Oral history and collective memory can often add a extra dimension to women’s history, which may not be borne out by the records.
Amy H was the youngest of seven children born to a Bristol-based currier – a leather working specialist – and his wife in the mid-19th century. She lost her mother around the age of five, and she and her siblings were brought up by relatives rather than her father, even after he remarried.
As a young woman she lived with her widowed aunt in the fashionable Clifton area of the city. Her aunt had no profession, and was instead an itinerant, and the household had one servant.
Her aunt died when she was 30, and Amy was the sole executor and heir of her will, inheriting a great deal of money. She never married, and with this money remained of independent means for the rest of her life.
Family legend holds that she was a suffragette in the early 20th century. There is no documentary evidence to support this – no prison or court records show her having been involved in civil action – but as an unmarried, independent woman of means in this period she would have been ideally placed to support this cause. She also had several different forms of her name, which may indicate that she was known by different groups of society in separate ways.
In the early part of the 20th century she lived with her widowed sister, supporting and helping her with her young family. Her sister registered no profession on the census records, perhaps an indication that Amy’s inherited money was helping to support the family.
As women gained the vote in 1918, Amy bought property on the outskirts of the city, thus enabling her to qualify as a property owner and therefore vote in the next general election. This action may also have labelled her as a suffragette, or suffragist – or at the very least a supporter of women’s rights – in the collective family memory.
She remained in that property until she died, a couple of years after the Second World War, leaving a still considerable amount of money to a builder’s merchant.