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Constance Antonina "Nina" Boyle

Birthdate: (78)
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Robert Boyle and Frances Sydney Fremoult Sankey

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Nina Boyle

Constance Antonina (Nina) Boyle (21 December 1865–4 March 1943), was a British journalist, campaigner for women’s suffrage and women’s rights, charity and welfare worker and novelist. She was one of the pioneers of the women's police service in Britain and in April 1918 she was the first woman to be nominated to stand for election to the House of Commons, paving the way for other female candidates at the general election later that year.


Nina Boyle was born in Bexley in Kent. Through her father, Robert Boyle (1830–1869), a captain in the Royal Artillery and younger son of David Boyle, Lord Boyle, she was descended from the family of the Earls of Glasgow. Her mother was Frances Sydney Fremoult Sankey, the daughter of a medical doctor. She never married.


Two of Boyle’s brothers served in the Boer War and Boyle lived in South Africa around this time. She did hospital work there and was employed as a journalist. While in South Africa she began to pursue her interest in women's rights, founding the Women's Enfranchisement League of Johannesburg. She returned to Britain in 1911 and, drawing upon her experiences in South Africa became active in the Colonial Intelligence League for Educated Women, a mainstream group of which Princess Christian, the daughter of Queen Victoria was the President. The League was set up to help women who had received a good formal education make use of their skills in British territories abroad, where they might otherwise be ignored, and once they had returned home.

But Boyle had more radical opinions about how women’s position in society could be improved. She was soon associated with the Women's Freedom League (WFL), with other well-known suffragettes, Charlotte Despard, Teresa Billington-Greig, Edith How-Martyn and Margaret Nevinson. Boyle was quickly elected to the WFL’s executive committee and became one of its leading speakers. By 1912, she was its secretary. The WFL was a breakaway organisation from the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed in 1907. The WFL had split from WSPU over the increasingly personal control of that organisation by the Pankhurst family and opposed the violent tactics used by the WSPU, preferring civil disobedience and traditional campaigning.

Women’s Freedom League activism

In 1912, Boyle became head of the WFL's political and militant department. She continued her journalism, having many articles published in the WFL’s newspaper, The Vote. She took a leading role in the WFL’s campaigns and demonstrations, was arrested on several occasions and was imprisoned three times. Having been arrested for obstruction in 1913 and sentenced to 14 days imprisonment, she protested about the conditions in which she and a fellow suffragist were taken to prison. Their prison van also contained men who made lewd and sexual remarks and gestures. It was as result of this sort of experience at the hands of the police and within the criminal justice system and consistent with WFL policy on equal employment opportunities, Boyle started a campaign for women to become Special Constables. This campaign coincided with the outbreak of war in 1914 and the call for volunteers for the war effort which Boyle wished to see taken up by women as well as men. When the request was officially refused, Boyle, together with Margaret Damer Dawson, a wealthy philanthropist and herself a campaigner for women’s rights, established the first voluntary women's police force, the Women Police Volunteers (WPV). Together with Mary Sophia Allen they won the approval of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to train and patrol in London on a voluntary basis with the role of offering advice and support to women and children to help prevent sexual harassment and abuse. Boyle herself was one of the first women to appear in a police uniform.

For Boyle, the WPV was an opportunity to challenge male control of the practice of the law particularly in relation to sexual issues and it the policing in this area that led to differences of opinion and approach within the WPV. The original emphasis of the WVP was the protection, welfare and morality of young women and prostitutes loitering near railway stations used by servicemen. While this side of their work was generally approved, Boyle was to become alarmed that her organisation and other similar initiatives were being used to support anti-female propaganda and to curtail women’s civil liberties. She also deplored the adoption of Defence of the Realm Regulation 40D, an anti-prostitution measure that in many people's view revived some of the objectionable features of the nineteenth-century Contagious Diseases Acts She described Regulation 40D as 'besmirching' the good name of women.

In February 1915, Boyle split away from the organisation over the use of the WPV to enforce a curfew on women of so-called ‘loose character’ near a service base in Grantham. She also denounced the use of the Defence of the Realm Act by the authorities in Cardiff to impose a curfew on what were described as ‘women of a certain class’ between the hours of 7 pm and 8 am. Boyle saw the WPV as an instrument to help and support women - not to control their activities. However, most of the WPV supported Dawson and the progress the corps was making towards gaining aacceptance for the role women in police work. Dawson changed the name of the corps to the Women Police Service and ended all links with the WFL. While the WPV continued to patrol on its own terms in Brighton and part of London until 1916, Dawson’s new service enjoyed much greater success, carrying out contract work for the Ministry of Munitions and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Though both organisations helped accustom the government and the British public to the exercise of policing functions by women, it was the members of a third organisation--the Voluntary Women Patrols of the National Union of Women Workers--who would be drawn upon to form Britain's first official women police force, the Metropolitan Police Women Patrols, in 1918.

