Plaque to commemorate pioneering woman journalist
A plaque to commemorate a pioneering woman journalist in Aberdeen who was a leading light in the local suffragette movement is to be erected.
Aberdeen City Council’s operational delivery committee approved the plaque for Caroline Phillips, 1874-1956, for one of the houses she lived in at 41½ Union Street.
She worked for the Aberdeen Daily Journal from 1900 as a journalist, and she worked as the Honorary Secretary for the Women’s Social and Political Union from 1907 to 1909 during which time she corresponded with key figures in the Suffrage movement such as the Pankhursts.
Aberdeen City Council operational delivery convener Councillor John Wheeler said: “It is our honour that we get to approve a plaque for such a pioneering woman, both as a journalist at a time when it was not considered to be a suitable career for a woman, and as a suffragette.
“The inclusion of a plaque to a local suffragette in the plaques scheme is especially relevant now as this year marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who met certain requirements.
“At the risk of losing her job, she actively campaigned for women to get the vote and even organised a train to take women to Edinburgh for a suffrage demonstration.
“We are extremely privileged to have had such a woman as part of the city’s history and it is a privilege for the members of the committee to have approved the plaque.
“I’d like to thank the members of Aberdeen Women’s Alliance for their hard work.”
The proposal for the commemoration came from Aberdeen Women’s Alliance.
Fiona Rennie, the convener of Aberdeen Women’s Alliance, said: 'It's great to see unanimous agreement at the operational delivery committee for the installation of a plaque for Caroline Phillips, a journalist with Aberdeen Journals and from 1907 to 1909 as Honorary Secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the Women's Social and Political Union, otherwise known as the Suffragettes. It is particularly appropriate in the Centenary year of some women first receiving the right to vote.
“Lord Provost Councillor Barney Crockett is also to be thanked for suggesting 41½ Union Street as a possible location for siting the plaque after two previous unsuccessful attempts at some of the residential addresses Caroline Phillips stayed at in the city.
“We are grateful to Langstane Housing for agreeing to have it erected at its building at 41½ Union Street.”
Caroline Phillips is mentioned on Stop Nine of the Aberdeen Women’s Heritage Trail, and a collection of her letters which were donated to Aberdeen Art Gallery by her family has given a rare opportunity and insight of this historic period.
Caroline Agnes Isabella Phillips was born on 13 December 1870 at the Free Church School house in Kintore, Aberdeenshire. She was the elder of two children of James and Jane Phillips.
Both parents taught in the same school where her father was the headmaster and her mother was a part-time sewing teacher. Her mother’s maiden name was Watt and the family believed that they were distant cousins of James Watt, inventor of the steam engine.
Caroline's younger brother, James William Phillips, was born at Kintore 18 September 1872. In 1874, the family moved to Aberdeen, where her father taught at St Paul Street School however her father’s health was poor and he was moved to a smaller school in Rosemount.
Both Caroline and her brother James became journalists, and Caroline worked for the Aberdeen Daily Journal from 1900 on. Phillips’ first involvement in public life came in 1904 when she served on the committee of “Fresh Air Fortnight” a charity which sent children from Aberdeen’s slums for a fortnight of fresh air and wholesome food in the countryside. Thereafter she became interested in women's rights.
She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was honorary secretary of the Aberdeen branch 41½ Union Street Aberdeen from 1907 to 1909. Her correspondence, including correspondence with the Pankhursts, is archived in Aberdeen Art Gallery in the Watt collection. The editor of the Aberdeen Journal initially allowed her to use the Journal’s address as her correspondence address, but later complained that she was too closely associated with women’s suffrage.
In 1907, Caroline organised a train to take suffragettes from Aberdeen to Edinburgh to take part in a suffrage demonstration. This was preceded by a meeting in Aberdeen attended by many of the most prominent suffragettes – Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs Despard, Mrs Pethick Lawrence, Mrs Billington Greig and Helen Fraser, who were accompanied on the platform by Caroline Phillips.
Although Caroline was not opposed to violent protest, her own actions were peaceful. She would walk round golf courses at dawn, replacing each flag with a “Votes for Women” flag. Many suffragettes hid during the night of the 1911 census, stating that they would not participate until they had the vote.
Caroline may have tried to hide because she is included in the household of the Rev Alexander Webster, a known supporter of women’s suffrage, listed as his “adopted daughter.” Her mother was still alive at the time.
In 1912, Caroline inherited the Station Hotel, Banchory, from an aunt and she gave up journalism and left Aberdeen in order to run the hotel. When she retired, she moved back to her home village of Kintore.
She died on 13 January 1956 aged 85 and is buried in the Watt family plot in Kintore kirkyard.