Emily Juson Kerr (1857-1928)

My interest in the lady discussed here arose because she was not only among the first women to be appointed a Justice of the Peace (magistrate) but also a militant suffragette.

Born Emily Orman in India, Mrs Juson Kerr was to become a leading member of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).


Emily’s father was Major Charles Edward Orman of the Bengal Staff Corps. She was the eldest child in the family, and by the time of the 1871 census she and three of her siblings were living in Kensington at the home of a relative, John Orman, a clergyman. The following year Major Orman died and Emily, her brothers and sisters all received pensions from the Bengal Military Orphan Society. Emily’s pension was cancelled in 1878 when she married at the age of twenty-one.


Emily’s husband, Richard Juson Kerr was a businessman, probably in the cotton trade and with interests in India. His family hailed from Scotland originally and his father, Archibald Kerr had made his fortune in Canada. Richard also spent part of his childhood in Midlothian. Richard and Emily set up home in Northern England, living at different times in Liverpool, Cheshire and Derbyshire. However, according to her obituary, ‘domesticity was never very congenial to her’ (The Vote, 27 Jan 1928). The couple had no children but Emily seems to have had plenty of hobbies, including breeding and showing toy spaniels. She was probably also involved in charity work and was certainly interested in public affairs and women’s rights.


The earliest published record of her involvement with the women’s suffrage movement dates from 1908 when she was in the chair for a ‘peaceable’ meeting organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in East Kent (Dover Express 18 Dec 1908). Emily and her husband acquired Bradfield, a recently-built house in Walmer, Kent probably sometime around then, although in the 1911 census Richard was still living in Chapel en le Frith, Derbyshire. Significantly, his wife does not appear in that census, although Richard was at home with several servants, including a lady’s maid! It is highly likely that Emily was boycotting the census in protest at the lack of votes for women.


Emily’s obituarist in The Vote claimed that she always loved the sea, which might account for the decision to live in Walmer, on the Kent coast near Deal. She certainly became an enthusiastic sea-angler and was soon winning prizes as she had done previously in dog shows. One gets the impression that she was a highly competitive person. In 1911 the Daily Mail(24 Oct) reported on a sea-angling competition in Folkestone at which Emily not only won the principal cup on offer – the Folkestone Tradesman’s Cup – but also the prize for landing the heaviest fish: all the while she was wearing a ‘No Vote, No Tax’ badge. Emily and Richard also had a house in Kensington, and it was there that she first became active in the local WFL branch and the Tax Resistance League (TRL). Both organisations can be characterised as militant suffrage societies, although the illegal tactics they promoted belonged more firmly to the category of passive resistance than the militant law-breaking promoted by the WSPU after 1911. Emily Juson Kerr spoke at the impromptu TRL meetings called at auction houses when the distrained property of women who had refused to pay taxes was placed on sale. She also organised many meetings for the WFL in the Kensington area, and was said to have even taken a revolver on one occasion for protection of the speakers, as the meetings were often mobbed by rowdy opponents of Votes for Women.


In November 1913 Emily was arrested at a WFL demonstration outside 10, Downing Street called to protest about the treatment of suffrage prisoners. She was taken to Cannon Row Police Station and later bound over to keep the peace. Although she refused to abide by this, she was nevertheless released after several hours in a police cell. Emily was one of several women to be found guilty of a breach of the law during the suffrage struggle who was nevertheless later made a JP.


When war broke out in 1914, Emily, like many other suffragists and suffragettes turned to voluntary social work. In October of that year she launched in Hammersmith the first ‘Tipperary Club’ for wives and relatives of servicemen to socialise away from public houses (Times 28 Oct 1914). Her clubs spread over London and other parts of England and later merged with a nationwide organisation run by Lady Jellicoe. In 1915 Richard and Emily adopted the two youngest children of her dead brother.


Officially Emily’s political stance was ‘non-party’. However, in 1921 she supported a byelection candidate in the Dover division who was associated with the ‘Anti-waste League’, a political movement backed by Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail. The political success of this movement (which can be regarded as largely right-wing) prompted the Lloyd George government to establish the Geddes Committee with a brief to make proposals for cuts in public spending. Emily’s activities as leader of the Deal Housewives’ Union received a good deal of attention in the Mail and other newspapers. She opened a dairy to offer cheaper milk than was available elsewhere and campaigned for lower prices for tea and sugar, even going to the extent of threatening a housewives’ strike (Daily Mail, 27 Feb 1920).


Emily remained busy in her final years. In 1924 she was made a JP for Deal and she soon set up a Council of Women Magistrates in East Kent (similar to the women magistrates’ societies which existed in places such as Gloucestershire). She seems to have enjoyed her new role as a JP and put a lot of effort into it. In 1927 she spoke at the Magistrates’ Association annual meeting for women magistrates, expressing the view that motorists who drove at excessive speed should have their driving licenses suspended (Daily Mail, 21 Oct 1927). She became a member of the WFL national executive in 1924 and the following year she inaugurated a local WFL branch in Deal. Her obituarist in The Vote reported that at this stage of her life Emily was very interested in the League of Nations Union and was also a member of the Women’s Co-operative Guild.


Richard died in 1926 and according to her WFL comrades, Emily never fully recovered from her grief at his loss. Less than two years later, in January 1928, Emily herself died from bronchitis at the age of seventy.



Note on sources: The main source for the above, including the photograph is the obituary in The Vote, 27 Jan 1928. Other newspaper sources are referenced. Census records were also consulted via Find My Past.