Sophia Coulcher: our first female town councillor
Miss Coulcher of the St John Ambulance Brigade is sitting in the front row on the right. She was Ipswich's first female borough councillor but her ambulance work was always dearer to her heart than politics. In the Great War she was the VAD commandant of Broadwater and Gyppeswyck military hospitals. She was awarded the CBE for her war service.
Ipswich’s first female town councillor was Miss Coulcher (1853 – 1925), a Conservative. The Evening Star carried an interesting pre-election interview with her in October 1909:
‘I do not belong to any Suffragette organisation at the present time because I do not believe in the militant tactics adopted. The recent proceedings of the women agitators have, I think, put the clock back as regards the realisation of their hopes. I am coming forward as a citizen. The Legislature, having given women the right to seek election on the Town Council, I think they ought to take part in the work the same as men. It is now part of their duty. For some years past I have been a co-opted member of the General Purposes Committee of the East Suffolk County Council, but when the women on that committee have given their views, they have no voice in the council and cannot take part in the final stages of the proposals they support.
‘I do not propose to canvass the ward personally. I really have not time and, besides, I think a person should be elected on their merits and not ask for votes’ [which she will leave to her election committee].
Asked about any particular interests, she replied that she had no particular ‘grievance to ventilate upon the Town Council’. She was prepared to take her share in any work that the Town Council saw fit to give her to do:
‘I desire to place my service at the disposal of the rate-payers on the same general lines as a man does in the hope that I may be of use to the community.’
When the election results were announced the following month, the Evening Star commented:
‘The return of Miss Coulcher at Ipswich is the more interesting inasmuch as this lady is the second elected in East Anglia. She took the seat from the Liberals by a majority of over 400 votes.’
Miss Coulcher did not stand for re-election after her one term of office, but kept very much in the public eye with her ambulance work during the First World War.
Sources include the local press and my research for my book on Ipswich in the Great War