Patti Mayor: Preston artist and suffragette

Mayor, Patti, 1872-1962; The Half-Timer

Half Timer Patti Mayor

In the little gem of an art gallery in Oldham I came across the work of artist and activist Patti Mayor. Born in Preston on 1 May 1872 as Martha Ann Mayor, she was known as Patti, one of five siblings. Her father owned his own company and the family lived a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Patti was able to study at the Slade School of Art and Paris, for instance.

Patti was born into era of rapid change with the  rise of trade unions , the creation of the Independent Labour Party and the campaign for Votes for Women.

The Women’s Social and Political Union  was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 in Manchester. It hit the headlines when her daughter Christabel Pankhurst and their friend  Annie Kenney disrupted a meeting of Liberal Party speakers at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in October 1905. Fined,  they refused to pay and were imprisoned.

The Preston WSPU was set up after Annie Kenney spoke at a meeting in Preston with local suffragette Edith Rigby. Patti joined  the group met in a room above a tea merchant’s in Glover’s Court in the town centre.

Women such as Patti were attracted to the WSPU  because of its militancy over the campaign for the vote,  and perhaps  because the organisation used art to promote their demands. 

Working class women in Preston worked in the weaving industry – both as single and married women – and  they knew their value to the country’s economic prosperity and  thus were angry about their working conditions and the fact that   they did not have the vote. They took this anger into the WSPU to change the system.

Preston WSPU, like many branches in the early days, brought together these disparate groups of women. They funded their office and activities  by sales of work and social evenings.

“Preston members have been very successful with their three days sale of work (held to clear off the debt of £35 on their offices), and their efforts have been encouraged and fortified by gifts from various Lancashire comrades. It has been another demonstration of the good comradeship of women, and the sale has, in fact, been a three days’ At Home, when husbands and sons came in to help, and townsfolk took the opportunity of showing their sympathy. Much propaganda work has been done informally, as well as by two delightful performances of Miss Beatrice Harradea’s comiedietta, “Lady Geraldine’s Speech” given under Miss Pattie Mayor’s active stage-management.” (Votes For Women 5th November 1909).

Several of Patti’s art works are of working-class  girls and women. One of the famous is “Half Timer” which is a portrait of 12-year-old Annie Miller. She worked as a tenter at Horrockses  textile mill in Preston.  Half timer refers to the fact that she worked half a day at the mill and then got half a day’s education. Although after working 6 hours in a mill she probably slept the rest of the day.

Patti chose to take this portrait to London on 12 June 1908 for one of the biggest demonstrations organised by the WSPU, the London for Women’s Sunday, a suffragette march and rally, when over 300.000 women from across the country gathered to show their support for the vote and to prove to the Liberal Government that they were serious about their campaign.

ticket-one London Sunday march

Ticket for London march 21 June

It was reported in  the WSPU newspaper “Votes for Women”  that: “Talking of banners reminds me of the gem possessed by the Preston branch, which contains an oil-painting of a Lancashire lassie by Miss Pattie Mayor and bears the legend “Preston lasses mun hae th’voat”. At a social gathering held this week in the Geisha Rooms, Preston, Miss Mayor was presented with a bouquet on behalf of  the local Union.”

“Half Timer” is a powerful image. Patti portrays Annie with great dignity and respect and there is no sense of voyeurism. Patti reflects her politics in her choice of subjects.

We know little about her politics beyond the WSPU. What did she think about the undemocratic politics of Mrs. Pankhurst? Did she support the First World War alongside Edith Rigby? Or did she oppose it like  her friend Joseph Garstang who went to prison rather than be conscripted?

Read more about him here

Patti  died in 1962: her work was distributed to galleries in Lancashire. And although she was well known in her time, she was not included in Elizabeth Crawford’s book on “Art and Suffrage A Biographical Dictionary of Suffrage Artists.”

Visit the exhibition it finishes on 28 January.

I could not find a history of Preston WSPU but once again turned to “One Hand Tied Behind Us” by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris and their wonderful account of the Lancashire suffrage movement. Buy it here


About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
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