Charlotte Despard Avenue, SW11

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Charlotte Despard (née French) (June 15, 1844 – November 10, 1939) was an Anglo-Irish suffragist, socialist, pacifist, Sinn Féin activist, and novelist. She was a member of the Battersea Labour Party during its earliest days and was even selected as the party’s candidate for Battersea North in the 1918 General Election. However, her anti-war views were unpopular with the public and she was defeated. She was also a founding member of various women’s civil rights groups including the Women’s Freedom League, Women’s Peace Crusade, and the Irish Women’s Franchise League. She was born in Scotland into an upper middle-class family, her father a captain in the Royal Navy. By the time she was six her family moved to Kent. In 1870, she married businessman Maximilian Carden Despard, and travelled with him across Asia, including India, for his business. When he died at sea in 1890, she was encouraged by friends to take up charitable work. She was shocked and radicalised by the levels of poverty in London and devoted her time and money to helping poor people in Battersea, including a health clinic, soup kitchen for the unemployed, and youth and working men’s clubs in this slum area. She lived above one of her welfare shops in one of poorest areas of Nine Elms during the week and during this time converted to Roman Catholicism.  In 1894, she stood and was elected as a Poor Law Guardian for Lambeth poor law union, and remained until she retired from the board in 1903. By this time she had became good friends with Eleanor Marx. In 1906 she joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and later was imprisoned four times for activism on women’s right to vote. Frustrated with the lack of progress from NUWSS she joined the more radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) becoming one of their recognised speakers and a “tireless and popular leader.. a striking figure with her thin sharp features and grimly tight lips”. She opposed the First World War, putting her at odds with her uncle Field Marshal John French, Chief of the Imperial General Staff of the British Army and commander of the British Expeditionary Force sent to Europe in August 1914. She was a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist. She was associated with London Vegetarian Society, becoming president in 1918 and vice-president in 1931. She supported the Save the Children charity and Indian independence movement. She continued to campaign for various causes until the very end. She died at her home in County Antrim, near Belfast and was buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

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