Louie Cullen—part one

Louie Cullen—part one
Uncovering a forgotten life
15 June 2016

On 24 July 1960 Louisa Clarissa Cullen (or Louie as she preferred to be called) died quietly in Sydney after a period of illness. Her husband had predeceased her and she had no children. 

At first glance she appears to be like many who had reached the end of an uneventful life. However, research across our collections, including manuscript works, published items, realia, online databases, and not least Trove digitised newspapers has revealed her life to be far removed from this image. She had been a radical suffragette, a campaigner for the rights of women to vote and a self described militant who had been imprisoned for her actions in the notorious Holloway prison.

Two photographs of Louie Cullen, the first captioned "Holloway" February twelth to March eighteenth 1908, the second captioned "Hyde Park" Platform No. 3 June 21

Louisa Cullen in Woman's Day  25 August 1959, pg. 9, nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn1316088

In brief, she was a woman to be reckoned with. Even after her emigration from England to Australia and into her old age she remained active and supportive of the rights of women and children.

Using resources available at the National Library I have been able to build an overview of Louie’s fascinating life. Despite this, tantalising gaps remain which may be filled in by future research and as more material becomes available. 

Early activism

Louie’s early life can be sketched from a variety of sources. I used Find My Past to find her year of birth was 1877 and to confirm her marriage to her devoted husband Joshua William Cullen in 1900.

A search through the Library's online catalogue uncovered the book The women's suffrage movement: a reference guide, 1866-1928. It contained  useful biographical information and clues for research.

Louie had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 and participated in a number of suffragette activities. She was also an active contributor to their newspaper Votes for Women. In the issue for 2 July 1909 her name appears in the list of women arrested for marching on the House of Commons and useful biographical detail is provided—she had worked for her living since she was 14 and was married to a working man to whose influence she credits her joining of the movement.

Also noted are incidents illustrating her activism—she was ejected from the House of Commons for waving a banner in 1906, she was imprisoned in the notorious Holloway Prison for 6 weeks in February to March 1908 for taking part in the ‘pantechnicon raid’ on the Houses of Parliament and had been a speaker at the great Hyde Park suffragette rally in 1908. 

Sketch of Louisa Cullen's prison cell in Holloway Prison with caption "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."

Louisa Cullen's prison cell in Holloway Prison, Papers of Bessie Rischbieth MS 2004/3/310, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-250831564

Curious about the pantechnicon raid, I searched the database British newspapers 1600-1950 and found an article in the The Nottingham Evening Post (Nottingham, England), for Wednesday, February 12, 1908; pg. 5; Issue 9186 which provided a detailed account. This audacious raid was also widely reported on in Australian papers.

Louie was acknowledged for her commitment to the suffragette cause by Emmeline Pankhurst who presented her with an illuminated address, held in our collection.

Illuminated address presented to Louisa Cullen

Louisa Cullen, Emmeline Pankhurst and Women's Social and Political Union (Great Britain), Illuminated address presented to Louisa Cullen  1900s, nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn860233 

Louie's commitment did come at a cost, as it appears to have been her imprisonment in Holloway which affected her health and caused her and Joshua to emigrate to Australia in approximately 1911, settling initially in Melbourne.

It is obvious that a woman such as Louie would not cease acting on her strongly held beliefs just because she moves to another country. In part two of this series on the life of suffragette Louie Cullen, her activism in Australia is outlined and a rare and important suffragette treasure revealed. 

Our women's suffrage appeal

Help uncover more stories like Louie's by contributing to our women's suffrage appeal. All funds raised will go towards preserving, digitising and improving access to our collection of women's suffrage material. Donate online, or phone the Development Office on 02 6262 1336 for more information. All donations over $2 are tax-deductable. 

Thanks for this Blog - All too often we forget about the pioneers that forged this country. It was interesting reading and a tribute to a very special lady.
Thanks Helen. Very interesting read.