SCOTTISH feminist hero Caroline Phillips is being celebrated in a new musical created by award-winning writer Alan Bissett (shown below).

A Monstrous Regiment of Women explores the life of the suffragette and journalist and receives its premiere this week when it will be performed in English and Doric.

A cast of 20 young people who live in and around Inverurie are staging the play as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories programme and it is hoped the production will help to correct the often overlooked contribution Scottish suffragettes made to the campaign for the right to vote.

Born in Kintore in Aberdeenshire in 1874, Phillips became one of the few women who worked as a journalist in the UK in the early 20th century, with a job as a reporter on the Aberdeen Daily Journal, one of the two newspapers in the city at that time.

She was also leader of the Aberdeen suffragettes, and her commitment to the cause nearly saw her sacked and led to her being banned from covering political meetings for fear that she would cause disruption.

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As honorary secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) between 1907 and 1909 she helped organise the important Edinburgh march in 1707 and corresponded frequently with the leaders of the movement elsewhere in the UK.

Despite the Aberdeen branch’s geographical location far away from Westminster, it became an important hub under Phillips, who worked tirelessly to keep up the momentum, even when her job as a journalist was threatened.

Robert Gordon University professor Sarah Pedersen, who researched the branch’s activities, points out that huge demands were made on Phillip’s time as she had to deal with internal and external politics as well as organise the visits of prominent suffragettes such as Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.

“For Caroline Phillips, her devotion to ‘the cause’ meant that her livelihood as a woman journalist was threatened, and she was asked to choose between her job and her politics,” said Pedersen.

“Phillips’ correspondence reveals the emotional and personal costs of working for the cause in a city far removed from the heart of the suffrage movement, but also the fulfilling friendships and support that involvement in the movement offered.”

Pedersen said the letters – which were frequently written using the Daily Journal’s address – also show how difficult it must have been to organise the travels of people like the London-based Pankhursts from a distance.

However, Phillips became increasingly concerned about the growing militancy of the WSPU and clashed with them after a protest went ahead during a visit to Aberdeen Music Hall by Henry Asquith, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, which resulted in a fight in the orchestra pit and the suffragettes being thrown out.

Phillips was replaced as honorary secretary in 1909 when she suggested the WSPU should follow the non-violent strategy of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Emmeline Pankhurst sent her daughter, Sylvia, to take over temporarily before the branch was closed down, and members asked to join the wider WSPU under direct control from London.

Three years later, Phillips inherited a hotel in Banchory and moved away from Aberdeen. Her editor reportedly remarked at her leaving do that if she hadn’t been involved in “other things”, she would have made a good reporter.

The play, directed by Rhona Mitchell with many of the cast from the Mitchell School of Drama, is being staged at Inverurie’s Garioch Heritage Centre on June 22–26 as part of the Garioch Theatre Festival. It is supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund and was commissioned by festival organisers, Garidge Theatre which was set up to involve young people in all aspects of theatre.

“I am very excited to be working on A Monstrous Regiment of Women, rediscovering one of the North East’s unsung heroes and a feminist pioneer, Caroline Phillips, in a show which we hope audiences will find both entertaining and thought-provoking,” said Bissett, who has previously worked with Garidge Theatre.

“I enjoy teasing out these forgotten stories from Aberdeenshire’s past and bringing them to life with all the enthusiasm and energy of the young people involved. It really is an honour to work on this project.”