After her arrest outside the House of Commons, she turned to her husband to discuss what to do with the choice she’d been given. Their daughter Winifred Langton recounts their conversation in a 2007 biography: "'What can I do Daddy? To draw back will encourage this intimidation. Can I count on your full support? It will be agonising to be away from you and our children, but with your help I can face this.' 'My dear Mama we have supported each other for many years we must not fail now that we are to be put to the test.'"
In the end, all three women chose six weeks at Holloway Prison rather than pause their suffrage work. Some sources quote Adelaide as declaring, “I refuse to barter my freedom to act according to my conscience, while my health permits me to fight on.”
Holloway Prison would play a significant role in the lives of England’s suffragettes. “Built in 1852, Holloway prison became a female-only site in 1903,” Historic England reports. “The building, an imposing castellated structure whose entrance was flanked by huge griffins holding keys in their claws, covered 10 acres of land in north London. Six wings radiated from a central tower, allowing for accommodation for 435 prisoners.” Its list of imprisoned suffragettes is long and storied.
According to Historic England, “Neither were the suffragettes all young, single and childless; grandmothers and young mothers and wives were among the inmates. Personal testimonies point to solidarity among the women, despite their different backgrounds. All the suffragettes were supposed to receive preferential treatment to ‘common criminals,’ but women were generally treated according to their social class.” For working-class Adelaide, this was bad—though not unexpected—news.
Her time in prison took a significant toll on her health, one that would impact the rest of her life. Yet, she rose each morning by singing The Red Flag, a socialist labor-organizing rallying song.
After her release, Adelaide immediately returned to her activism, but she resigned from the WSPU in 1907. According to daughter Winifred, Adelaide was dismayed by the classism within WSPU’s ranks, including propositions that only women who owned property should be granted the vote, duplicating existing rules for voting that also disenfranchised working-class men and many men of color.
Sarah Jackson wrote for The Guardian in 2015, “Most of the big marches and demonstrations in London...were populated by women from the East End, many of whom routinely gave up their only free day in the week to walk to Westminster and back. Over the next few years, the London WSPU’s physical move west was mirrored by a move away from the interests of their first working-class support base, and many early members left.”
“Not all the women in the suffrage movement were fighting for [university] degrees,” 92-year-old suffragette Elizabeth Dean told the BBC in 1978. “We hadn’t a chance of getting a degree, we were working women, and each of us had our own private thoughts of what we wanted, what we thought was just, and what was worth fighting for.”
Adelaide and Donald joined the Adult Suffrage Society, an organization focused on universal suffrage, regardless of class, race, or property. She became the Canning Town branch secretary, even traveling to France to speak about workers’ and voting rights. Her poor health forced her to resign this position in 1909.
Soon after, the Knight family relocated southeast to London’s Abbey Wood. Adelaide and her husband became involved in the local activist groups, including Women’s Cooperative Guild, the Independent Labour Party, and the Workers Educational Association. Her health, however, would never permit her to take on another leadership role.
Donald died in 1949 and Adelaide followed the year after. Winifred and her own daughter Fay Jacobson wrote about their impressive predecessors in a biography titled Courage: An Account of the Lives of Eliza Adelaide Knight and Donald Adolphus Brown. Winifred writes, “Their story might be of interest to others, as [my parents] played a significant role in a struggle which began before their time and continues into our own time. … [They] were campaigners for improved social support systems for the most vulnerable in society.”
Women’s Suffrage Resources: Adelaide Knight case study
East End Women’s Museum: Adelaide Knight, Leader of the First East London Suffragettes
Wikipedia: Adelaide Knight, H.H. Asquith, Bethnal Green, The Red Flag
Victoria Cross, The Men Behind the Medal: Donald A. Brown
Courage: An Account of the Lives of Eliza Adelaide Knight and Donald Adolphus Brown
Medium: Adelaide Knight, Survivor, Suffragette, and a Disabled Woman I would Love to Have Dinner with.
Woolwich Works: Making a Real Difference
British History Online: Bethnal Green: Building and Social Conditions from 1837 to 1875
Tameside.gov.uk: Living in the Past: Victorian Children at Work
Historic England: Holloway Prison and the Fight for Freedom
Hidden London: Canning Town, Newham
Life of Herbert Henry Asquith, lord Oxford and Asquith by John A. Spender
The Guardian: The suffragettes weren’t just white, middle-class women throwing stones