Norah Doherty, one of nine children of John and Charlotte Doherty, was born in Dublin in 1878. Her father was an Irish protestant and in 1891 the family decided to emigrate to England and they eventually decided to settle in Teddington.
In 1909 she married Charles Richard Dacre Fox. She was interested in the subject of women's suffrage and in 1912 she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). According to Elizabeth Crawford she was particularly close to Grace Roe, who at that time held a senior place in the movement.
It has been argued by the authors of Mosley's Old Suffragette (2010) that her remarkable rhetorical skill allowed her to rise quickly through the WSPU ranks to become, by March 1913, its General Secretary. In this role she led the "campaign against forcible feeding, concentrating particularly on attempts to persuade Church of England bishops to denounce the practice." Jessie Stephen has argued: "Mrs Dacre Fox became prominent (in the leadership of the WSPU) toward the end... because she was a very good speaker - a fine speaker - and very effective too."
In May 1914 Norah Dacre Fox was arrested with Flora Drummond during a demonstration. The Times reported that the two women "openly and deliberately advocating acts of militancy and violence." While in Holloway Prison she went on hunger-and-thirst strike and was released on licence.
Nora Dacre Fox was involved in the production of The Suffragette, the WSPU newspaper. Emmeline Pankhurst later recalled: "The Government made several last, desperate efforts to crush the WSPU to remove all the leaders and to destroy our paper, The Suffragette. They issued summonses against Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Dacre Fox, and Miss Grace Roe; they raided our headquarters at Lincoln's Inn House; twice they raided other headquarters temporarily in use; not to speak of raids made upon private dwellings where the new leaders, who had risen to take the places of those arrested, were at their work for the organisation."
On 30th July 1914 she was arrested at Buckingham Palace while attempting to present a letter from Mrs Pankhurst to King George V. According to Julie V. Gottlieb this resulted in her "thrice being imprisoned in Holloway for militant acts, and she had gone on hunger strike for which she received a medal with three bars from the leaders of the WSPU."
On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. The leadership of the WSPU immediately began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.
Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."
Annie Kenney reported that orders came from Christabel Pankhurst: "The Militants, when the prisoners are released, will fight for their country as they have fought for the Vote." Kenney later wrote: "Mrs. Pankhurst, who was in Paris with Christabel, returned and started a recruiting campaign among the men in the country. This autocratic move was not understood or appreciated by many of our members. They were quite prepared to receive instructions about the Vote, but they were not going to be told what they were to do in a world war."
After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, Norah Dacre Fox helped the WSPU organise a demonstration in London. A former member of the WSPU, Jessie Stephen, who resigned over the issue of the First World War, argued that "Dacre Fox and the Pankhursts" were members of a "close cadre of middle and upper class conservative women leading the WSPU" after the outbreak of war.
Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men.
During the autumn of 1915, Norah Dacre Fox, Emmeline Pankhurst, Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney and Grace Roe, went on a lecture tour of South Wales, the Midlands and Scotland in an attempt to encourage trade unions to support war work. According to the authors of Mosley's Old Suffragette (2010): "By October 1915 the rightward swing in the political view of the Pankhursts and the WSPU was becoming very evident... They focused on criticizing Germany and all Germans who were living and working in England, particularly in the higher echelons of the civil service. This particular campaign was to occupy Norah intensely."
On 14th August 1918, The Times reported that: "Mrs Dacre Fox said... we had to make a clean sweep of all persons of German blood, without distinction of sex, birthplace, or nationality. Never had the time been so ripe for action; never would it be so favourable again. If we allowed the opportunity to pass now, German influence, which at the present moment was hampering and hindering the War Cabinet in its prosecution of the war, would become more firmly entrenched than ever in this country.... Any person in this country, no matter who he was or what his position, who was suspected of protecting German influence, should be tried as a traitor, and, if necessary, shot. There must be no compromise and no discrimination."
In the 1918 General Election she stood as an independent candidate in the Richmond constituency. During the campaign she argued that people of German birth should be deported from the country. She later recalled that "my own distrust of party politics made me chary of turning in this direction, and I preferred to stand as an Independent, going down with all other women candidates on this occasion, save one." Norah Dacre Fox won only 3,615 votes in the election.
