WHEN it comes to the struggle for Votes for Women, most people will have heard of Emily Pankhurst. Possibly too Emily Wilding Davison, who stepped to her death in front of King George V’s horse Anmer as it galloped round Tattenham Corner in the 1913 Derby. The horse and jockey survived, but Miss Davison died of her injuries four days later in hospital.

However, almost equally important to the cause was a clergyman’s daughter from Malvern, force fed so brutally in prison her voice was permanently damaged. Elsie Howey was sent an illuminated scroll by the Pankhurst family in honour of her bravery.

Her remarkable story features in a new book Hidden Heroines: The Feisty Women who fought for Women’s Suffrage, which is co-authored by cultural history specialists Dr Maggie Andrews and Dr Janis Lomas of the University of Worcester with input from University students. It will be published by Crowood in December to mark the centenary of the first time women voted in a UK election.

Despite the toll campaigning and its consequences took on her frail form, Elsie lived until 1963 and was cremated at Worcester with her ashes scattered locally.

She first came to public attention in April, 1909 when dressed as Joan of Arc in silver armour, riding a white horse and accompanied by no less than by five brass bands, she took part in a suffragette procession from Hyde Park to the Aldwych Theatre.

In fact the young woman who listed her hobbies as “riding, driving and hockey” became a familiar sight as Joan in various Women’s Social and Political Union pageants and processions. She also rode alongside the coffin at Emily Davison’s funeral.

Elsie Howey was born in Nottinghamshire in 1884 where her father Thomas was a local parish rector. Following his death in 1897, her mother moved the family, including 13-years-old Elsie, to Malvern. Five years later, she enrolled at St Andrew’s University, which was offering a diploma titled the L.L.A. examination or Lady Literate in Arts.

It was following university and when she travelled to Germany and began writing for the suffragette magazine Votes for Women she realised the inequality women were experiencing. Moving back to the UK, Elsie became an activist for the WSPU and made her first public appearance with the group in February, 1908 outside the Houses of Common, which led to her first arrest.

Her significant contribution to women’s suffrage and the WSPU was to drum up support for the movement outside London, in areas where the campaign was slow to ignite the imagination of the public. In spring 1908 Elsie visited Worcester and Malvern with Gladice Keevil to promote the WSPU’s Hyde Park meeting on June 21. Special trains took supporters from Worcester (at a cost of six shillings return) to London where they were able to see Elsie Howey speaking on platform six in Hyde Park.

Later that month, Elsie was arrested for a second time, alongside Florence Haig, Maud Joachim and Vera Wentworth, for demonstrating outside the home of former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. She wrote about this in Suffrage Annual and Women's Who's Who, saying that although she was charged with obstructing the police, she felt that the police were obstructing her. This resulted in a three-month prison sentence. When the four women were released on September 16, 1908, they were met at the gates of Holloway Prison and conducted to a celebratory breakfast in a carriage decorated with purple and white flowers.

According to reports: “Fifty suffragettes, in full uniform, harnessed themselves to the traces… the women drew the carriage, preceded by a band playing the Marseillaise. At the breakfast they were greeted with applause. Pocket handkerchiefs and napkins were waved and For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow was sung time and again.” Sylvia Pankhurst also sent an illuminated scroll she had designed to honour Elsie’s bravery in prison.

Despite the celebrations, Elsie’s health was not good and she moved to Eagle House at Batheaston, near Bath, which was a refuge house for the suffragettes to recover from the effects of the force feeding. Over the next 18 months she was arrested and imprisoned three more times for demonstrating and her health began to suffer considerably from the prison regime, which included hard labour as well as force feeding.

After a prolonged spell recuperating, Elsie Howey returned to militancy in 1912 and was again sent to Holloway prison, this time for setting off a fire alarm. She went on hunger strike and was so forcibly fed by prison officers the injuries destroyed her beautiful voice. This was just one of the sacrifices Elsie made in the battle for women’s rights. Altogether she was jailed at least six times.

Her gritty allegiance to the suffragette movement won Elsie much admiration. Blessed by her family’s financial security, she never undertook paid employment and put all her focus into campaigning and working as an unpaid organizer. She vanished from public life after the exhausting battle for the vote, which left her with long-lasting illnesses she carried for the rest of her life.

Elsie Howey returned to Malvern but never fully recovered from her traumas of the suffrage campaigns. She died aged 78 on March 13, 1963, in Court House Nursing Home, Court Road, Malvern, from chronic pyloric stenosis, a condition rare in adults and almost certainly brought on by her numerous forced feedings. In her Will she left instructions for no funeral or fuss and so her body was taken to Worcester Crematorium.

Elsie had become a theosophist in 1923 and left most of her estate to the English Theosophy Trust, a society which prides itself on being a “brotherhood promoting unity”.