Corbett-Ashby, Margery (1882–1981)

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Corbett-Ashby, Margery (1882–1981)

British suffragist and politician . Born Margery Corbett at Danehill, Sussex, England, in 1882; died at Danehill, Sussex, on May 22, 1981; eldest of two daughters of Charles Corbett (a lawyer) and Marie (Gray) Corbett ; elder sister of Cicely Corbett Fisher (1885–1959); educated at home; attended NewnhamCollege, Cambridge University; attended Cambridge Teachers Training College; married Brian Ashby (a barrister), in 1910; children: one.

One of the few women to be involved in Britain's earliest suffrage campaigns, Margery Corbett-Ashby had a political career that spanned three-quarters of a century and included seven thwarted bids for election to the House of Commons. Still going strong at 98, she attended the Women's Day of Action in London in 1980.

The daughter of suffragist Marie Gray Corbett and radical lawyer Charles Corbett, Margery Corbett-Ashby was born and raised at Danehill, Sussex. As a child, she and her younger sister Cicely Corbett Fisher were educated by their parents at home with the assistance of a local woman who tutored them in French and German. Following in their mother's footsteps, the girls supported women's rights and, in 1900, joined with a group of teenage friends to form a society called the Younger Suffragists.

Corbett-Ashby attended Newnham College, Cambridge University, where she was active in the Cambridge branch of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies and became secretary of the Constitutional Suffrage Movement. Although she successfully completed her studies and passed her examinations, Cambridge University did not grant degrees to women at the time, so she went on to prepare for a teaching career at Cambridge Teachers Training College. (Cambridge University began awarding degrees to women in 1947.)

Margery eventually gave up her plans to teach, but she did not abandon the suffrage cause. In 1907, she was appointed secretary of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies and, as such, edited their journal. Discouraged by the Liberal Party's record on women's suffrage, she left the Women's Liberal Federation and, with her mother and sister, helped form the Liberal Women's Suffrage Group. She also became a member of the National Committee of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies. In 1909, she joined the International Women Suffrage Alliance and spoke at conferences in Berlin and Stockholm.

In 1910, Margery married Brian Ashby, a barrister, and four years later gave birth to her only child. For several years thereafter, her activities were curtailed, though she did engage in hospital work during World War I and also ran a canteen at Woodgate that provided nourishing meals for the local schoolchildren.

Following the passage of the Qualification of Women Act in 1918, Corbett-Ashby was one of 17 women who stood as candidates in the postwar election. Running as the Liberal candidate for Ladywood, Birmingham, she campaigned on a feminist platform advocating full political equality between men and women. Suffering her first defeat (she would subsequently make six more unsuccessful runs for the House of Commons), she went on to serve as a member of the International Alliance of Women, representing the organization at the Versailles Peace Conference. In 1920, she participated in the first postwar congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, serving as its president from 1923 to 1946. She was also a British delegate to the Geneva Disarmament Conference but resigned the post in 1935, in protest over the government's refusal to back a practical plan for mutual security and defense.

Margery Corbett-Ashby stayed active in politics after World War II. In 1952, at age 70, she became editor of International Women's News. She died in Danehill, Sussex, on May 22, 1981, at the age of 99.

suggested reading:

Corbett-Ashby, Margery. Memoirs. 1996.

Hamilton, Mary Agnes. Remembering Good Friends. 1944.

Harrison, Brian. Prudent Revolutionaries. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.

Roberts, Marie, ed. The Suffragists. 1995.

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