The women’s suffrage movement began in the mid-19th century when organized campaigns began to emerge in the United Kingdom after Mary Smith submitted the first petition for women’s suffrage to Parliament.
A women’s suffrage committee was established in London in 1866, which soon initiated the formation of other groups in other areas, such as the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett headed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which was founded in 1897.
They were known as “suffragists” because they believed in releasing women through peaceful means such as protests and petitions.
The suffragist campaigners began holding public rallies, seeking newspaper coverage, and publishing pamphlets and magazines to spread their message. By the 1900s, they had amassed thousands of members across Britain.
Fawcett focused much of her energy on the struggle to improve women’s opportunities in higher education and, in 1875, co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge, one of the first Cambridge colleges to admit women.
But Emmeline Pankhurst, then a member of the NUWSS, decided to adopt more direct and militant tactics, leading her to found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 with her two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel.
Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 with her two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel
The union’s motto was ‘Deeds not Words’ and many of their actions were considered extreme by the population. One of the most infamous acts was the death of Emily Davison, who died after running in front of King George V’s horse in 1913 while trying to petition the royal family in Epsom.
More than 1,000 women were arrested during their campaign. Never before have so many women been imprisoned for a political cause. The women demanded political prisoner status and when the government refused, they went on hunger strike.
The government’s response was to force-feed the prisoners with a funnel and tube pushed into their stomachs.
Another group, the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), was founded a year later by Charlotte Despard and Teresa Billington-Grieg, and was somewhere in between the other two groups in approach.
The First World War was a turning point in the history of women’s suffrage. The WSPU immediately put a stop to their voting activism in support of the British government’s war effort. Emmeline Pankhurst believed that the danger posed during World War I by what she called the “German danger” was greater than the need for women’s suffrage.
Unlike the Pankhursts, Milicent Fawcett’s NUWSS did not cease operations at the outbreak of war. Less militant and with much more pacifists, support for the war was weaker. While Fawcett was not a pacifist, she risked dividing the organization if she ordered the campaign to stop.
The NUWSS continued to campaign for the vote during the war, using the situation to their advantage by highlighting the contribution women had made to the war effort in their campaigns.
The government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918. The law,passed on February 6, 1918, granted voting rights to certain women over the age of 30.
Ten years later, the age limit was lowered and the law changed to ensure that women had the same rights as men.
The key figures in the movement
As one of the best-known founding members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), she oversaw the group from its nonviolent beginnings, but later advocated direct action as a tactic to get votes.
She was arrested several times, and after being convicted of conspiracy to commit property damage, she used a common suffragette prison tactic — a hunger strike — to create better conditions for her fellow suffragettes.
When World War I began, Pankhurst refocused the WSPU’s efforts on supporting the war, causing a split within the group and within her own family. Her daughters Sylvia and Adela were pacifists.
She was one of three daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst and worked full time for the WSPU, founded by her sister Christabel and her mother.
She was a skilled artist and designed many of the group’s posters, leaflets and logos.
But unlike her mother and sister, she had political leanings, which for years were restricted by the WSPU. After being expelled from the group for her part in the labor movement and socialist beliefs, she founded her own group, the East London Federation for Suffragettes.
Sylvia was shocked that Emmeline and her favorite daughter Christabel joined the white feather movement, whose aim was to disgrace men into enlisting in the military, and instead opposed the Great War and continued to campaign for suffrage when the WSPU changed direction during the war years.
Sylvia, one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s three daughters, worked full-time for the WSPU, founded by her sister Christabel and her mother Emmeline
Sylvia’s sister Christabel co-founded the WSPU with her mother.
She vehemently advocated the use of militant tactics to win the vote for women in England.
Sylvia was sent to prison in 1905 after disrupting a Liberal Party meeting in Manchester where she unfolded a banner that read ‘Votes for Women’.
She led the subsequent campaign of direct action, hunger strikes and open-air demonstrations.
However, during World War I, she declared a ceasefire and helped lead the domestic war effort.
She became a lady in 1936 and later in life became a religious evangelist.
Sylvia’s sister Christabel co-founded the WSPU . with her mother
Sophia Duleep Singh
The daughter of a deposed Indian Maharaja whose kingdom had been annexed by the British before being exiled to England, Sophia was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and also a devoted suffragette.
The Queen even gave her shelter at Hampton Court Palace, where she often distributed suffragette newspapers, but despite these royal connections, she was a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League.
Her connections proved useful to the movement. In 1911, she was one of the women who protested in Downing Street when then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith left for the King’s speech before Parliament.
She waved a suffragette poster and suffragist slogans and threw herself at his car as he left, but was released without charge so as not to embarrass the royal family.
Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of a deposed Indian Maharaja whose kingdom had been annexed by the British before being exiled to England, was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and also a devoted suffragette
Best known as the suffragette who was fatally injured at the Epsom racecourse by the king’s horse, Davison had a reputation as one of the most daring champions of direct action in the WSPU.
She was arrested and force-fed dozens of times, admitted to setting mailboxes on fire and hiding several times in the Palace of Westminster, perhaps most famously in a closet on the night of the 1911 census in an attempt to hide it. boycott.
Tony Benn MP later placed a plaque in the closet himself to commemorate her act.
Emily Davison, best known as the suffragette who was fatally injured at the Epsom Racecourse by the King’s Horse, had a reputation as one of the most daring champions of direct action in the WSPU
The Manchester-born WSPU member was known for dramatic stunts, a militant stance on suffrage and rally speeches.
Her exploits included sneaking in through the front door of 10 Downing Street while her colleagues were distracting the police, and sailing a boat to the Houses of Parliament so she could address MPs on the terrace.
After years of writing novels, Charlotte Despard turned her hand to charity and suffrage when her husband died.
Though twice placed in Holloway Prison, she advocated for nonviolent means of protest, such as withholding taxes and boycotting censuses.
She was one of the oldest prominent WSPU members, in her 60s when she left the group after her pacifist ideas contradicted their changed approach when war broke out.
After years of writing novels, Charlotte Despard turned her hand to charity and suffrage when her husband died