Dr Helen Boyle in 1939
Margaret Damer Dawson in her Women Police Service uniform, about 1917
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hove has been home to many formidable women who became well known figures in Britain.

The novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett was brought up in The Drive. Lady Wolseley wrote well on country houses.

Dame Henrietta Barnett founded Hampstead Garden Suburb and one of the best girls’ schools in Britain. Several pioneer suffragettes lived in Hove.

Dr Helen Boyle made great advances in the treatment of mental illness in women and Dame Jean Rivett-Drake became a brigadier in the Army.

Margaret Damer Dawson

Then there was Margaret Damer Dawson, born in June 1873 to a well off family in York Road, Hove.

Her father, a surgeon, died early and her mother soon married again to become Lady Walsingham. Her second husband, Thomas de Grey, the sixth Baron Walsingham, was remarkably rich.

Margaret had a private income and her first interest was music. She studied with the Austrian pianist, Benno Schoenberger at The London Academy of Music.

Anti-vivisection movement

She became involved in the anti-vivisection movement and was awarded silver medals by both Finland and Denmark for her crusade on animal rights.

Margaret became secretary of the International Anti-Vivisection Council which had been set up by Lizzy Lind. Between them, they organised the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress in London in July 1909.

They opposed the performance of animals in circuses and the slaughter of all animals for their meat.

World War 1

Before the First World War, women’s rights enthusiasts proposed that there should be female as well as male police officers.

The war prevented any progress but a volunteer service was gradually established by the sheer determination of both Margaret Dawson and her colleague Nina Boyle. They met in 1914 and joined forces after seeing the trouble faced by refugees.

Margaret Dawson noticed that Belgian women were being recruited as prostitutes when they arrived in Britain at railway stations.

Women police officer volunteers

Women police officer volunteers were used to patrol the streets and protect the refugees.

But Dawson and Boyle parted company over a problem in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Volunteers were asked to enforce a curfew on the Belgians to protect male policemen from the temptations of prostitutes.

Boyle opposed the use of policewomen for this purpose but Dawson took a more pragmatic view.

Asked by Boyle to resign, Dawson convened a meeting of 50 policewomen and 48 of them agreed to follow her ideas.

Woman’s Police Service

She built the new Woman’s Police Service, the first of its kind, and became its commandant. It operated in many towns including Brighton.

It was disbanded at the end of the war but it was not long before women joined the police and were paid. Dawson and her lesbian partner Mary Allen were each awarded OBEs.

Dawson died from a heart attack in 1920, leaving her house in Lympne, Kent, to Allen as they had lived together.

A home for abandoned babies which she had founded was named after her as a tribute.

But there was almost nothing left of her fortune as she had spent nearly all of it on the many causes she championed.

My thanks to historian and former police officer David Rowland for his help and information.

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