1867 – 1964
Henrietta Franklin, known as Netta, was the eldest of ten children of Samuel Montagu (1832–1911) and Ellen Cohen Montagu (1843–1919), and a sister of Lily Montagu, founder of England’s first Liberal Jewish movement at the turn of the twentieth century.
In 1885 Netta married Ernest Louis Franklin, a member of one of Anglo-Jewry’s most prominent religiously and politically liberal families, and soon became active in the family’s concerns. The couple had four sons and two daughters. Netta first came to prominence for helping to create and promote P.N.E.U. (Parents’ National Educational Union), a system of individualized progressive education which influenced English educational theory in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
From education, she moved on to become active in a host of liberal and feminist causes. Sympathetic to her sister Lily’s vision for reforming British Judaism, for example, Netta Franklin hosted the first meeting of the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism in her home in 1902 and became a strong supporter of the movement.
A leading advocate for advanced education for women, she supported the rise of women in professional life, even employing an Anglo-Jewish woman surgeon. Furious at the educational, civic and political limitations imposed upon women, Netta Franklin became active in the British suffrage movement. She and her sister Lily Montagu also joined the extended Franklin family and friends in helping to create and lead the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage (founded November 3, 1912), an organization dedicated to attaining suffrage in Britain and equal religious and communal rights for women in the Anglo-Jewish community.
Eva Hubback (née Spielman, 1886–1949), a Franklin cousin of Netta and Lily, became a prominent British suffragist at the same time and was particularly close to Netta Franklin throughout the campaign. Eva went on to become famous as a feminist and the principal of Morley College (Kensington), after the passage of suffrage.
Netta Franklin extended her suffrage activities beyond the League and into the secular suffrage movement, serving as president of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies in 1916 and 1917. She was one of a small but powerful group of Jewish women who participated in the suffrage movement, and among an even smaller group who achieved distinction in that area. The Christian-centric attitude of the English suffragist movement permitted only a select handful of upper-class Anglo-Jewish women like Netta Franklin to become national leaders. Moreover, the Jewish community in England worried about antisemitism, despite increasing social acceptance. Many Jews therefore feared that Jewish suffragists threatened not only traditional Jewish and British national values, but also the steady process of social acceptance in England. Nevertheless, Anglo-Jewish suffragists like Franklin felt their acceptance into the controversial movement “proved” their status as Englishwomen, in the same way that male Jewish communal leaders boasted that Jewish men were members of various political parties in Parliament.
After full adult suffrage was granted in 1928, Franklin and her cousin Eva shifted their energies toward social welfare, like many other suffragists of the era, and promoted welfare legislation for women. Thus, after stepping down from the presidency of the National Union of Woman Suffrage Societies, Franklin became president of the National Council of Women (NCW), Britain’s umbrella organization of women’s groups, from 1925 to 1927. Under her presidency, the NCW’s drive for social welfare programs resulted in national legislation protecting women and children. As a prime mover in the International Council of Women, England’s NCW also extended its influence to international feminist projects.
Netta Franklin, her sister Lily, and other members of the Franklin cousinhood reveal an extraordinary family involvement in both the equal rights and social welfare aspects of Anglo-Jewish feminism during the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, Netta and her Franklin cousins helped to shape the post-war ideal of Anglo-Jewish womanhood through their combination of English and Anglo-Jewish politics, public service and social work. To a Jewish community still wary of the emancipated “new woman,” they proved that feminism could strengthen Jewish home life, values and the synagogue. To the English feminist movement, Netta and her cousins personified the class status, personal commitment, social reform credentials and organizational skills that made Anglo-Jewish women welcome in its ranks in ever-greater numbers.
Adam, H. Pearl, ed. Women in Council. London, New York, Toronto: 1945; Gibbon, Monk. Netta, London: 1960; Hopkinson, Diana. Family Inheritance: A Life of Eva Hubback. London and New York: 1954; International Council of Women. Report, 1912–1913. Papers. Jewish League for Woman Suffrage. Klau Library, HUC-JIR; London Jewish Chronicle. London: 1913–1922; Kuzmack, Linda Gordon. Woman’s Cause: Jewish Woman’s Movement in England and the United States, 1881–1933. Ohio: 1990; Lily Montagu Papers: Ellen M. Umansky Microfilm collection. American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati, Ohio.