Olive Hockin – Suffragette, Artist and Land Girl
7 September 2018
‘For ourselves we saw the seasons through in all their changes of work and weather. And finally we proved to our own satisfaction, and to many a famer round about, that though woman be weak, ignorant, and inexperienced, yet with energy and determination and a little friendly teaching she can, at any rate in emergency, just stand in and “carry on”’.
Olive Hockin was a militant suffragette who later spent a year working as a Land Girl on a Dartmoor Farm
At the outbreak of war, Olive offered her services as a Land Girl, although there is doubt as to whether she was ever officially recruited by the respectable Women’s Land Army, given her colourful past. According to her own account, she had ‘just walked up to offer my services’ to a Dartmoor farmer, after having seen his advertisement for a casual labourer. At no time does Olive specify the real name (she referred to it as By-The-Way) or location of the farm, but it was most likely located somewhere between Tavistock, Princetown and Yelverton.
Olive’s account of her year spent working the land on the Devon farm, entitled ‘Two Girls on the Land: War Time on a Dartmoor Farm’ provides a valuable insight into the lifestyle and attitudes of what was, at the time, a fairly isolated way of life. Many farms had only gaslight and the days were long and tough, maintaining animals and growing crops in the unforgiving and rocky Dartmoor soil. Given this isolation, few farmers shared in the enthusiasm for war and Devon was known for its poor uptake on recruitment for the armed forces. Even less enthusiasm greeted upper and middle-class women offering themselves up as labourers. Olive notes the scepticism she was greeted with in ‘Two Girls’; ‘My lady gasped – but to do her justice, rose to the occasion with a bound. “Well really! You must come in and tell me about it. I am afraid my husband only laughs at the idea. He says that a woman about the place would be more trouble than she is worth, and we quite made up our minds that no woman could possibly do the work!”’
Nevertheless, in a short time Olive was taken on at 5 shillings a week with board and lodging ‘to do whatever I was told and go where I was bid.’ She worked tirelessly for a full year, taking on all the duties of the absent male labourers. She ploughed, harnessed, drove, fed and watered, dosed, milked, cleaned, swept, dug, sowed and harvested.
Olive was likely born in December of 1880 to a Westcountry family. After some time spent in Argentina as a teenager, she returned to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and went on to have her work shown at the Royal Academy. Gradually, her circles of artist friends lead her to establish links with women’s suffrage and the WSPU. Although marked out as a militant by authorities as early as 1912, Olive came to some prominence in the movement when she was found guilty of an arson attack on Roehampton Pavilion and sentenced to four months imprisonment. The main image was taken without Olive’s knowledge whilst in Holloway Prison awaiting trial, since Suffragettes regularly refused to co-operate when having their photographs taken for police records. Thus, she became one of the first subjects of secret police surveillance photography.
As the war years drew to a close, many female workers and farm hands were dismissed from their jobs in favour of returning servicemen. Little is known of Olive’s time after the war as none of her writings remain. She married in 1922 at the age of 41 and bore two sons.
Butler, S., 2016. Land Girl Suffragette; The Extraordinary Story of Olive Hockin. Somerset: Halstar
Hockin, O., 1918. Two Girls on the Land: War Time in a Dartmoor Farm. Arnold.
1914, Criminal Records Office. Olive Leared née Hockin. National Portrait Gallery Available from: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/use-this-image.php?mkey=mw70648 [Accessed on 15/03/2018]
1914-1918, Nicholls, Horace. A member of the Women’s Land Army using a plough drawn by two horses. Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive Collection. Available from: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194802 [Accessed on 15/03/2018]