The St Marylebone Women Citizen’s Association arose out of a meeting convened by the local branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was decided to form an association to promote ‘citizenship’ among the women of St Marylebone.
A draft constitution dated 26 September 1918 declares that the Association was to be non-sectarian and non-party-political, with membership open to all women from the age of eighteen upwards. Other societies with women members could affiliate to the Association. The initial subscription rate was a minimum of 6d for individual members, 3s 6d for the first fifty members of affiliated societies and 1s 6d for each succeeding fifty. The Association was to be run by a Committee of twelve members to be elected annually each spring by the method of proportional representation. Following strict democratic principle,
“[o]rdinary members of the Committee shall serve for three years – four shall retire each year in rotation and shall not be eligible to serve again until the following year”.
Meetings were to be called upon written requisition of 30 members of the Association, or by 2 members of the Executive Committee.
Promoting citizenship meant advancing women’s understanding of social, political, and legal issues, thus encouraging their greater involvement in decision-making and the electoral process. During the first year, members of the association gave lectures to the Girls’ Friendly Society, the North and South Marylebone Schools for Mothers and Church Army Girls’ Club. External speakers were invited to speak on such subjects as housing, women’s working hours and the Ministry of Health Bill.
The Association was always keenly interested in local government and women candidates for both St Marylebone Borough Council and the London County Council often came to address meetings. Speakers covered subjects like ‘Finance of Government’ (23 February 1921), ‘Criminal Law Amendment Bill’ (16 March 1920), ‘Abolition of the Death Penalty’ (16 November 1925), and ‘Suffrage of Women in India’ (18 December 1931) – topics which, at least at the Association’s early beginnings, would have been unusual conversation topics for even the most learned women whose interests had been frequently confined by social norm to the arts and philanthropy.
The Association also organised visits to the Palace of Westminster (13 January 1923) and to the new Public Library (2 November 1923) before it opened a month later on 18 December.
The first meeting took place on 1 July 1918 and the first Chairman was Mrs Lauritson Shaw. She was succeeded in May 1919 by Miss E Bright Ashford who remained as Chairman until 1938 and who also served for many years as a Councillor on St Marylebone Borough Council.
By May 1919 the Association had attracted 40 individual members and around 192 members in affiliated societies (Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society, Women’s Liberal Association, Women’s Local Government Association and the Women’s Section of the Labour Party).
In 1928 the Association had 89 members, a number which had declined to 66 by 1933. In that year a circular was sent to members seeking their opinion as to whether the Association should continue to function. This seems to have been provoked by falling membership and poor attendence at meetings. Only 15 members expressed a positive opinion that the Association should continue and there seems to have been little activity between November 1933 and April 1938 when the Association was finally wound up. It is clear that throughout its existence the Association played an important role in helping to educate the women of St Marylebone and encouraging them to take an active role in local government.