Mary Blathwayt, the daughter of Colonel Linley Blathwayt, a retired army officer, and Emily Blathwayt, was born in 1879. Her father was an officer in the British Indian Army and served in India for many years. Blathwayt retired from the army and in 1882 he purchased Eagle House near Batheaston, a large house set in four acres of land.
Linley Blathwayt was a supporter of the Liberal Party. Mary and her mother also held progressive political views and were both advocates of women's suffrage. Mary and her mother devoted much of their time to teaching music to village children.
According to B. M. Willmott Dobbie, the author of A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset (1979): "Mary led the sheltered life of an upper middle-class daughter at home, paying and receiving calls, helping with charitable events in the village, working in the garden and tending her hens, for whom she had an especial fondness, taking an active part in the Avon Vale Musical Society, giving violin lessons to village boys, who invariably disappointed her.... There were cycle rides with girl friends, and tours with her brother William, whom they always stayed in Temperance Hotels."
In July 1906 she sent a donation of 3 shillings to Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Her mother and father also supported the Women's Suffrage bill being discussed in the House of Commons. In March 1907 Emily Blathwayt wrote: "Women's Suffrage bill brought in by private member and government allowed it to be talked out. The Liberals do not keep their pledges. The Women's Union beg all to turn against Liberals and think only of the one Cause. Linley is much in favour of women having the vote, he thinks they would do much more good than harm."
Mary became friends with Lilias Ashworth Hallett, who was a member of the NUWSS and the WSPU. In March 1908 she was introduced to Millicent Fawcett. In her diary she wrote: "This afternoon I went into Bath by tram and then walked to Claverton Lodge... Mrs. Ashworth Hallett introduced me first to Miss Clark, and then to Mrs. Fawcett. Then others came in: Dr. Mary Morris... We all had tea there and stayed talking till 6.30. I have never been to the house before; it is a beautiful place. Mrs. Hallett is most kind. I could not believe I was looking at Mrs. Fawcett, she looks so young. I believe she has been working for Votes for Women for 40 years."
Mary Blathwayt first met Annie Kenney at a WSPU meeting in Bath. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), claims that Blathwayt had fallen "under her spell and gave her a rose". Soon afterwards Kenney introduced her to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Christabel Pankhurst. She now became an active member and over the next few weeks she began distributing WSPU leaflets in the area.
In May 1908 Mary agreed to help Annie Kenney, Elsie Howey, Clara Codd and Mary Phillips to organise the women's suffrage campaign in her area. She wrote in her diary: "This afternoon I helped Annie Kenney make her plans for a West of England campaign, I wrote out lists of towns and dates which are to be sent to Mrs. Pankhurst and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence. This evening Miss Howey went round the town with some steps, and I went with her. And when we came to a crowd she got onto the steps and shouted Keep the Liberal out. Votes for Women". Mary also a public meeting that was addressed by Gladice Keevil. She recorded in her diary: "She and I held an open air meeting at the Wharf. I took the chair, the first time I have ever done such a thing. I read out a few words of introduction, announced a meeting for tomorrow and called upon Miss Keevil to speak."
By December of that year Mary Blathwayt was elected to the executive committee of the local branch of the WSPU. Blathwayt became very friendly with Annie Kenney. The two women spent much of 1908 and 1909 speaking "from dogcarts at open-air meetings, chalked pavements and sold pamphlets." However, she refused to become involved in any activity that might risk her being arrested. In July 1909 she refused a written request from Emmeline Pankhurst to join a deputation "which carried with it the virtual certainty of a prison sentence." The reason that she gave was that "father would not like it". She also noted in her diary that "Annie Kenney does not wish me to go."