Dacre Fox campaigned against the Treaty of Versailles. In a letter to The Times on 10th April 1920 she argued: "France is our friend. Upon her security and her prestige depend the security and prestige of the British Empire. One had imagined that this lesson had been fully learnt as the experience of the European War, and a policy which tends to weaken France must be a policy which helps to strengthen her enemy and ours - Germany. The truth is that in this country there are a group of politicians and public men, surrounded by officials and advisers, who have always worked and are still working for a rapprochement with Germany and the hope of a future alliance with her."
After the war Norah Dacre Fox went to live with Dudley Elam at his home in Northchapel, near Chichester. Elam, was already married to another woman, and so she added "Elam" to her name by deep poll. On 29th May she gave birth to a son. According to Elizabeth Crawford: Having little interest in motherhood, arranged for a nanny to bring up her son. He was 9 years old before he realised that she was his mother."
Norah Elam now joined Flora Drummond and Elsie Bowerman to establish the Women's Guild of Empire, a right wing league opposed to communism. Drummond's biographer, Krista Cowman, pointed out: "When the war ended she was one of the few former suffragettes who attempted to continue the popular, jingoistic campaigning which the WSPU had followed from 1914 to 1918.... She founded the Women's Guild of Empire, an organization aimed at furthering a sense of patriotism in working-class women and defeating such socialist manifestations as strikes and lock-outs." She was also active in the Anti-Vivisection Society.
Norah was an active member of the Conservative Party until she defected to the British Union of Fascist (BUF) in 1934. Her husband became an unpaid receptionist at the BUF's National Headquarters whereas Norah became the BUF County Women's Officer for West Sussex. She was also a regular contributor to BUF publications for the next six years.
In April 1934 Norah Elam shared a platform with William Joyce, the Director of Research and Director of Propaganda, at Chichester. As the the authors of Mosley's Old Suffragette (2010) have pointed out: "With Joyce as Area Administrative Officer, Dudley as Sub-Branch Officer for Worthing and Norah as Sussex Women's Organizer, West Sussex became a hub of fascist activity."
On 17th August 1934, The Blackshirt reported: "Mrs Dudley Elam, Area Organiser for Sussex and Hampshire held a very successful meeting at Littlehampton, addressing a crowd of over 100 people. She spoke for about an hour and gave a clear and lucid exposition of Fascist policy notwithstanding a certain amount of heckling from the Communist element in the audience."
Norah attended a meeting with William Joyce and Oswald Mosley at the Pier Pavilion in Worthing, on 9th October 1934. Members of the British Union of Fascists became involved in violent clashes with protestors and Joyce and Mosley were arrested. At their trial Norah gave evidence that the trouble was caused by anti-fascist demonstrators. Another witness claimed that she heard people chanting: "One! Two! Three! Four! Five! We want Mosley, dead or alive!"
It was not long before Norah became very close to Oswald Mosley. The author of Femine Fascism: Women in Britain's Fascist Movement (2003) has pointed out: "Elam's status in the BUF and the sensitive tasks with which she was entrusted offer some substance to the BUF's claim to respect sexual equality. While, in principle, the movement was segregated by gender and women in positions of leadership were meant to have authority only over other women. Elam was quite evidently admitted to Mosley's inner circle."
Norah became so convinced by the merits of Adolf Hitler that she sent her 12 year old son to live in Nazi Germany. He joined the Hitler Youth and the authors of Mosley's Old Suffragette (2010) have commented: "He attended various demonstrations and was shown how to roll marbles under police horses' hooves to cause maximum damage, disruption and pain; he recalled Jew-baiting incidents with delight."
Norah became involved in a dispute with Flora Drummond who had criticised the violent methods of the British Union of Fascists. On 22nd February 1935 Norah argued in The Blackshirt that Drummond had once "defied all law and order; smashed not only windows, but all the meetings of Cabinet Ministers on which she could lay hands, and was for long the daily terror of the Public Prosecutor and the despair of Bow Street!" Norah described Drummond and other former suffragettes as "extinct volcanoes either wandering about in the backwoods of international pacifism and decadence, or prostrating themselves before the various political parties." Later she wrote: "From those days of heroic struggle seems now a far cry. But will anyone deny that in all the long history of human effort and sublime self-sacrifice which the world has seen a greater disillusionment can be found than the complete failure of the women's movement in the post-war years?"
