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Bertha Ryland – 1882 ~ alive 1963

January 12, 2011

There is a lot of recorded information online about the high profile women of the Suffragette Movement in the UK and Birmingham.

Bertha was clearly one of the more active campaigners based in Birmingham. She had been involved in window smashing campaigns in London prior to her best known act, when on 8 June 1914 she was arrested for attacking a painting in Birmingham Art Gallery. The painting in question was Master Thornhill by George Romney a fashionable portrait painter of the 19th century.

“…I attack this work of art deliberately as a protest against the government’s criminal injustice in denying women the vote, and also against the government’s injustice in imprisoning, forcibly feeding, and drugging suffragist militants…”

Bertha Ryland, quoted in Elizabeth Crawford, ‘From Frederick Street to Winson Green.’

That reference document above is a fantastic narrative ‘Votes for Women: Tracing the Struggle in Birmingham’. I found it on the magnificent Connecting Histories Website, which was a 3 year project by academics and archivists to record local history stories. Well worth a rummage.

In 1907 a hyperlocal (sic) publication called Edbastonia ran an advert. Bertha Ryland served as Honorary Treasurer of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), which placed this advertisement for funds and office space when it was getting started in Birmingham. Edbastonia was established in 1881, determinedly non-political, it rarely commented on women, save to recognise some good charity work. Women like Bertha were high profile residents of Edgbaston and the editors could not help but start reporting their stories.

I like that this advert gives us various home addresses. Bertha lived at 19 Hermitage Road, Edgbaston, the hyperlink takes you to the Google Map with a wonderful street view of the house. I wonder if the current owners have any idea!

Information about our brimmin comes from the strangest of places. Here is an article from an ancestry website. Walter Ryland on the hunt for ancestors tells of a medal for valour featured on Antiques Roadshow in 2000. It transpires it was awarded to Bertha on her release from a stint in prison, after she was paraded triumphantly through the streets. The medal was given by the WSPU – one can only assume the advert had the desired effect. I wonder what recognition she was given in response to her more direct action in 1914?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2016 12:58 pm

    You can read my article (mentioned above) ‘From Frederick Street to Winson Green’: the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Campaign’ here

  2. January 12, 2011 12:47 pm

    Interesting – am wondering if Bertha, who lived in Edgbaston, was related to famous Birmingham benefactress Louisa Ryland, also listed above (Canon Hill park etc)? Lousa also had an Edgbaston address. Also, am wondering whether Bertha knew anything about the also well-known suffragette arson attack on Northfield Library, in 1914.

    • January 12, 2011 9:46 pm

      I am pretty sure they are related – but recall going round in a circle to find out. I’ll take another look.
      The northfield library attack is new to me. Again, I’ll have a rummage. thanks Julia, you add a new dimension to every post.

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