By Jim Henderson
The 7th of January marks sixty-nine years since the death of ‘The General’, Flora McKinnon Drummond, suffragette.
Flora’s mother Sarah Cook was married to Francis Gibson a tailor who went south to find work in Manchester. Flora was born in Manchester on the 4th August 1878, shortly afterwards within a year or so Francis Gibson returned the family to Arran where Sarah’s family had a home in the Pirnmill area.
Flora was educated on Arran and at the age of 14 moved to Glasgow and qualified as a post-mistress. However fate dealt a blow when she discovered her adult height of 5 feet one inch did not meet the minimum requirement of 5 feet 2 inches for her to take up her desired career in the post office.
Later she gained further qualifications in shorthand and typing and attended lectures on economics at the university. Her resentment at being refused a position as a post-mistress because of her height never left her and established her political views with regard to the discrimination of women.
As a young woman she was a keen athlete and began to show the qualities of leadership. She met and married Joseph Percival Drummond on the 26th September 1898. He was an upholsterer from Manchester who became a celebrity in Arran when he fell off the paddle steamer on a trip home to Pirnmill. However following the marriage the couple set up home back in Manchester. They both became involved in the Independent Labour Party and Fabian Society. During this time Flora accepted a number of short-term positions, which expanded her understanding of the conditions experienced by the local women in work, and reinforced her political view about how women were low-paid and treated. Fate again dealt her a problem when Joseph became unemployed due to a severe drop in his trade and she found herself being the main source of income.
In October 1905 when attending a meeting held in Stevenson Square by the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) organised to protest at the imprisonment of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, members of the ILP who were arrested for interrupting a local Liberal rally. A few months later in early 1906, Flora joined the WSPU and moved to London, quickly becoming part of its leadership and an inspiring orator who gained a reputation for being able to control hecklers.
Flora led women’s rights marches wearing military style outfits and rode on a large horse, which inspired her nickname ‘The General’. By the end of 1906 following arrest in the House of Commons she spent her first term in Holloway prison. In October 1908 she was the main organiser of the Trafalgar Square rally, which led to a further three-month spell in Holloway accompanied by both of the Pankhurst’s for inciting interruptions in the House of Commons. Flora was in the early stages of a pregnancy and she was released for health reasons after fainting and was transferred to the prison hospital wing. When her son was born she named him ‘Keir Hardie Drummond’.
In October 1909 she organised the first suffragette procession in Edinburgh as a direct response to critical comments about Votes for Women, which was considered a success by the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch.
In May of 1914 Drummond and Norah Dacre lay siege to the homes of Lord Carson and Lord Lansdowne, both prominent Ulster MPs who were directly involved against the Home Rule Bill of Ulster, which led to another court appearance. During her time as a suffragette she was incarcerated in prison on nine occasions, sometimes carrying out hunger strikes to promote their cause. This action began to have an effect on her well-being and she returned to Arran and the family home for the summer to recover her health. After the outbreak of the First World War on the 28th July, she returned to London concentrating on administration and public speaking to avoid further arrests at demonstrations.
In 1918 woman over the age of 30 were given the right to vote. The next year Joseph Drummond left her and immigrated to Australia. In 1922 she was divorced, later during the same year she married a cousin, Alan Simpson. But for political and business reasons she still used the name Drummond.
In 1928 she was a pallbearer at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst. This year marked the legislation that all women over the age of 21 were given the right to vote and stand for parliament election. In the 30’s she founded the Women’s Guild of Empire, a right wing group opposed to communism and fascism.
In 1944 she lost her husband Alan Simpson and their home, which was razed by the London Blitz. Flora returned to Scotland to live near relatives at Duncrannog, Carradale, on Kintyre almost opposite her childhood home in Arran.
Five years later on the 7th January, while she was engaged in building a new home at Carradale she suffered a stroke and died at the age of 70.
She was buried in Brackley graveyard in Carradale, plot No 707 in field 8, and recently locals collected funds to mark her grave inscribed ‘The Suffragette General’