In November 1936 Norah Elam was one of ten women the British Union of Fascists announced would be candidates in the next general election. Elam was selected to fight the Northampton constituency. Mosley used Norah's past as one of the leaders of the Women's Social and Political Union to counter the criticism that the BUF was anti-feminist. In one speech Norah Elam argued that her prospective candidacy for the House of Commons "killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back in the home". On another occasion she claimed: "No woman who loves her country, her sex or her liberty, need fear the coming victory of Fascism. Rather she will find that what the suffragettes dreamt about twenty odd years ago is now becoming a possibility, and women will buckle on her armour for the last phase of the greatest struggle, for the liberation of the human race, which the world has yet seen."
The outbreak of the Second World War reduced support for the British Union of Fascists. However, Norah Elam remained committed to the cause and became a secret member of the Right Club. Formed by Archibald Ramsay in 1939, it was an attempt to unify all the different right-wing groups in Britain. Ramsay argued: "The main object of the Right Club was to oppose and expose the activities of Organized Jewry, in the light of the evidence which came into my possession in 1938. Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence, and the character of our membership and meetings were strictly in keeping with this objective."
Other members of the Right Club included William Joyce, Anna Wolkoff, Joan Miller, A. K. Chesterton, Francis Yeats-Brown, E. H. Cole, Lord Redesdale, 5th Duke of Wellington, Duke of Westminster, Aubrey Lees, John Stourton, Thomas Hunter, Samuel Chapman, Ernest Bennett, Charles Kerr, John MacKie, James Edmondson, Mavis Tate, Marquess of Graham, Margaret Bothamley and Lord Sempill.
On 18th December 1939, the police raided Norah Elam's flat where they found documents suggesting that she had been taking part in secret meetings of right-wing groups. A letter from Oswald Mosley stated that "Mrs Elam had his full confidence, and was entitled to do what she thought fit in the interests of the movement on her own responsibility." On 23rd January 1940, Norah was arrested and interrogated him in order to establish whether her handling of BUF funds had been illegal or improper.
A MI5 report suggested that it was suspicious that Norah Elam had been placed in charge of BUF funds. Mosley told Special Branch detectives: "As regards the money paid to Mrs Elam we have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to conceal. When war became imminent we had to be prepared for any eventually. There might have been an air raid, our headquarters might have been smashed by a mob, I myself was expecting to be assassinated. I may tell you quite frankly that I took certain precautions. It was necessary then for us to disperse the funds in case anything should happen to headquarters or the leaders. Mrs. Elam therefore took charge of part of our funds for a short period before and after the declaration of war. There was nothing illegal or improper about this."
On 22nd May 1940 the British government announced the imposition of Defence Regulation 18B. This legislation gave the Home Secretary the right to imprison without trial anybody he believed likely to "endanger the safety of the realm". The following day, Norah Elam, Mosley, and other leaders of the BUF were arrested. On the 30th May the BUF was dissolved and its publications were banned. On 6th June Action Magazine recorded: "Mrs Elam (Mrs Dacre Fox) a militant suffragette and ardent patriot was arrested with three other women, Mrs Whinfield, Mrs Brock-Griggs and Olive Hawks."
Elam was sent to Holloway Prison with Diana Mosley. A fellow prisoner, Louise Irving, recorded: "I met Mrs Elam when I was in F. Wing in Holloway. I was a little in awe of her - she was of course a much older woman, and highly intelligent and erudite. Lady Mosley sometimes invited me to her cell with a few others for a small friendly get-together. All sorts of topics - art, music, literature etc were discussed, and Mrs Elam was invariably there... I was never close enough to her to hear about her suffragette experiences, but she was certainly a staunch member of BUF."
In November 1943, Herbert Morrison controversially decided to order the release of British Union of Fascists members from prison. There were large-scale protests and even Diana's sister, Jessica Mitford, described the decision as "a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti-fascism."
After the war Nora remained in contact with Mary Allen and Arnold Leese, who was an extreme anti-Semite, who broke away from Oswald Mosley because he believed he was "soft on Jews". Although she never saw her again, Nora kept a signed photograph of Diana Mosley in her bedroom.
Norah Dacre Fox Elam died at Middlesex Hospital on 2nd March 1961.