Vera ‘Jack’ Holme is one of those remarkable, ‘larger than life’ women who populated the Women’s Suffrage movement in Edwardian Britain and is one of my favourite Suffragettes. She was born in Lancashire in 1881, with a talent for singing, acting and playing the violin. In 1908 she became a member of the D’Oyly Carte Opera company touring the country performing Gilbert and Sullivan light operas.
In that same year she also joined the Actresses Franchise League (AFL) with well known actresses such as Ellen Terry, Lena Ashwell, Sybil Thorndike and Kitty Marion. The AFL was open to anyone involved in the theatrical profession and they sold suffrage literature and staged plays with a suffrage message. At the same time Vera also became active in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
In 1909, the WSPU had raised enough money to buy a car so that Emmeline Pankhurst could travel to meetings in comfort. The new Austin car was painted and upholstered in the official colours of the WSPU, with a green body, a purple stripe and white wheels. Vera was known for her work in the WSPU headquarters and was asked to become the official chauffeur for the leaders.
Vera undoubtedly enjoyed ruffling feathers when she would arrive at meetings and people were expecting a male chauffeur. She described how at one supporter’s house the other chauffeur had been shocked and horrified to find that she was invited to dine with the other guests while the chauffeurs were usually sent ‘below stairs’.
Vera was a strong and determined woman who took great risks on behalf of the cause. It had become the habit of the WSPU that wherever a Cabinet Minister was due to speak, a group of Suffragette supporters would be sent ahead of the event to raise sympathy for the cause. In 1909, Vera accompanied other suffragettes to Bristol where Augustine Birrell, Secretary for Ireland was due to speak. As no women were officially allowed into the meeting, Elsie and Vera managed to get into the Hall earlier in the day and climbed onto a narrow platform behind the organ pipes. When Birrell got up to speak they caused havoc by shouting out, ‘Votes for Women’. The Stewards took quite a while to discover their hiding place and even longer to get them out!
In 1911, set up home with her lover, Evelina Haverfield, another active Suffragette. In 1914 both Vera and Evelina agreed with Mrs Pankhurst’s decision to support Britain's war effort. They founded the Women's Emergency Corps, an organisation which helped organize women to become doctors, nurses and motorcycle messengers. Vera was commissioned as a major in the Women's Emergency Corps and in 1915 she was placed in charge of horses and trucks in the Scottish Women's Hospital Units sent to Serbia. After the war ended Evelina returned to Serbia to work with orphaned children and it was here in 1920 that she died of pneumonia. In her will she left Vera £50 a year for life. Vera became the administrator of the Haverfield Fund for Serbian children and spent the rest of her life in Scotland living with friends and died there in 1969.