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence wrote an article in Votes for Women in February 1909, they acknowledged the help given by the Blathwayt family to the cause of women's suffrage: "I say to you young women who have private means or whose parents are able and willing to support you while they give you freedom to choose your vocation. Come and give one year of your life to bringing the message of deliverance to thousands of your sisters... Put yourself through a short course of training under one of our chief officers or at headquarters in London, and then become one of our honorary staff organisers. Miss Annie Kenney, in the West of England, has two such honorary organisers. Miss Blathwayt is the only daughter of Colonel Lindley Blathwayt, of Bath. Yet her parents have set her free with their fullest approbation and sympathy, and with a generous allowance, to devote her whole time to the work."
On 8th June, 1909, Mary recorded in her diary how she and Elsie Howey were attacked during one public meeting in Bristol. "We were on a lorry and a large crowd of children were waiting for us when we arrived. Things were thrown at us all the time; but when we drove away at the end we were hit a great many times. Elsie Howey had her lip hit and it bled. I was hit by potatoes, stones, turf and dust. Something hit me very hard on my right ear as I was getting into our tram. Someone threw a big stone as big as a baby's head; it fell onto the lorry."
Elizabeth Crawford claims Annie Kenney spent a lot of time at Mary Blathwayt's home, Eagle House near Batheaston "where, for the first time, she began to learn French, to play tennis, to swim, to ride and to drive." A fellow member of the WSPU, Teresa Billington-Greig claimed that Kenney was "emotionally possessed" by Christabel Pankhurst during this period. However, Mary argued that it was Kenney who was the dominating personality as she had a "wonderful influence over people".
Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has argued that Annie Kenney had a series of romantic attachments with other suffragettes: "The relationship (with Christabel Pankhurst) would be mirrored, though never matched in its intensity, by a number of later relationships between Annie and other suffragettes. The extent of their physical nature has never been revealed, but it is certain that in some sense these were romantic attachments. One historian who argues that Annie must have had sexual feelings for other women adds that lesbianism was barely recognised at the time. Such relationships, even when they involved sharing beds, excited little comment. Already, Christabel had formed a close friendship with Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, suffrage campaigners who lived together in Manchester. Her relationship with Eva, in particular, had become intense enough to excite a great deal of comment from her family - according to Sylvia."
Colonel Linley Blathwayt was sympathetic to the WSPU cause and he built a summer-house in the grounds of the estate that was called the "Suffragette Rest". Members of the WSPU who endured hunger strikes went to stay at Eagle House and the summer-house. Mary Blathwayt recorded in her diary that Annie Kenney had intimate relationships with at least ten members of the WSPU at Batheaston. Blathwayt records in her diary that she slept with Annie in July 1908. Soon afterwards she illustrated jealousy with the comments that "Miss Browne is sleeping in Annie's room now." The diary suggests that Annie was sexually involved with both Christabel Pankhurst and Clara Codd. Blathwayt wrote on 7th September 1910 that "Miss Codd has come to stay, she is sleeping with Annie." Codd's autobiography, So Rich a Life (1951) confirms this account.
The historian, Martin Pugh, points out that "Mary writes matter-of-fact lines such as, Annie slept with someone else again last night, or There was someone else in Annie's bed this morning. But it is all done with no moral opprobrium for the act itself. In the diary Kenney appears frequently and with different women. Almost day by day Mary says she is sleeping with someone else."
Colonel Linley Blathwayt decided to create a suffragette arboretum in a field adjacent to the house. The idea was for women to be invited to plant a tree to commemorate their prison sentences and hunger strikes. On 23rd April 1909 Emily Blathwayt recorded in her diary that Annie Kenney, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Constance Lytton and Clara Codd all planted trees. "Beautiful day for the tree planting and Linley photographed the three in a group at each tree. Annie put the West one, Mrs. P. Lawrence, South, and Lady Constance the East. Miss Codd came to the field."
