Women’s History and the Suffrage Movement
Geraint H. Jenkins
Page 4 of the Centenary address delivered at the Annual General Meeting of the Society, held at the Belle Vue Hotel, Aberystwyth, on 18 April 2009.
In view of the growing interest in women’s history and the suffrage movement in general in the Edwardian years, it is legitimate to ask: were there founding mothers? In terms of the need for representation there certainly should have been, especially since the 1911 census revealed that for every thousand males in the county there were 1211 females. But gender balance was taken very lightly by the Edwardians and the majority of men believed, as their Victorian fathers had done, that women were fit only to be wives and mothers. Yet there were exceptions. John Gibson, the forthright editor of the Cambrian News, pulled few punches in endorsing women’s political and social rights and in condemning the blinkered attitudes of fellow males. But even he tired of the militant tactics employed by the suffragettes in 1909. No one at the time, therefore, would have been unduly surprised to learn that only one woman was elected to the twenty-strong assembly which served as the Society’s first executive committee.
Evelyn Anna Lewis was the daughter of Price Lewis, a major in the Royal Artillery, and his Canadian wife Florence. Evelyn was born in Nova Scotia c.1873 and was brought up in Poyston, Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire, where her father was serving with the Pembroke Militia. Sometime in 1902 the family bought the Tyglyn estate in Ceredigion and set down roots in the county. By the late 1920s Evelyn Lewes was living in Cliff Terrace, Aberystwyth, and was much admired by the denizens of the town as a redoubtable, feisty lady. Even though she was considered a token female presence on the Society’s Executive Committee, she was no shrinking violet. She became immensely knowledgeable about the history of her adopted county and emerged as one of the most active promoters of the Society’s goals. She learnt some Welsh, though she wrote it poorly, and counted herself an expert on Welsh folklore. She figured prominently among members of the Gorsedd of the Bards from 1916 onwards, wrote useful guidebooks like Picturesque Aberayron (1899) and A Guide to Aberayron and the Aeron Valley (1922), and also penned an attractive little volume on Dafydd ap Gwilym and his works. Over a period of fifty years she published poems, articles and stories in the Cambrian News and the Western Mail. A leading light within the Cambrian Archaeological Association from 1906 onwards, she wrote a lively account of her experiences entitled Out with the Cambrians (1934), in which she paid a warm tribute to the exertions of George Eyre Evans on behalf of the Cambrians and the counties of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Evelyn Lewes was regularly invited to read papers at the Society’s meetings and her invaluable contribution was eventually rewarded with a Vice-Presidency, an honour which she prized highly. She died in 1961, having devoted a large part of her life to furthering the ambitions of the Society. Her contribution has not been properly recognized, but there is little doubt that she was an excellent ambassador for the Society.
If time permitted there would be ample reason to pay tribute to other unsung heroes among the early members, especially from among the clergy, several of whom ensured that the Society would not be seen as an Anglicizing influence within the county. The Revd E J Davies of Capel Bangor gladly served as the Welsh editor of the Society’s transactions, thereby lightening Tyrrell-Green’s workload and catering for the needs of readers of Welsh. It proved of inestimable advantage to the Society that the Revd J Francis Lloyd of Llanilar, an unusually gifted antiquary in his own right, readily shouldered the secretarial burdens. He was a tireless organizer: efficient and unflappable, he was Tyrrell-Green’s most reliable right-hand man. According to George Eyre Evans, Lloyd’s ‘contagious zeal’ lay behind the early successes of the Society and it was to his great credit that he was never daunted by ‘prejudice and apathy’. And there were also other faithful servants who, in Tyrrell-Green’s words, might not have worked wonders but who nevertheless helped to foster respect for the county’s antiquities.