Helen Fraser (feminist)

Helen Fraser

Helen Miller Fraser later Helen Moyes (14 September 1881 – 2 December 1979)[1] was a Scottish suffragist, feminist, educationalist[2] and Liberal Party politician who later moved to Australia.


Fraser was born in Leeds, Yorkshire to Scottish parents. She was educated at Higher Grade School, Queen's Park, Glasgow. She opened a studio in Glasgow that specialised in black and white illustration work and embroidery.[3]

Political career

She joined the Women's Social and Political Union [WSPU] after hearing Teresa Billington speak in Glasgow.[1] She travelled to England to help the WSPU campaign at the Huddersfield by-election, 1906. She became Treasurer of the Glasgow WSPU and a WSPU Scottish Organiser. In 1907 she organised the WSPU campaign during the Aberdeen South by-election, 1907 during which she met Adela Pankhurst with whom she remained close friends throughout her life.[1] Her sister Annie became, with Maggie Moffatt, one of the first Scottish suffragettes to be arrested.[4]

Fraser took a prominent role in the WSPU's Hexham by-election, 1907 campaign for which she was praised by the Daily Mail. By 1908 she was becoming disillusioned with the violent militant tactics of the WSPU. She criticised the actions of one WSPU member who broke the windows of the Prime Minister H. H. Asquith. She resigned from the WSPU soon after and was approached by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies [NUWSS] and agreed to work for them.[1] She was a member of the NUWSS national executive committee for 14 years.[3]

Fraser was effective as a public speaker and had speaking engagements not just in Scotland, but all around Britain. In a one-year period (1908–09), her meetings collected a total of £56.19.10 for the NUWSS.[3] In 1912 she spoke at a meeting in Cambridge organised by the Cambridge Women's Suffrage Association, held during a course of University Extension Lectures. In 1915 she acted as temporary Honorary Secretary of the Penarth Women's Suffrage Society.[3]

During the Great War she worked as a Commissioner for the National War Saving Committee.[5] She was seconded to the Board of Agriculture to persuade women to work on the land.[1] In 1917 at the suggestion of Millicent Fawcett she was included by the British Government as part of the official British War Mission to the US,[5] to speak about Britain's war effort. She travelled through 40 states and spoke 332 times in 312 days.[1][3] In 1918, on returning to Britain, her book of the tour Women and War Work was published.[3]

In 1918, when women gained the right to stand as parliamentary candidates, she turned her attention to the campaign to elect women as members of parliament. She spoke in Cardiff on behalf of the Joint Committee for Getting Women into Parliament.[3] She did not contest the 1918 General Election. She took an active role in the affairs of a number of organisations; She was a member of the Executive Committee, of the NUWSS successor organisation the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, she was a member of the Common Interests Committee of the English-Speaking Union, she was involved in the Reunion of British War Missions in USA, she was a member of the Council for the Representation of Women in the League of Nations and she was a Member of the British Institute of International Affairs.[5]

Her efforts during the war and after had come to the attention of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and she joined his National Liberal organisation. In 1922 she was the first woman to be adopted in Scotland as an official prospective parliamentary candidate when she was selected as National Liberal candidate for the Govan Division of Glasgow for the 1922 General Election.[1] She was one of only three women candidates (all Liberals) to contest the general election in Scotland.[6] Govan was a safe Labour seat and she was not expected to win. Fraser was a prominent member of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women's Suffrage (GWSAWS) She had the GWSAWS backing to stand in Govan on the platform of the Liberal manifesto. This platform included the establishment of widow's pensions and an equal franchise for women. During her campaign she criticised her male Labour party opponent's "appropriation of our feminist ideals and policies."[7]

1922 General Election: Glasgow Govan [8]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour Neil Maclean 15,441 62.3 +14.5
National Liberal Miss Helen Fraser 9,336 37.7 +29.3
Majority 6,105 24.6
Turnout 24,777 78.3
Labour hold Swing -7.4

In 1923 she went to Paris, France to attend the conference of the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship as a delegate of the NUWSS.[3] Later in 1923, following re-union between Lloyd George and Asquith, she switched constituencies to stand as Liberal party candidate for the Hamilton Division of Lanarkshire at the 1923 General Election. Though also a Labour seat, it was believed that her prospects here were a little better. However, abuse and calumny by the Labour Party candidate Duncan Macgregor Graham made the experience a thoroughly unpleasant one;[1]

General Election 1923: Hamilton
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour Duncan Macgregor Graham 11,858 58.4 +0.8
Liberal Miss Helen Fraser 8,436 41.6 n/a
Majority 3,422 16.8 +1.6
Turnout 73.5 -4.8
Labour hold Swing n/a

Her last political invitation was to fight the Glasgow Kelvingrove by-election, 1924[9] but the Conservative candidate Walter Elliot was a friend, and she knew that she could poll enough votes to cause him to lose the seat, so she refused and gave up the idea of a career in politics. Helen then moved to London, earning money from freelance articles on women's issues. She was elected to Kensington Borough Council sitting as a member for seven years.[1]

Personal life

While living in London, Fraser was in contact with an old friend named James Moyes who had emigrated to Australia. His wife had died, and he asked Fraser to marry him several times before she accepted. She emigrated to Sydney in 1938 or 1939. Late in her life she wrote an autobiography, entitled A Woman in a Man's World, that was published in 1971.[1][10]


  • Women and War Work by Helen Fraser 1918
  • A Woman in a Man's World by Helen Moyes 1971


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Leah Leneman, "Moyes , Helen Miller (1881–1979)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 11 Feb 2014
  2. ^ Scotsman 11 November 1922
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Crawford, Elizabeth. The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928. Routledge. pp. 230–232. ISBN 9780415239264.
  4. ^ Elizabeth L. Ewan; Sue Innes; Sian Reynolds; Rose Pipes (27 June 2007). Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 269–. ISBN 978-0-7486-2660-1.
  5. ^ a b c The Woman's Year Book, 1923.
  6. ^ Pat Thane; Esther Breitenbach, eds. (2012). Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the 20th Century: What Difference Did the Vote Make. p. 48.
  7. ^ Gender and Political Identities in Scotland, 1919–1939 By Annmarie Hughes
  8. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918–1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow 1949
  9. ^ "The By-Elections." Times [London, England] 10 May 1924: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 February 2014.
  10. ^ Moyes, Helen (1971). A Woman in a Man's World. Australia: Alpha Books.

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