Mary Sargant Florence

Mary Sargant was born in 1857, the third of eight children born into an upper middle-class, artistic family and studied at the Slade School of Art, London.

Mary Sargant was born in 1857, the third of eight children born into an upper middle-class, artistic  family and studied at the Slade School of Art, London. She was a member of the New English Art Club and the Society of Painters in Tempera, specialising in fresco murals. In the first decade of the twentieth century, she joined the main women's suffrage societies, both law-abiding and militant, and was a founder of the women's Tax Resistance League.

In 1888, Mary married Henry Florence, an American musician and she moved to the USA to be with him. Henry died suddenly around four years later by drowning and it was due to this tragedy that Mary discovered women's disadvantages in law. At that time, a woman's nationality was forfeited on marrying a foreign national. With two infants in tow, Mary made the ocean voyage back to the UK and settled in Marlow, Buckinghamshire while tackling the authorities to have her British nationality restored. In 1899, she also acted as architect for her new home called Lords Wood where she settled to being bread-winner as well as a mother and lived and worked until 1940. She took steps to change the legal system so that other women should not needlessly suffer.

Buckinghamshire has its own historic tax resister, John Hampden, the Parliamentarian who in 1635 refused to pay the king's ship tax. Mary designed and donated a John Hampden and other political banners used by the suffrage societies to influence public opinion in favour of equal rights for women. She loaned her Chelsea studio for suffrage meetings and Lords Wood became a refuge for suffrage campaigners needing rest and recuperation.

As a tax resister - 'No Vote, No Tax' - in 1912 and 1914, Mary refused to pay taxes, and had goods seized and sold. Around 1914, Mary painted frescos for Oakham School, Rutland and for Bourneville Junior School near Birmingham among other civic works and contributed work to the Artists Suffrage League. In 1915, she was elected to the committee for the Hague Peace Congress and with Charles Kay Ogden, published 'Militarism versus Feminism' that argued for women to combat war. Mary was described by a fellow artist as 'one of England's finest decorators - an original, intellectual and profound artist'.

In 1912 a competition was held to decide which local artist should paint the last fresco panel in Chelsea (old) Town Hall. Mary had a studio in Chelsea and she won the competition. Her subject was science and she painted the great scientific figures of the past, deferring to the figure of Wisdom, personified as a mother with babe. 

The Grade 11 listed Marlow home that Mary built might be counted as a memorial. To raise money for charity, the owners invite the public to visit Lords Wood on open days for the National Garden Scheme. Three of Mary’s paintings are in Tate Britain. Other than these accomplishments, it seems that no public recognition has been accorded to Mary. She died in 1954.

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