This post by Eileen Luscombe first appeared on Women Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
Eileen Mary Casey (1881-1972) suffragette, translator and teacher, was born on 4 April 1881 at Deniliquin, New South Wales, first child of Dr Phillip Forth Casey, surgeon, and Isabella Julia Agnes Raey.
Dr Casey, a talented cricketer for Ireland prior to immigrating to Australia, was appointed chief vaccinator for the District of Deniliquin in October 1878 and in February 1879 was appointed chief medical officer to the Deniliquin hospital. In April 1882 the family relocated to Hay where Dr Casey was employed at the Hay District Hospital and was visiting surgeon to Hay Gaol.
In March 1890 Dr Casey sold his medical practice and returned to Europe with his family aboard the Nurnberg; Eileen was then 9 years old. The family settled for a time in Gottingen, Germany, where Eileen became fluent in German.
After being inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst at a rally, Eileen joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1911. That same year she participated in a Window Smashing Raid in London, organized by the WSPU. Although she escaped arrest at least 213 other suffragettes were arrested on that day. At this raid WSPU organisers reminded the Window Smashers that women had the vote in Australia and instructed the women not to smash the windows of nearby offices of Queensland and Victoria businesses.
A year later, in the company of her mother and suffragette Oliver Walton, Eileen participated in another window smashing raid in the region of the West End, Knightsbridge and Chelsea and was subsequently charged with breaking windows at Marshall’s and Snelgrove’s store. With her mother she was sentenced to three months in prison.
In March 1913 Eileen was arrested for ‘placing noxious substances in a letter box’ and convicted 3 October 1913. She went on a hunger strike in prison and was force fed. Later that month she was released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ (prisoners were released until they were well enough to return to prison) with orders to return to jail in October. Eileen failed to report back and continued with her militant activities until her next arrest June 1914.
That same year Kitty Marion and Betty Giveen were prosecuted for burning down the grandstand at the Hurst Park Racecourse. They were apprehended at the Casey residence in Kew. It was known that the Casey family willingly provided refuge to militant suffragettes in the region. At the trial of Marion Mrs Casey said, “she (Marion) was a suffragette, that was good enough for us. We trust anyone who was a suffragette.”
Eileen Casey continued with her own agitations and was suspected by authorities of involvement in the burning of Breadsall Church in 1913.
As ‘Eleanor Cleary’ she was arrested for what was described as pillar box work, planting bombs in letter boxes, and was sentenced to two months prison. Her fine was paid and she was released. On 24th June 1914 Eileen was apprehended at Nottingham and found to have explosives on her. She had been under surveillance and it was reported that she had been observed making a close inspection of a closely guarded platform that was in readiness to host an event at which a speech was to be made by King George V. Eileen had been found with explosives, detonators, fuses and a substantial amount of flammable material as well as guidebooks to local churches. She was also suspected of involvement in the burning down of Breadsall Church in Derbyshire and the planned attempt to burn down Southwell Cathedral. She was held on remand until 8 July at Holloway Prison. After going on a hunger strike she was forcibly fed by nasal tube at least 46 times, both at Holloway and subsequently at Nottingham and Winson Green Prisons. Whilst incarcerated Eileen attempted to smuggle out messages embroidered onto a handkerchief.
She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on 28 July, but was released soon after due to the general amnesty granted to suffragette prisoners at the outbreak of the First World War.
Eileen worked as a land girl and gardener during World War I and in 1923 went to Japan to teach at a girl’s school in Tokyo. She returned to England briefly in 1928 to visit family and friends and to attend commemoration ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the granting of full franchise rights to women. In 1938 she returned to Australia and was a translator for the Board of Censors during World War II. She was known to have a working knowledge of most European languages, including Russia, Japanese and Esperanto.
In Australia Eileen was an active member of the Australian Suffragette Fellowship and in contact with Jennie Baines (1866-1951) and Mrs Edith How-Martyn (1875-1954) and was Worshipful Master of Emulation Lodge Richmond.
In 1951 Eileen returned to England where, for the rest of her life, she was a committee member of ‘Calling all Women ‘and was actively involved with the Theosophist movement and Liberal Catholic Church in England.
In 1958 Eileen attended a Memorial Service for Dame Christabel Pankhurst at St Martin in the Fields. She died on 12 October 1972 at 50 Marine Parade, West Lee on the Solent, a small seaside town near Hampshire and was cremated at Portchester crematorium.
During her militant activities Eileen had been described by the media as The Bradford Suffragette, The Militant and as belonging to the Derby Cell of Suffragettes. It is not known how many incidents Eileen was directly involved in during her WSPU militant activities, however, it is thought to number many more than her actual arrests.
Written by Eileen Luscombe. Follow Eileen on Twitter @lilylala50
Find out more…
Discover more great Australian women on the Women Australia website where this post first appeared.
This great blog post has more information about Eileen, including photos of documents which related to her arrest, newspaper clippings and more photos of her.
This article from the Nottingham Post gives more detail about the day of Eileen’s arrest and the royal family’s visit to Nottingham.