While the internet is full of references – and even the text of – an American version of a Women’s Suffrage Cookbook, published to aid the cause in the States in 1915, the earlier British version is less known and considerably hard to get hold of.
The Women’s Suffrage Cookbook was compiled and edited by “Mrs Aubrey Dowson”, who held up the British tradition of resigning her own name to that of her husband despite her political views, in the early years of the 20th Century. One reference gives its publication as 1908, but several others say 1912, so whichever is right the book was in existence at the height of the women’s suffrage campaign.
The project had two real objectives – to raise funds for the suffrage cause, and to provide quick easy dishes for women to prepare for their family so that they’d have more time for campaigning.
Whether it was her brainchild or not, the book was put together by “Mrs Aubrey Dowson”, who was born Phillis Ellen Heaton Atkinson in 1876 in Frimley, Surrey.
She was one of six children of Edmund Atkinson, an author and professor of physics at one of the Oxford colleges, and his wife Mary—the daughter of Bristol-based soap magnate Christopher J Thomas.
She grew up in Surrey, with a full complement of servants in the household, also spending time in Bristol with her grandfather. Educated well into her teens, she didn’t work afterwards, indicating that the family finances were solid enough for her to devote herself to other pursuits. Her father died in 1900, leaving a considerable amount of money to Phillis’ mother. At the age of 27 — in 1903 — Phillis married Aubrey Osler Dowson.
Aubrey had been a prominent rugby player in his youth—he played forward for New College Oxford and Leicester, and later for Moseley. He also played in the starting XV for England versus Scotland in 1899. By the time he married Phillis he had settled into a career as a glass manufacturer, but perhaps his prominent name was a factor in her choosing to be known by it rather than her own.
Aubrey’s aunt, Catherine Osler, was also well-known suffragist, who was perhaps part of influencing Phillis’s political leanings. Aubrey worked for the Osler family glass manufacturing business, and they probably had close ties with the firm.
Phillis and Aubrey had no children.
By the 1911 census Phillis was fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and declared herself as a women’s suffrage philanthropic worker. Her mother also expressed support for the suffrage campaign on her census return.
Many of the recipes in Phillis’s cookbook were drawn from suffrage campaigners working in the Midlands, around the Warwick and Birmingham area where she and Aubrey were living at that time. However, some well-known figures appear in the pages – Millicent Fawcett contributes some recipes, as does Helena Swanwick. She appears to have published nothing else following this cookbook. Phillis became secretary for the Midland Federation for the NUWSS.
Despite being almost 40, Aubrey signed up for military service during the Great War, leaving Phillis alone at home. He survived, but his record is one that was destroyed in a fire.
In later life, Phillis and Aubrey travelled to exotic places—Morocco and Indonesia.
They moved to a farmhouse at Hanging Langford, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, for their last years.
Aubrey died in 1940, but Phillis was not an executor of his will—he left a considerable amount of money to a solicitor and a civil servant.
Phillis outlived her husband by four years. When she died, in 1944, she left £70k to her bank.
The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.