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David Lloyd George’s suffragette chauffeur

Charlotte-Marsh-10719905-1A curious one from the archives today: pictured here in The Tatler, January 1916, is Charlotte Marsh, who was David Lloyd George’s new chauffeur.

Although he would end 1916 as Prime Minister, Lloyd George was still Minister for Munitions when Marsh joined his staff. He had spent 1915 implementing a massive overhaul of the munitions industry in Britain to tackle severe shortages of ammunition at the front. Mainly, this meant solving a labour shortage. With men of working age away fighting, Lloyd George negotiated with factory owners and unions to get women on the production lines for the duration of the war. His success can be measured by the fact that at the end of the war there were one million women in the munitions industry. The demand for women to take up the economic slack was  widespread, and Lloyd George’s employment of a female chauffeur was intended as an example to women and employers alike.

Women still could not vote in 1916, and Lloyd George’s choice of Charlotte Marsh was a political statement in itself. Marsh had been a prominent campaigner for the female vote since 1907-8, when she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) — one of the most outspoken arms of the suffrage movement. By 1913 she had been imprisoned three times for her activism, including sentences of three and six months’ hard labour; during both sentences she went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed by a tube down her throat. Lloyd George was far more sympathetic to female suffrage than Prime Minister Asquith, and presented the chauffeur role to Marsh as a way to build a political relationship and further the suffrage cause. Marsh accepted on this basis, and this photograph dates from this political moment.

The WSPU suspended its campaign of disruption during the war and many of its members, including Marsh, became active contributors to the war effort. In addition to driving Lloyd George, she worked as a motor mechanic and joined the Women’s Land Army, farming the land while male agricultural workers were away at the front.

Although some women achieved the right to vote in 1919, it’s difficult to gauge whether Marsh’s time as Lloyd George’s chauffeur had any specific political impact. It remains instead as a snapshot of social and political relationships in the war. Lloyd George, working to get women on to the workforce (for the duration of the war at least), was soon to become Prime Minister of a troubled Liberal government, where female suffrage was a point of contention. Marsh meanwhile, campaigning for a political voice, was one of millions of working women at home and at the front. Their  participation in the war effort was a major factor in the success of the suffrage movement.

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