FEATURE: Gunby Hall’s women’s rights campaigner who dressed like a man

A family portrait of Emily Langton-Massingberd. Image courtesy of National Trust.
A family portrait of Emily Langton-Massingberd. Image courtesy of National Trust.

On the 100th anniversary of women over 30 getting the right to vote - we look at the life of Gunby’s Emily Langton-Massingberd

Emily Langton-Massingberd was a highly-respected political and social pioneer who often chose to dress like a man at a time when others were squeezing themselves into corsets and bustle-back skirts.

Emily Langton-Massingberd was an advocate of women's suffrage

Emily Langton-Massingberd was an advocate of women's suffrage

She even took on several male roles during her time as an amateur actress.

The mother-of-four inherited the Gunby estate when her father died in 1887. Her husband, who also supported women’s rights, had died some years earlier in 1875.

Mrs Massingberd is perhaps most famous for founding a political group called the Pioneer Club - which looked at concerns such as the use of vivisection and examined various philosophies. However, its primary concern was that of women’s rights.

Members included Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor Marx, herself a political activist - and the children’s author L.T. Meade. The club also attracted high-profile guest speakers such as playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Describing the club, Mrs Massingberd said at the time: “Here we have no social distinctions, we all meet together on the common ground of sisterhood... We are of all creeds and politics, of different professions and of no professions, although most of us ‘do’ something, but united together in the desire to promote the advancement of women’s interests.”

She also served on the executive committee of the Women’s Liberal Federation in 1892.

Known as a ‘suffragist’ - a peaceful campaigner of the right to vote - Mrs Massingberd ran for county council, standing for the ward of Partney. She lost by just 20 votes - but succeeded in being one of the first women in the UK to stand for public office.

While running the Gunby estate for a period of four years, tee-total Mrs Massingberd converted the pubs into coffee taverns and social clubs. There is a story, widely believed to be untrue, that she used to lecture on the evils of alcohol from a boat moored on Gunby Hall’s ice house pond. But her distain for the affects of alcohol was well-documented.

She died in 1897 following an operation, aged just 49.

l Gunby Hall and Gardens is offering visitors the chance to step back in time to the era with their ‘Vote for Emily!’ days on the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 6 and 7, 11am-5pm. Visitors can meet suffragettes and campaigners for ‘Votes for Women’ as well as find out more about Emily Langton-Massingberd. There will be demonstrations of Suffrajitsu - a martial art of the suffragettes to fight for women’s rights, new exhibitions and fun re-enactments.

To read more about Emily Langton-Massingberd, or for details about the Vote For Emily event, visit Gunby Hall and Gardens’ website.