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Lytton, Constance (1869–1923)

Lytton, Constance (1869–1923)

English militant suffragist. Name variations: Lady Constance Lytton. Born Constance Georgina Lytton in Vienna, Austria, on February 12, 1869; died on May 22, 1923; third child of (Edward) Robert Bulwer Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton (1831–1891, author and viceroy of India, as well as son of Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton) and Lady Edith Villiers Lytton; sister of Betty Balfour; granddaughter of RosinaBulwer-Lytton; aunt of Elisabeth Lutyens (1906–1983); never married.

Until 1906, when a small inheritance from her godmother Lady Bloomfield afforded independence, Lady Constance Lytton had lived a quiet life with her mother Lady Edith Villiers Lytton in Vienna, Paris, Lisbon, New Delhi, and the family home at Knebworth, Hertfordshire. Constance's father Robert Bulwer Lytton, viceroy of India, had died in 1891.

While aiding working girls after receiving her inheritance, Lady Constance Lytton became interested in the suffrage movement. Her sister Betty Balfour had married Gerald Balfour, long a supporter of the movement, as was Betty's sister-in-law Frances Balfour . Shaking off her disapproval of militancy, Constance joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Though arrested numerous times and imprisoned, Lady Lytton was always released because of her health, her family's illustrious history, and because, as she wrote, "people whose relatives might make a fuss effectively are considered awkward customers." Lady Lytton came from fighting stock (her grandmother was Rosina Bulwer-Lytton ); thus, in 1911, in an effort to thwart her preferred treatment, she disguised herself as a seamstress and named herself Jane Wharton.

"I had noticed several times while I was in prison," she wrote, "that prisoners of unprepossessing appearance obtained least favour, so I was determined to put ugliness to the test." She donned pince-nez glasses, a cheap cloth coat, and had her hair clipped short "with resentful bristles." She then set out with others to protest forced feeding at a prison in Liverpool. Intent on being arrested, she picked up some stones, "not throwing them, but limply dropping them over the hedge into the Governor's garden," and was immediately arrested for inciting people to throw stones at the house of the governor of Walton jail in Liverpool. Treated with contempt and forcibly fed seven times while in prison, she became so ill that she eventually had a stroke and was partially paralyzed on the right side of her body, becoming a permanent invalid. Nursed at home by her mother, Constance turned her rebellion to writing, offering Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by C. Lytton and Jane Wharton, Spinster (1914). Her letters, edited by B. Balfour, were published as Letters of Constance Lytton (1925).

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