Frederick Pethick Lawrence (1871–1961) had many identities in his lifetime: rebel – feminist – pacifist – socialist – Parliamentarian.
Born Frederick Lawrence, he added his wife Emmeline Pethick’s surname to his on marriage in 1901. He played an active role alongside Emmeline in the militant suffragette movement between 1906 and 1912, using his wealth, legal training and journalism skills as well as his home in Clement’s Inn to assist the suffrage campaign and individual suffragettes.
In 1908 he declared: ‘In the battle for Woman Suffrage both the teaching of history and of political common sense point to the same conclusion – there is only one enemy, and that is the Government of the day’.
The Government’s treatment of Pethick Lawrence was notably harsh. He was imprisoned, forcibly fed and later faced bankruptcy. Years later, in 1943, he recounted his treatment, even his forcible feeding, with magnanimity: ‘It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process.'
Following the partial enfranchisement of women by the Representation of the People Act 1918, the Pethick Lawrences were quickly absorbed into “respectable” politics. In 1923, Frederick Pethick Lawrence defeated the Liberal Party candidate – Winston Churchill – to win Leicester West for the Labour Party. Pethick Lawrence served in the Treasury under the 1929−1931 Labour Government, and later sat in the Lords from 1945 until his death in 1961.
As an MP and later a Peer, he remained committed to feminist causes: his maiden speech in 1924 was on the subject of widows pensions and in the following decades he made numerous contributions in support of equal pay.