Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
Rare pic of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling 'Suffragette' newspaper outside Hampton Court in April 1913.
Sophia Duleep Singh (August 8, 1876-August 22, 1948) was the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his first wife Bamba Müller, and Sophia combined Indian, European and African ancestry with an upbringing among the British aristocracy.
Princess Sophia was one of the prominent figures in the movement to secure women’s right to vote in Great Britain.
As an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the Women’s Tax Resistance League and the Suffragette Fellowship, she vigorously joined other women in campaigning for a change in the law to grant women the right to vote on the same terms as men.
She took a leading part in the first deputation of 300 WSPU members to Parliament on November 18, 1910, to stress upon the government to pass the required bill. The police obstructed the women and a violent skirmish ensued. It was like a battlefield with police fighting unarmed women. More than 100 persons were arrested and many injured. The event has ever since been referred to as ‘Black Friday’.
In getting more people to join the cause of WSPU, the organization published a pamphlet, ‘Vote for Women’, and Princess Sophia dedicated her time to deliver the pamphlets at various places at London, especially in front of the Hampton Court Palace.
Being a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, she did not pay taxes due to be paid and in 1911, was summoned to Spelthorne Petty Sessions and fined 3 pounds for keeping a carriage, a manservant and five dogs without licences and for using ‘armorial bearings’.
The county of Middlesex sent bailiffs to her house to demand payment of 14 shillings for her refusal to pay rates. They seized her diamond ring and auctioned it. A member of WSPU bought the ring and returned it to Princess Sophia. On a similar issue, she was again summoned in 1913 and was fined 12 pounds, which she refused to pay. The bailiffs arrived again and took a pearl necklace comprising 131 pearls and a gold bangle studded with pearls and diamonds. These were auctioned and bought by members of the Women’s Tax Resistance League and returned to Princess Sophia.
Her response in court to being accused for not paying her taxes was blunt:
"Taxation without representation is a tyranny. I am unable to pay money to the state as I am not allowed to exercise any control over itsexpenditure. If I am not a fit person for the purpose of representation, why should I be a fit person for taxation?"
Her court appearances made good stories for the press and this made everyone realize the injustice of not allowing women to vote and eventually, in 1928, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed and all women over 21 could vote.
Princess Sophia remained a close friend and associate of Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of WPSU, a woman who in 1999 was listed by Time magazine as being one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.
She died in 1928 and Princess Sophia was elected president of the Suffragette Fellowship in her place. In the 1934 edition of ‘Women’s Who’s Who’, Princess Sophia gave her only interest as "The advancement of women."
She died on August 22, 1948.