloway and for the hunger strike she took part in. Photo: Norfolk Museum Service.

Suffragette Caprina Fahey's Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) medal, which is in Norfolk Museum Service’s collection. It is inscribed ‘for valour’ and dated March 14, 1914 and May 21, 1914. The medal may have been awarded in recognition of the prison sentence she served at HM Prison Holloway and for the hunger strike she took part in. Photo: Norfolk Museum Service.

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She was thrown in prison twice and took part in a hunger strike because she believed so passionately in women’s rights.

But there are still large gaps in what has been pieced together about the extraordinary life of Norfolk suffragette Caprina Fahey.

Silhouette of a woman. Picture: Wikimedia Silhouette of a woman. Picture: Wikimedia

And now Norfolk Museums Service is appealing for the public to help shed some light on her life ahead of an exhibition next year.

The service has nominated Caprina for a project which recognises ordinary women who did extraordinary things to win the vote for women and then used their political voice to improve things in their communities. The project is organised by the Women’s Local Government Society and marks 100 years of Suffrage Pioneers, from 1918-2018.

Museums staff have been researching the life of Caprina and have been working with staff at Norfolk Record Office to get more information about her. Now they are appealing for people who may be related to Caprina, or hold any memorabilia relating to her life in their private collection, to get in touch.

Caprina was an active campaigner for women’s suffrage and joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1908. In 1910 she was the WSPU organiser for the Middlesex Parliamentary Division and in 1913 she was one of the ‘group captains’ at the funeral of Emily Wilding Davison.

Emily Wilding Davidson. Picture: Wikimedia Emily Wilding Davidson. Picture: Wikimedia

In 1909 Caprina was arrested and imprisoned for a month for taking part in the deputation from the Women’s Parliament in Caxton Hall to the Houses of Parliament. The following year she took part in the Black Friday incident in November and was sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment for stone throwing.

While Caprina’s WSPU medal is in Norfolk Museum Service’s collection, a notable omission is a photograph of the woman herself.

The medal is inscribed ‘for valour’ and dated March 14, 1914 and May 21, 1914. The medal may have been awarded in recognition of the prison sentence she served at HM Prison Holloway and for the hunger strike she took part in.

The medal was donated by Caprina’s second husband Edward Knight, following her death in 1959. She had settled in Norfolk with Edward and was buried in Hainford.

Margaret Dewsbury, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said: “Caprina divorced her husband and brought up her son alone, which was very unusual at the time. That, plus her political activities, indicate that she was an independent, strong and principled woman. She is associated with other local suffrage activists, some of whom are also represented in our museum collections.”

Norfolk County Council’s deputy leader Alison Thomas said: “This is Norfolk’s opportunity to highlight the great work of a lady who settled in Norfolk and fought for the rights of women everyone. We are really keen to find out more about her life and are appealing to the public to let us know any information they have about her.

“Caprina Fahey is not a household name but she was clearly very active in the women’s suffrage movement and must have made huge sacrifices for the cause. We’re really interested to know more details about what she did with the WSPU as we don’t have a great deal of first hand information.”

Norfolk Museums Service is planning to have a display of items related to the suffragette movement next Spring. Staff will also link other events next year at a number of its museums to the Suffragette’s Movement, including its Fashion and Passion event in the Spring being themed around 1918 Textiles Takeover: Dress to Protest.

If anyone has any further detail about the life of Caprina Fahey, or if they own any items that belonged to her, please get in touch with Andy Bowen. Email andrew.bowen@norfolk.gov.uk or call 01603 493655.

Facts Norfolk Museums Service already know about Caprina Fahey:

• She was born in 1883 in Italy and died in 1959 in the Norfolk village of Hainford, near Norwich.

• Her given first name was Charlotte and she was one of five children.

• Her father Alfred Gilbert was a sculptor whose work included the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus.

• Her mother Alice Gilbert was Alfred’s cousin and they eloped to Paris.

• Alfred filed for bankruptcy in 1901. He and Alice separated but never divorced.

• Caprina was left out of her father’s will.

• Caprina married Alfred Edward Fahey and gave birth to Dennis Mountiford Fahey in 1905. Shortly afterwards she sued Alfred for adultery and desertion and she was awarded custody of Dennis.

• Dennis Fahey died in Brighton, aged 35.

• Caprina lived at various London addresses.

• Her second husband was called Edward Knight and they lived in Norfolk.

• Caprina was buried in Hainford, Norfolk.

Other notable suffragettes:

Caprina Fahey is associated with other local suffrage activists, some of whom are also represented in Norfolk Museum Service collections.

Among them are Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh from Thetford, who was also involved in the Black Friday incident.

Other notable suffragettes include Grace Marcon, of Edgfield, near Holt, who was imprisoned in Holloway women’s prison in 1913 and 1914 for taking action – once by attacking paintings in the National Gallery, and suffragette arsonist Miriam Pratt, who was born in Surrey but later moved to Norwich.

Norfolk Museums Service is planning to have a display of items related to the suffragette movement next spring.

Staff will also link other events next year at a number of its museums to the Suffragette’s Movement, including its Fashion and Passion event in the Spring being themed around 1918 Textiles Takeover: Dress to Protest.

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