Mary Ann Hilliard – Suffragette, Nurse, Ancestor

Mary Ann Hilliard was a daughter of Dominick Hilliard and his first wife, Margaret Duke. She was a half-sister to my great-grandfather, William Dominick. Mary was born in Cork in 1860 and died on 21 October 1950 in Wembley.  She went to England to train as a nurse when she was sixteen. She was a military nurse throughout the 1914-18 war and spent part of her wartime service abroad. One of her main duties was looking after Italian prisoners.

When the suffragette movement was at its height, Mary Ann, known to the family as Minnie, took part in suffragette demonstrations in London in 1912 and was sentenced to two months hard labour in Holloway Prison for her activities. While in prison, the suffragettes embroidered a handkerchief with all their names and the slogan “Votes for Women”, a souvenir of her experiences she treasured for many years before sending it to the movement’s headquarters for safekeeping. This document outlines the story of The Suffragette Handkerchief

An article from the The Suffragrette HandkerchiefBritish Journal of Nursing from March 1942 mentions that Mary Ann donated the handkerchief to the British College of Nurses.

A few months ago we announced that the late Sister Catherine Pine had bequeathed to the British College of Nurses the priceless historic Medal and Bars bestowed upon her by the late Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, for her devoted services to her when released from durance vile. As time goes on this gift we may hope will be valued at its true worth by women all over the world, And now, no doubt inspired by Sister Pine’s example, Miss Mary Hilliard, a gentle, very valiant suffragette, has bestowed as a gift to the College the fine linen handkerchief, signed by and embroidered by all the gallant women who suffered imprisonment for conscience sake, in support of the enfranchisement of women in Holloway prison in March, 1912, It displays 67 signatures embroidered in various colours, and all that remains is to offer a warm vote of thanks to Miss Mary Hilliard, R.B.N.A., and to await the time when this historic gift can he suitably framed and placed in the History Section of the British College of Nurses, where its unique value will be appreciated.

After retiring from nursing in the early 1920’s, Mary fell victim to arthritis which in time restricted her physical activities. She had lived in Wembley only a few years, coming to the borough from Hackney after the air raids. After she died a service was conducted by the Rev. R. Kirby, Minister of Park Lane Methodist Church, which preceded the cremation at Golder’s Green.




  1. Hi Elaine,
    Sorry about the delay – I have just revisited your website and seen your response. Last Saturday I went to see the handkerchief and it really is spectacular.

    I’m still bemused as to how it ended up in West Hoathly after having been donated to the BCN. Uusually when such important artefacts are given they are kept and never de-accessioned.

    I wonder how it came to be in WH, did Mary have a connection there, did she ever ask for it back and maybe made a bequest to someone who lived there?

    Do you know if she knew two sisters, Georgiana and Helen Macrae who lived at Edenbridge – their names are on the handkerchief.
    Best regards,

  2. Dear Elaine Beare

    I am interested to read of your family connection to Mary Hllliard and the suffragette handkerchief. Do you know how this extraordinary artefact arrived in West Hoathly?

    I really look forward to hearing from you.
    Diane Atkinson

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