27th September 1909 – Suffragettes in Prison (Supply of Food) – Hansard
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any official information concerning the state of health of Mrs. Leigh and Miss Marsh, prisoners in Winson Green, Birmingham, and whether it has been found necessary to administer food to those ladies by force, and, if so, under what authority this action was taken or under what prison regulation this action was taken?
The medical officer of Birmingham Prison reported that certain women prisoners have persistently refused to take food. The Prison Commissioners therefore, with the approval of the Home Secretary, instructed the medical officer to apply such ordinary medical treatment as was, in his opinion, necessary to prevent the risk of their committing suicide by starvation. The treatment is the ordinary hospital treatment in such cases.
Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Can the hon. Gentleman say if the full operation is the food being pumped through the nostrils of these women or inserted by a tube down the throat? What has been the treatment?
I think the ordinary method is the second one.
Mr. KEIR HARDIE
The tube is inserted into the stomach and food pumped into it—horrible outrage, beastly outrage.
The last man died who was treated in this way.
Constance Lytton from Walton Gaol, Liverpool. Imprisoned as Jane Warton
Tuesday January 18th 1910. I was visited by the Senior Medical Officer at about 6 o’clock in the evening with five wardresses and the feeding apparatus. He urged me to take food voluntarily. I told him that was absolutely out of the question, that when our legislators ceased to resist enfranchising women then I should cease to resist taking food in prison. I offered no resistance to being placed in position but lay down voluntarily on the plank bed. Two of the wardresses took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet. One wardress helped to pour the food. The doctor leant on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth. I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth. The sense of being overpowered by more force than I could possibly resist was complete, but I resisted only with my mouth. The doctor offered me a choice of a wooden or steel gag; he explained, elaborately, as he did on most subsequent occasions, that the steel gag would hurt and the wooden one not, and he urged me not to force him to use the steel gag. I did not speak nor open my mouth. He seemed annoyed at my reticence and he broke into a temper as he plied my teeth with the steel implement. The pain of it was intense and at last I must have given way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it until my jaws were fastened wide apart. Then he put down my throat a tube. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had got down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back by head and the doctor leant on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe. It seemed a long time before they took the tube out. As the doctor left he gave me a slap on the cheek, not violently, but, as it were, to express his contemptuous disapproval. When the doctor had gone out of the cell, I lay quite helpless. The wardresses were kind and knelt round to comfort me, but there was nothing to be done. I could not move, I had been sick over my hair, which, although short, hung on either side of my face, all over the wall near my bed, and my clothes seemed saturated with it, but the wardresses told me they could not get me a change that night as it was too late, the office was shut. Presently they all left me; they had orders to go, which were carried out with the usual promptness. Before long I heard the sounds of the forced feeding in the cell next to mine. It was almost more than I could bear. When the ghastly process was over and all quiet, I tapped on the wall and called out at the top of my voice, which wasn’t much just then, ‘No surrender,’ and there came the answer past any doubt in Elsie’s voice, ‘No surrender.’ After this I fell back and lay as I fell…the long hours til morning were a nightmare of agonised dread for a repetition of the process.