Over the next few months Emmeline Pankhurst, Adela Pankhurst, Mary Phillips, Vera Holme, Jessie Kenney, Georgina Brackenbury, Marie Brackenbury, Aeta Lamb, Theresa Garnett, Lilian Dove-Wilcox, Adela Pankhurst, Marion Wallace-Dunlop, Vera Wentworth and Elsie Howey also took part in this ceremony. After the visit of Christabel Pankhurst Emily Blathwayt wrote in her diary: "Christabel has planted her cedar of Lebanon by the pond; it was raining all the time. There is a wonderful charm about Christabel; she looks sweet and not like her photo. She is quiet and retiring." Eventually, even women who had not been to prison, such as Millicent Fawcett and Lilias Ashworth Hallett planted trees.
Jessie Kenney developed a "lung condition" also spent time recovering at Eagle House in 1910. Others who visited during this period included Constance Lytton, Elsie Howey, Mary Phillips, Charlotte Despard, Mary Allen, Charlotte Marsh, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Aeta Lamb, Georgina Brackenbury, Marie Brackenbury, Marie Naylor, Laura Ainsworth, Margaret Haig Thomas, Lilian Dove-Wilcox, Theresa Garnett, Gladice Keevil, Maud Joachim, Vida Goldstein, Minnie Baldock, Vera Wentworth, Clare Mordan and Helen Watts. Colonel Blathwayt photographed the women. These were then signed and sold at WSPU bazaars.
In April 1911 Mary Blathwayt took part in the campaign to undermine the national census. She wrote in her diary: "I went into Bath last night by tram and walked to 12 Lansdown Crescent (an empty house rented for the purpose by Mrs. Mansel) to spend the night there and so evade the census, as a protest against the Government for not giving us Votes for Women. I got there before 10 o'clock. A little crowd of people were standing in the next doorway on the east side to watch us go in. I took a nightdress etc. with me and had a room to myself on the 1st floor and a bed. Everyone else slept on mattresses. We had a charming room to hold our meeting, beautifully decorated and very comfortable. There were 29 of us... We sat up until 2 a.m. this morning."
Annie Kenney wrote in her memoirs, Memories of a Militant (1924) about the help that the Blathwayt family gave her during the campaign: "It would be futile to mention other names, they were all wonderful to me. There is just one I should like to mention, that of the late Colonel Blathwayt. He and Mrs. Blathwayt, of Eagle House, Batheaston treated me as though I were one of their own family. All my week-ends I spent under their hospitable roof."
In November 1912 Emily Blathwayt recorded in her diary that she was unhappy about her daughter's participation in the WSPU. "Mary in Bath all day working for the Pankhurst cause - we wish she was not, but the young people all do this kind of thing now and I suppose it is evolution. The oldest supporters are fast leaving the WSPU, especially those old in years, but people like Miss Lamb do not at all like Mrs. Pankhurst's present policy."
The summer of 1913 saw a further escalation of WSPU violence when they began an arson campaign. In July attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes. This was followed by cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses being set on fire. In June 1913 a house had been burned down close to Eagle House. Under pressure from her parents, Mary Blathwayt resigned from the WSPU.
In her diary she wrote: "I have written to Grace Tollemache (secretary for Bath) and to the secretary of the Women's Social and Political Union to say that I want to give up being a member of the W.S.P.U. and not giving any reason. Her mother, Emily Blathwayt, wrote in her diary: "I am glad to say Mary is writing to resign membership with the W.S.P.U. Now they have begun burning houses in the neighbourhood I feel more than ever ashamed to be connected with them."
Emily and Mary remained active member of the NUWSS. Emily wrote in her diary on 7th February, 1918: "The Reform Bill passed yesterday... Women cannot vote before the age of 30. Wives of men entitled to elect can vote as well as women in their own right and university women also have the franchise... Linley and I walked through the trees this afternoon and wondered how quietly this had come at last, but the war occupies all our thoughts."
Mary Blathwayt continued to live in Batheaston until her death in 1962. Eagle House was sold soon afterwards. B. M. Willmott Dobbie, the author of A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset (1979), has pointed out: "The land was sold for building. Bulldozers tore down the suffragette trees, and blithely smashed many of the plaques. A number were rescued, however, and are in the museum of the Batheaston Society."