So guys and gals! Yesterday something amazing and so great happened, Women and Girls all over the UK marched in masses to celebrate 100 years of Womens right to vote and yes I was so excited to be a voice for young girls everywhere, and being a ambassador for Processions – and what a exciting time this is! 10,000 females gathered to march and be involved with one of the biggest artworks ever seen of its kind! How does this make me feel as a young girl and also to be part of something so exciting – well I feel very honoured and privileged to have been asked and to be involved.
So with this, It actually inspired me to want to learn more about the Women’s right to vote and so I did and the story is fascinating. In the nineteenth century women had no place in national politics. They could not stand as candidates for Parliament. They were not even allowed to vote. It was assumed that women did not need the vote because their husbands would take responsibility in political matters. A woman’s role was seen to be child-rearing and taking care of the home.
As a result of the industrial revolution many women were in full-time employment, which meant they had opportunities to meet in large organised groups to discuss political and social issues.
Organised campaigns for women’s suffrage began to appear in 1866 and from 1888 women could vote in many local council elections. When parliamentary reform was being debated in 1867, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment that would have given the vote to women on the same terms as men but it was rejected by 194 votes to 73. The campaign gained momentum after this.
Nineteenth century feminists talked about “The Cause”. This described a movement for women’s rights generally. It had no particular political focus. But by the close of the century the issue of the vote became the focus of women’s struggle for equality.
The movement to gain votes for women had two wings, the suffragists and the suffragettes.
The suffragists had their origins in the mid nineteenth century, while the suffragettes came into being in 1903.
In 1897, various local women’s suffrage societies formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett. The NUWSS wanted the vote for middle class property-owning women. They believed they would achieve their end using peaceful tactics – non-violent demonstrations, petitions and the lobbying of MPs. Fawcett believed that if the organisation was seen to be intelligent, polite and law-abiding then women would prove themselves responsible enough to participate fully in politics.
The leadership of the suffragists was exclusively middle class but some of the more radical members recognised early on that the movement needed the support of working class women. The issue of the franchise was drawing women of various sections of society together and giving them an identity which they had lacked until that time.
By 1900 there was already evidence that many Members of Parliament had been won over. Several Bills in favour of women’s suffrage gained considerable support in Parliament, though not enough to pass. Some believed it was only a matter of time until women would gain the vote.
The suffragettes, a name given to them by the newspaper The Daily Mail, were born out of the suffragist movement. Emmeline Pankhurst, who had been a member of the Manchester suffragist group, had grown impatient with the middle class, respectable, gradualist tactics of the NUWSS. In 1903 she decided to break with the NUWSS and set up a separate society. This became known as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
Mrs Pankhurst believed it would take an active organisation, with young working class women, to draw attention to the cause. The motto of the suffragettes was deeds not words and from 1912 onwards they became more militant and violent in their methods of campaign. Law-breaking, violence and hunger strikes all became part of this society’s campaign tactics.
In 1907 the Women’s Social and Political Union itself split into two groups after Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel came into conflict with other members of the WSPU’s executive body. Those who left formed the Women’s Freedom League, while the Pankhursts and their supporters established an even tighter grip on the workings of the WSPU.
The three groups disagreed over tactics but their message was consistent and they regularly worked together. Despite opposition, the argument for women’s suffrage seemed to be winning support. By 1909 the WSPU had branches all over the country and published a newspaper called Votes for Women which sold 20,000 copies each week. The NUWSS was also flourishing, with a rising membership and an efficient nation-wide organisation.
The rough treatment of many suffragettes arrested and jailed during the course of their protests also won the suffrage cause increasing sympathy and support from the public. The commendable behaviour of the suffrage movement during the war – suspending their protests for the sake of national unity – also proved that the women were far from unreasonable.
Summary of the suffrage movement
Historians debate the effectiveness of the different groups in the struggle for women’s suffrage. Some modern historians argue that the influence of NUWSS has not been given enough credit. Membership of this organisation remained high throughout the period. Many women who became alienated from the suffragettes because of their militancy switched allegiance to the suffragists.
Even more controversial is the role of the WSPU. At the time, and ever since, there have been divisions of opinion: some argue that its activities were critical in keeping The Cause high on the political agenda; others believe that its violent tactics actually delayed votes for women by its “irresponsibility” in attacking private property.
When World War I broke out in 1914 the whole suffrage movement immediately scaled down and even suspended some of their activities in the face of a greater threat to the nation.
Now you may think that because it was 100 years ago that it may have just been a white movement it actually double inspired me that women of colour were also involved in the campaigning look at these great images of women of all colour campaigning for rights for women. Gosh where would we be now if these strong and powerful women did not make this liberal change.
Go check out my video here