You are on page 1of 13


The Campaigns for Womens Suffrage 1870-1918

2 The campaigns for womens suffrage, c 1870 to c. 1918 Campaigns 1870-1900 In 1867 writer John Stuart Mill brought a court case to prove that the word man used in the 1867 Parliamentary Reform Act also covered women. Mill lost. From the campaign was led by Lydia Becker. Many local societies were formed as well as several national organisations, such as the Primrose League and the Womens Liberal Foundation. These societies organised many meetings and presented massive petitions to Parliament. The petition in 1894 was the largest of all 250,000 people signed in support of votes for women.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett When Lydia Becker died in 1890, leadership of the movement passed to Millicent Garrett Fawcett. In 1897 the National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies had been formed. This brought together 500 local organisations with more than 50,000 members, many of them men. Millicent Fawcett became the President of the NUWSS. The NUWSS used peaceful and constitutional methods to try to win the vote for women.

Womens campaigns Every year Private Members Bills were introduced to get women the vote. They all failed. By 1900 a majority of MPs supported votes for women. Women were allowed to vote in local council elections from 1889. In 1893 women in New Zealand were allowed to vote for the first time. In 1894 a petition for votes for women gained 250,000 signatures.

What arguments were used against votes for women? Voting in 1900 was according to the household franchise. As only men were regarded as the head of a family, women were not allowed to vote. Women were believed to be too weak to take part in politics.

3 They would be easily confused and would be unable to make up their minds, or would vote for the best looking candidate. Men argued that the sexes were different and had different roles in society. Womens role was to look after children and the home; mens was to take decisions.

How did women reply? Women had to pay taxes just like men, but had no say in how the taxes were spent. Many women were also highly educated, but were denied the vote, while the most uneducated man could vote. Men were quite prepared to trust a woman doctor with their lives, but would not trust them to vote. In 1904 women in Australia were allowed to vote.

Why was the WSPU set up? The most important figure in the creation of the WSPU was Dr Richard Pankhurst. In the 1890s the Pankhursts were living in London. When he died, Emmeline Pankhurst and her children had moved back to Manchester, where she had been brought up. Emmeline Pankhurst decided to continue his campaign.

Emmeline Pankhurst Emmeline Pankhurst decided in 1903 to form an organisation for women within the Labour Party. The Womens Social and Political Union was founded at a meeting on 10 October 1903 in Emmeline Pankhursts house. From 1903 to 1905 the members of the WSPU spoke at many Labour Party meetings in Lancashire. The main speakers were Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia,

After a meeting in Oldham, Annie Kenney a factory worker, came forward and joined the Union. She became one of the few working class members of the WSPU. Why did the WSPU begin a campaign of disruption in 1905? One important reason was the failure to make any progress using peaceful and legal methods. On 12 May 1905, a bill for votes for women was talked out by Conservative MPs. A third reason was Emmeline Pankhursts growing disappointment with the Labour Party. The Labour leaders began to pay much less attention to votes for women. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney attended a Liberal Party meeting on 13 October 1905. When questions were invited, Annie stood up and asked Churchill: If you are elected, will you do your best to make Womens Suffrage a government measure?

5 When Churchill did not answer the question, Christabel and Annie began to shout: The question, the question, answer the question. They were arrested, fined, but refused to pay and went to jail. The WSPU made the most of the event. When the two girls were released it organised a demonstration in the Free Trade Hall, which gained great publicity for the Union.

The 1906 general election The general election of 1906 was a massive victory for the Liberals. The WSPU expected that the result would lead to an Act of Parliament giving the vote to women. But the Liberals did nothing. Herbert Asquithss house in London was picketed and if he spoke at a meeting he was interrupted and heckled. Lloyd George, who had voted in favour of womens suffrage on a number of occasions, was also taken as a target.

What happened after the 1906 general election? In October 1906 eleven Suffragettes, including Sylvia Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence, were arrested for causing a disturbance outside the House of Commons. They were fined 10 each, with an alternative of two months in prison. The government soon backed down and released two of the women, and then released the rest before they had completed a half of their sentences. In January 1907 members of the WSPU tried to speak to members of the Cabinet in Downing Street. One woman, Edith New, chained herself to railings outside. Flora Drummond, the General, ran into 10 Downing Street and was actually forced out by some of the Cabinet. A Suffragette dropped thousands of leaflets from a balloon over central London. In February Emmeline Pankhurst was herself arrested and went to prison for six weeks. In June 1908 Edith New and with Mary Leigh managed to break several of the windows of 10 Downing Street with stones.

