First published in The Bermudian January 1942 by Elizabeth Taylor.
‘Votes for Women’ is still an issue in these Bermuda islands, and Gladys Morrell has been working for years to break down the prejudice against it. Despite women having the vote in England since 1918, Bermuda’s colonial self-governing group has remained adamants. Men, only, have voting privileges, although women are allowed the dubious one-sided privilege of paying taxes along with the men. Since the spring of 1914 Mrs. Morrell has struggled and fought to change the situation. Gladys Morrell, was born in Somerset on June 2, 1888, the daughter of the late Terrence Misick, M.C.P. and Thalia J.D. Misick (nee Wells). On both sides the family had for many generations been either Bermudian or early settlers in New England, Nova Scotia and the Bahamas. Her early education was obtained at the Bermuda High School for Girls. She subsequently entered the North London Collegiate School for Girls and obtained a scholarship to Royal Holloway College of the University of London. It was during these college days in England that she first obtained her great interest in woman suffrage. Various famous feminists addressed the student groups of Royal Holloway, among them Mrs. Sidney Webb, Mrs. Despard and Mrs. Henry Fawcett. It was Mrs. Fawcett and her dynamic personality who made the greatest impression on the young Gladys Misick. After her graduation, with a B.A. degree, she took a trip to India to join her elder brother (the late J.M.K. Misick, Indian Police) who was on duty at Delhi for the celebration of the 1911 Coronation Durbar. She remained in India for the entire winter enjoying an unforgettable experience but eager to be “on her own” and in the Suffrage movement. In the spring of 1912 Miss Misick returned to England and spent a weekend with the principal of Royal Holloway College. The principal had just received a letter from Mrs. Henry Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, asking for recommended students to take up organizing for the woman suffrage movement. It was a heaven-sent opportunity to the ardent young feminist and she started work wit the National Union, immediately working with them until the end of 1913 when she returned to Bermuda after a ten-year’s absence. She intended returning to her work for “the Cause,” but the outbreak of World War I prevented it. Not to be downed, she began a woman suffrage campaign in Bermuda, and the first suffrage meeting was held in St. George’s in 1914, Sir Stanley Spurling being one of her first supporters. In 1915, despite the hazards of travel she decided to go back to England to do war work. Her family were much against it, and informed her that if she went she would be entirely on her own, which in turn meant she would have to support herself. They never believed she would go, but they counted without her indomitable courage and strong will-power. Once in England she got a job with a firm of average adjusters in the City of London having to do with Marine Insurance and Shipping Law thus considering herself in both a self-supporting and patriotic job. It was a new field for women, and a difficult and arduous job, but she made such a success of it that after the war her boss asked her to stay on and take over the Liverpool branch. She did not see it as her life’s profession, however, and turned down the offer. While she was in England during the war, she also did Red Cross work in France during one winter, working at the canteens near the front lines at Verdun. She went back to France after the Armistice, to continue her Red Cross work during the demobilization period, and it was while she was there in the winter of 1918 that she cast her first vote in the British elections. All college graduates had an automatic registry and woman suffrage in England had just won its long and arduous struggle.
In 1919 Gladys Misick returned to Bermuda and started the local suffrage movement in earnest. It seemed an easy task at first. The feeling of gratitude to women for their courageous war work and abilities to take a man’s place was paramount. Members of the current House of Assembly assured her that the bill would go through in record time. The motion was put before the house to appoint a committee to draft the bill. This motion was carried by a vast majority after many fine speeches by the members. Then there was a mysterious lull. The committee delayed their report. The suffragists prodded them to no avail. Public opinion was changing. Eventually the current House of Assembly expired. The war was forgotten and so were votes for women.
In 1920 the colony celebrated the tercentenary of parliamentary institutions here, and there was much talk of Bermuda’s representative government. The irony of this, with women still voteless, stung Gladys Misick into real action. By 1923 the Woman Suffrage Movement of Bermuda was in full swing. All the members were well aware that they had a much longer and harder road to travel than they had ever expected. In 1929 there was a series of acts introduced in the House to consolidate the old franchise laws, including the parliamentary, municipal, and parochial acts. It was an excellent opportunity to being in an amendment for women suffrage with each one. The old parochial law was a bit ambiguous in its wording and the Suffragists pounced upon a loophole. It did them no good, however, as Col. Dill, the then Attorney General allowed them no benefit of the doubt, even going so far as to draft a new bill containing the definite wording: “No person, not a male” shall be registered to vote. That was the last straw.
In the winter of 1930 the suffrage party staged their first tax resistance, choosing the parochial taxes to resist. At the time they sincerely believed they were facing a probably prison sentence for non-payment, and it took a good deal of courage to go through with it.
As it turned out, the authorities confiscated furniture the worth of the unpaid taxes. A table, belonging to Mrs. Morrell, has been seized by the police yearly, since that winter of 1930, and auctioned off, only to be brought back by supporters of the cause and returned to her house and its place before the big open fireplace. It may seem a joke now, but at Gladys Morrell says, it kept the cause before the public eye and gave suffragists a chance to stage a public demonstration against the injustice of Bermuda voting laws. Since the outbreak of the present World War they have stopped their demonstration and contented themselves with a written protest, believing that other things, at present, are more worth their energies. But by no means is Mrs. Morrell giving up the idea, and if courage and persistence amount to anything in this world, woman suffrage will find its way into Bermuda laws before very long.
Gladys Morrell is a tall, handsome woman with a thoughtful and decisive manner. In 1926 she met and married Commander J.S. Morrell, then stationed at H.M.S. Malabar, and now once again on active service with the Royal Navy but able so far to enjoy the home life of their charming old home, Cavello Hill. Mrs. Morrell counts herself particularly happy that her family are united on Woman Suffrage. Both her father and brother supported the cause in the Bermuda House of Assembly. Her mother has tax-resisted with her each year and her husband has always given her loyal backing, with only occasional mild protests at the claims on her time and energy. Mrs. Morrell remains active in all public works. She has to her credit, besides the Woman Suffrage Society, a considerable part in the founding of the Welfare Society of which she was first chairman of the first branch and was largely responsible for the drafting of the Society’s Constitution. She also organized the Somerset Lawn Tennis Club, of which she was the first secretary. She is an a
rdent I.O.D.E. member and was the first Secretary of the Cradock Scholarship Committee and one of the organizers of the Sandy’s Chapter, remaining its Regent to date. At present she is active in the I.O.D.E. Naval Recreation rooms as well as in other kinds of war work.
The Nutrition Committee is a recent child of Mrs. Morrell’s, but one, she says, that needs a lot of nourishment.
Gladys Morrell is a woman who hates inactivity. She has a brilliant mind, and a habit of resting her chin in her hand when she thinks. She is the sort of woman you associate with low heeled shoes, a walking stick and a love of the outdoors. As to hobbies, she has never lost her interest in tennis and enjoys an occasional game of Bridge. She calls herself an intermittent and bad gardener. Her real hobby, as she confessed, is public work and especially work with other women. She is a woman Bermuda should be proud of, and listen to more often.