Members of Brighton and Hove History Group were proud to be present at the Brighton and Hove Council meeting for the awarding of the Freedom of the City to Suffragette Mary Clarke.

Councillors unanimously voted to recognise her efforts to achieve women’s right to vote with the city’s highest honour at a special council meeting on Thursday 14 December 2023.

The vote followed a small reception in Hove Town Hall hosted by the Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Councillor Jackie O’Quinn.

Mary Clarke’s great great niece Briony Goulden and her daughters Sylvie and Lena attended the event to accept the award on Mary’s behalf. Sylvie and Lena attended carrying a replica of Mary’s lamp, recalling a comment made after Mary’s death that her friends and followers should ‘not mourn in silence’ but ‘take up the torch and light the darkness of craft and cruelty’.

The event was also attended by a group of current and former councillors and supporters of the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal.

The image shows the Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Councillor Jackie O’Quinn, wearing her ceremonial robes and next to her Briony Goulden, and her two daughters, dressed in purple, sporting ‘Votes for Women’ sashes and holding the Freedom of the City certificate. Behind them there is a life sized cardboard cut out of Mary Clarke and a miniature statue of her. 
An inspiration to all.

Councillor Bella Sankey, Leader of the Council, said: 

“I am absolutely delighted to be able to celebrate the life and legacy of Mary Clarke with the Freedom of the City award. “When talking about women’s suffrage, the likes of Mary’s sister Emmeline and niece Christabel Pankhurst usually come to mind for their daring tactics or Emily Wilding Davison for her painful death under the hooves of the king’s horse. However, it was Mary’s gentle spirit, kindness and intelligence that helped her carve a mark on our city’s vibrant history. Mary dedicated her life to campaigning for women’s right to vote after escaping an abusive marriage. She co-founded the famous WSPU and although not born in Brighton, she became a treasured Brightonian after she was appointed local WSPU organiser. Throughout her years campaigning, she was subjected to heckling, abuse and even imprisonment, all because she believed that women deserve to have their say in society.

She passed away on Christmas Day, 2 days after her release from Holloway prison, where she was subjected to torturous force-feeding. She is widely believed to be the first person to die for women’s right to vote.

I hope that this award will only be the first step in celebrating her legacy, and that every woman and girl in our city and beyond will find inspiration in Mary when they’re afraid to stand up for what they believe in or question their worth and ambition.”

The Freedom of the City is a ceremonial title given to individuals or organisations in recognition of exceptional service to the city. To be conferred, it must be passed by no less that two-thirds of voting members at the special council meeting.

You can watch the Special Council meeting where Mary Clarke was awarded the Freedom of the City on the council’s webcast.

Jean Calder (next to Briony Goulden) BHWHG member and organiser of the ongoing Mary Clarke Statue Appeal.
Our BHWHG Vice-Chair Valerie Mainstone with the Mayor Jacquie O’Quinn.