Catherine Pine trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, now part of City, University of London’s School of Health Sciences. She went on to become an ally of Pankhurst and the suffragette movement.

After qualifying, Pine stayed on at St Bartholomew’s, working as a hospital sister, until 1907. The following year, she and another Bart’s graduate, Gertrude Townend, founded their own private nursing home in a villa called Pembridge Gardens in Notting Hill. The two didn’t just have their alma mater in common; they were also both members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the leading militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the UK.

It was to this nursing home that Emmeline Pankhurst took her son Harry when he became seriously ill with polio, with Catherine Pine among those who cared for him. He could not be saved however and died two years later at the age of 20.

It may have been this initial connection between Pankhurst and Pine that first forged their friendship; what is known is that Pine and Townend’s nursing home became popular among suffragettes recuperating after imprisonment. After the Cat and Mouse Act was passed, it was there, for a time, that militant campaigners for the women’s vote went to be nursed back to health between stretches of incarceration.

Beverley Cook, Curator of Social and Working History at the Museum of London, oversees the museum’s collection of artefacts related to women’s suffrage. She says that Pembridge Gardens became the obvious place for suffragettes to recuperate, because “they needed a safe place to recover and a nursing home that was supportive to the campaign was an obvious choice”. This, she adds, “was potentially a difficult thing to do, which could have affected business quite badly if people objected. [Pine] was prepared to risk the reputation of her business. She never served terms of imprisonment herself, or undertook direct action, such as window smashing, but obviously her contribution was huge”.

In a telephone conversation, author Elizabeth Crawford confirms this account, explaining that Nurse Pine “was never involved in militancy herself”, although records do show that her colleague, Nurse Townend, was injured in a tussle with the police in 1913 at a meeting at Bow Baths Hall at which Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline’s daughter, was the speaker.

In fact, she adds, Catherine Pine’s adherence to the law was steadfast; she wouldn’t even be persuaded to allow women on release from prison under the Cat and Mouse Act to escape from her nursing home, because she would have been aiding and abetting. At other houses, these escapes would have been facilitated. “As far as I know, she stayed on the right side of the law all the time while looking after all the suffragettes,” says Crawford.

By 1913, it was well known that the nursing home in Pembridge Gardens was housing Pankhurst and other suffragettes. It became “so besieged by detectives and onlookers,” Crawford writes in her reference guide to the suffrage movement, that Pine began caring for Pankhurst at other safe houses in London and Surrey.


Jessica Holland (Magazine Journalism, 2007) is a freelance journalist, copywriter and editor who has written for The Guardian, Vice and Al Jazeera.

Illustration by Diego Pedauye.