What happened when Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister in March 1908? Asquith was known to be an opponent of votes for women. In fact his real policy was to 'wait and see. He said that he was not prepared to introduce change unless he felt that the majority of the people actually wanted it.

6 The Suffragettes attacked Liberal Cabinet ministers and on Asquith in particular. Mary Leigh climbed on to the roof in Birmingham and threw slates through the glass roof of the hall during a meeting. Lloyd George was also picked on over and over again. On one occasion a Suffragette managed to lock herself in his car with him and lectured him until his driver managed to open the door.

How did the Liberal Government respond to the Suffragettes? In July Marion Dunlop-Wallace was sent to Holloway for stamping slogans on the walls of the Houses of Parliament. In prison she refused to eat and released within a few days. In September Mary Leigh, was force fed through a two metre long rubber tube. Meat juice and lime-juice cordial were dripped into her stomach through her throat. Forced feeding became a standard way of treating Suffragettes on hunger strike. Hunger strikers were first given a medical inspection by a doctor, to make sure that they were fit enough for the process. Usually the rubber tube was pushed down the throat, but if the victim resisted the tube would be pushed into her stomach through her nose. The WSPU was able to use forced feeding in its propaganda campaign.

Posters showing Suffragettes being held down were very effective and even King George V suggested that the government should discontinue it.

Constance Lytton Lady Constance Lytton daughter of Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India, and took part in demonstrations outside Parliament in 1908. In October 1909 she threw a stone at the motor car that Lloyd George was going to drive away in after a meeting in Newcastle.

7 Constance Lyttons stone hit the bonnet of the car and she was then arrested. In court she refused to pay a fine of 4 and was sent to prison for a month. She immediately went on hunger strike and was released after two days. Constance Lytton felt cheated that she had not made the same sacrifice as other Suffragettes.

Jane Warton In January 1910, Constance Lytton, in disguise, led a crowd that tried to break into Walton Jail in Liverpool. She was again arrested, but in court gave her name as Jane Warton.

She was given fourteen days hard labour, but again went on hunger strike. This time she was force fed. After she was released she became paralyzed, partly as a result of her treatment.

The impact of the 1910 general elections In the general election campaign in January 1910 more than 250 Liberal MPs included votes for women in their election statements. Asquith promised to introduce a Parliamentary Reform Bill to which would be added an amendment giving the vote to women. The WSPU suspended militant action before the general election.

The Conciliation Bill This was a compromise that was intended to give some women the vote. All women who owned a house, part of a house or just a room would get the vote. The owners of shops would also be able to vote, providing their premises were worth at least 10 a year in rent. These conditions would have meant that almost all working women would be left without the vote. The Conciliation Bill was supported by the WSPU. The Suffragettes were only interested in getting the vote for some women. The Conciliation Bill passed its Second Reading by a majority of 299 votes to 189, but then, like all of the others, got no further. The Conciliation Committee was reformed in December 1910 and a second Conciliation Bill was produced. This suffered the same fate as the first.

8 How did the WSPU respond to the failure of the Conciliation Bill? A few days later, the WSPU organised a rally outside the Houses of Parliament, which ended in a fight with the police. 200 women were arrested, including Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence. Emily Wilding Davison began to set light to letterboxes by dropping rags soaked with paraffin into them. On 1 March 1912, at 4.00 pm, Suffragettes broke almost every shop window in Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Oxford Street. Emmeline Pankhurst threw stones at the windows of 10 Downing Street. The police raided the headquarters of the WSPU. Christabel Pankhurst managed to escape and fled to France. In July the Theatre Royal Dublin was almost burnt to the ground by Mary Leigh.

What did the Liberals do next? Asquith introduced the Franchise and Registration Bill in June 1912. He planned to introduce amendments giving the vote to women when the Bill was being discussed by the House of Commons. The WSPU opposed the Bill. They wanted a Bill giving women the vote. The Bill was defeated in January 1913.