War work

In late 1916, Boyle went to Macedonia and Serbia to do hospital duty. She also performed other war relief work in the Balkans, for which she was awarded the Samaritan Order of Serbia and the allied medal. After the Russian Revolution she travelled in Russia with fellow Suffragette Lilian Lenton, an experience which would make her a lifelong anti-Communist.

Keighley by-election, 1918

In March 1918, the sitting Liberal MP for Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Sir Swire Smith died causing a by-election. Although women over thirty gained the vote in 1918, there was some doubt as to whether women were eligible to stand for parliament. Boyle made known her intention to stand as a candidate for the WFL at Keighley and if refused would take the matter to the courts to obtain a definitive ruling. After some legal consideration, the Returning Officer stated that he was prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing an important precedent for women candidates. However he ruled her nomination papers invalid on other grounds. One of the signatories to her nomination was not on the electoral roll and another lived outside the constituency. While Boyle did not therefore get to appear on the ballot paper, she claimed a moral victory for women’s suffrage rights and cleared the way for others to stand and win election a few months later at the 1918 general election.


After 1918, Boyle remained active in a number of important women's organisations. She campaigned or addressed meetings on behalf of the National Union of Women Teachers, the Women's Election Committee, the Open Door Council (which aimed to remove protective barriers that restricted women's employment opportunities) and also organizations concerned with the welfare of women and children in developing countries. She was particularly active in the Save the Children Fund (SCF), and in 1921 she went to the USSR to work in an SCF famine relief programme. She used her position in the SCF to raise the issue of sex slavery and trafficking of women for prostitution. She wrote frequent articles for SCF publications and made many speeches as an SCF representative. She also supported the work of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, a campaigning organisation for the prevention of the exploitation of prostitutes and their welfare.

After the war and the winning of women’s political rights, Boyle, like many ex-suffragettes, turned politically to the right, though not to the same extent as her former associate Mary Allen who became a member of the British Union of Fascists. She was a speaker at a meeting of the anti-German and anti-immigrant British Empire Union (BEU) in 1921, and shared a meeting with Margaret Lloyd George later that year. In the by-election for the Abbey Division of Westminster held on 25 August 1921, she spoke in favour of the victorious Conservative candidate, John Sanctuary Nicholson. During the Second World War, she was also active in the Never Again Association, a body similar to the BEU that campaigned for the dismemberment of Germany and the expulsion from Britain of all persons born in Axis countries.

Novelist and publications

Apart from her journalism and campaigning material Boyle wrote mostly adventure or mystery novels. They were not critically acclaimed but many featured strong, capable women characters and were clearly popular enough for publishers to keep putting them out.

Campaign books

The Traffic in Women: Unchallenged facts and figures - WFL, 1913
What is Slavery? An Appeal to Women – H R Grubb, Croydon 1931


Out of the Frying Pan - Allen and Unwin, London 1920
What became of Mr Desmond - Allen and Unwin, London 1922
Nor all Thy Tears - Allen and Unwin, London 1923
Anna’s - Allen and Unwin, London 1925
Moteley’s Concession: A tale of Torronascar - Allen and Unwin, London 1926
The Stranger Within the Gates - Allen and Unwin, London 1926
The Rights of Mallaroche - Allen and Unwin, London 1927
Treading on Eggs - Stanley Paul & Co., London 1929
My Lady’s Bath - Stanley Paul & Co., London 1931
The Late Unlamented - Stanley Paul & Co., London 1931
How could they? - Stanley Paul & Co., London 1932
Good Old Potts! – Stanley Paul & Co., London 1934


Boyle died in a nursing home at 99 Cromwell Road, London, on 4 March 1943, aged 77 and was cremated at Golders Green on 9 March. For some years after Boyle’s death, Bedford College (London) offered a Nina Boyle memorial prize for the best essay on a subject connected with the position and work of women.

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Nina Boyle's Timeline

Age 78