Friday, May 23, 2014
Former Honiton mayor Juanita Maxwell Phillips - a ‘leading light’ in the East Devon movement for votes for women and ‘woman ahead of her time’ - was the focus of a commemorative talk and exhibition.
The talk, One Woman and her Vote, was given by Dr Julia Neville, the author of Viva Juanita, at The Beehive in Dowell Street.
Those in attendance heard after moving to Honiton in 1906 Mrs Phillips, who went on to be mayor of Honiton 11 times, became involved with the militant wing of the suffragette movement.
Historian Dr Neville said recent research suggested Mrs Phillips may have become a suffragette through the influence of two of her sisters who were committed to the cause and to equal opportunities for women. Juanita chaired the first meeting about votes for women held in Honiton in January 1910 when the meeting resoundingly voted in favour. She was then invited as part of a select group of supporters to take tea with Mrs Pankhurst in the Royal Clarence Hotel on the Cathedral green in Exeter. Then, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a stirring address at a public meeting in Exeter’s Barnfield Hall.
During World War One Mrs Phillips worked at the war office and after the war, when many women were given the vote, Juanita was moved to take up public service and try to help build a better world for the returning heroes.
As councillor and first Lady Mayor for Honiton Borough Council she threw herself into the plans for building council houses for the working classes as part of the national plan to create half a million homes. The talk heard she spent a long time during the early 1920s battling to get the grant from the Ministry unlocked including attending as part of a deputation to the Minister, one of only two women in a party of 74, to press for action.
It took four years to unlock the grant for the Dowell Street houses; the half a million houses promised nationally as ‘homes for heroes’ were eventually cut by 50 per cent. Chairing the meeting and exhibition Tony Simpson welcomed Mrs Phillips great niece, Caroline Merry de Bayer, who recalled the strong impression her aunt made on her when she visited Awliscombe House.
“She was certainly a woman many years ahead of her time,” said Caroline. “This occasion is a significant tribute to her memory. I am very proud to have such an illustrious ancestor.”
Viva Juanita is available to buy from Honiton Information Centre in Lace Walk car park.