How did the WSPU react? Emmeline Pankhurst ordered even more violence. The greens on golf courses were attacked with acid and many had the slogan Votes for Women burnt into them. The orchid house and tearooms at Kew Gardens were wrecked.

Two railway stations, Saunderton and Croxley Green were burned down. Suffragettes managed to plant two bombs in a house belonging to Lloyd George and destroyed part of it. The increased violence also brought to an end any co-operation between the WSPU and the NUWSS. The WSPU became completely isolated and its members followed the instructions of the Pankhursts without question.

9 How did the Liberals deal with the increased violence? The Cat and Mouse Act The government decided on the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge) Bill. This allowed the Home Secretary to release Suffragettes who went on hunger strike if their health suffered. They had to agree to certain conditions and could be re-arrested if they did not. At first, the Cat and Mouse Act appeared to solve the problem. But Suffragettes soon began to pretend to be ill to get themselves released. Once out of prison they began to campaign again.

10 The 1913 Derby Emily Wilding Davison ran onto the Derby course at Tattenham Corner and stood in front of the Kings horse Anmer. She was seriously injured and an emergency operation on her had failed to save her life. During 1913 and 1914 many houses were destroyed, Oxted Railway Station, Cambridge University Football Pavilion, Yarmouth Pier, Bath Hotel in Felixstowe and several churches.

A painting in the National Gallery was slashed in June 1913 and two paintings were attacked at Burlington House. The Rokeby Venus was slashed by Mary Richardson on 10 March 1914.

Miss Davison from The Times newspaper, 1913.

11 What happened to women at the beginning of the First World War? In August 1914 Emmeline Pankhurst called off the militant campaign. The government immediately ordered the release of all Suffragettes held in prison. There were more than one thousand. In 1914 Queen Mary organised a campaign to encourage women to knit socks and scarves for the soldiers. A group of women, led by Elsie Inglis, volunteered to go to France and work as nurses, but they were turned down by the army.

Why did the situation change in 1915? In May 1915 the army in France suddenly found itself very short of shells. David Lloyd George was appointed Minister for Munitions and began immediately to increase the production of weapons and ammunition. In July 1915 the Suffragettes, led by Christabel Pankhurst organised a Right to Work March in London. 30,000 women took part.

Munitions By the end of 1915 2,500,000 men had volunteered for the army. New factories opened to produce planes, weapons and ammunition. Munitions work could be very dangerous and very unpleasant. But many women gave up their jobs as domestic servants for the wages in munitions factories.


Women in the armed forces The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) was used as nurses. The Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) were used as drivers and secretaries. In January 1917 the Womens Auxiliary Army Corps was set up, followed by the Womens Royal Naval Service and the Womens Royal Air Force. In the countryside girls joined The Land Army.

Women in Industry Women began to work in the motor car industry as mechanics or drivers. Women also found work in the aeroplane industry. Many women painted the canvas covering of the planes with varnish. Elsewhere in the economy, women also took over many clerical jobs in banks and began to work as postal workers and on buses as conductresses.

13 Why were some women given the vote in 1918? Loss of the household suffrage In 1916 a new register of voters was compiled. The government realised that many men who had served in the war were no longer able to vote.

All of the volunteers and conscripts had lost their property qualification, as they had not been resident in the country. Men got the vote because they had been conscripted during the war and forced to fight and die for their country. It would have looked very unfair if men who had fought for their country had lost the right to vote. A special clause in the Representation of the People Act (1918) actually allowed men aged 18 and over to vote in the December 1918 general election if they had served in the armed services during the war.

Votes for women In 1918 all men got the vote at 21 and women got the vote at 30. But women had to be householders or married to a householder. This was a good opportunity for the government to give the vote to women as well. Herbert Asquith, who had been against votes for women before 1914, spoke in favour in 1916.

Women also got the vote because of all the work that they had done during the war. They had proved that they were responsible. It did not appear as if the government was giving in to the threats of the Suffragettes. The government may also have been concerned at the possibility of a revival of the Suffragettes. Activity had been suspended in 1914, but Christabel Pankhurst had kept the Suffragette movement going during the war. At the last minute the government realised that although women had been given the vote, they had not been given the right to stand to be MPs. The Eligibility of Women Act was passed, which allowed women to stand for Parliament. Despite the changes, women were only given the vote under the old household franchise. Some people regarded this as an experiment.