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To what extent did british societies reactions to the

suffragettes reflect political/social/anti feminist ideologies
of time?

- Sending Suffragettes to prison where they would go on a hunger strike
and hence they would become too weak to participate in the Suffragette's
violent struggles once they were released from prison.

Diane Atkinson - Historian

- People felt very threatened by them, because they were stepping out of their
sphere; and people were very angry and took it as a rather personal challenge.
And it wasn't just a male reaction; it was a female reaction, too. And once you
have Suffragettes smashing windows, and burning down churches and
attacking works of art, a great mass of society had a very negative view of
them, which is, perhaps, not surprising.

- "When Suffragettes went to prison – and they could be arrested and sent to
prison for quite trivial offenses – they went to prison and said: 'We are
political prisoners. We demand special treatment. 'These were rights, which
had been fought for and won, in the 19th Century. So they said: 'We want
special prison cells. We want to wear our own clothes. We want freedom of
association. We want the rights of political prisoners. We're not asking for
anything new, this has been established.'

- "Now, the authorities at first said, 'Okay.' And they released them early from
their prison sentences. Public opinion is not behind them on this. They say:
'Well, you've got convicted criminals in prison, you're letting them go. This
will not do.'
- "Then the government starts force-feeding.

- The Liberal Government reacted by imprisoning suffragettes.


General position
The prospect and subsequent arrival of women‟s suffrage
prompted many Tories to lament the uncertainty of future
politics. There was remarkable agreement in the party
about the existence of a specifically female political
agenda. Conservatives of both sexes generally assumed
that women favoured „domestic‟ political issues with a
particular emphasis on matters affecting women and
children and on social reform. Whatever the attitude of
Conservatives to female involvement in the party, their
enthusiasm was tempered by a sense of its irrelevance
while women lacked the vote. Henry Bottomley reminded
canvassers in 1912: “Don‟t be satisfied with seeing the
wife. She may talk, but remember the husband is the
voter. See him.”
Conservative attitudes to women‟s suffrage were mixed
between 1880 and 1914 and support came only when it
was widely believed that women voters would support the
party. Every Conservative leader from Disraeli onwards
expressed some sympathy for women‟s suffrage but the
value of their support was diminished by their reluctance
to take up the question while actually in office[8].
Negative reaction It is important to understand that the Conservatives who
opposed women‟s suffrage often did so because they
feared it would lead to universal suffrage. Lady Salisbury
was convinced that even limited women‟s suffrage would
inevitably lead to the universal suffrage and that this
would disadvantage the Conservative Party. Such people
believed the vote to be a privilege based on personal
fitness and not a right. The success that the Conservative
had between 1874 and 1906 (they were in government
with the exception of 1880-85, 1886 and 1892-5) was
argument enough against further change of the electoral
system. Many Conservatives saw no reason to tamper
with a winning system.
There were always more Liberals than Conservatives in
favour of giving women the vote. While backbench
Conservative hostility has probably been exaggerated,
there is no doubt that many Conservatives figured in the
lists of the anti-suffrage movement. Both Lord Cromer and
Lord Curzon were leading opponents.
Positive reaction Upper class women and Conservative Party supporters
were also supporters of the women‟s suffrage movement
or active in the movement. Lady Dorothy Nevill, Lady
Frances Balfour, Lady Betty Balfour, Lady Selborne, Lay
Londonderry and many others were active in the
campaigns for women‟s suffrage. These women were part
of the political establishment and important members of
the Primrose League. As in so many areas, Conservative
women tended, at first at least, to work in the background.
Rather than forming their own suffrage organisations or
getting involved with existing organisations, they generally
preferred to talk to their husbands, brothers and relatives
and try to convince them of the need to give women the
vote. Some of them, like Lady Constance Lytton, a militant
and Lady Betty Balfour, a suffragist, even managed to get
themselves arrested. It was not until 1908 that Lady
Selborne formed the Conservative and Unionist Women‟s
Suffrage Association. The organisation started The
Conservative and Unionist Women‟s Franchise Review to
promote their ideas. They argued that giving certain
„qualified‟ women (based on existing property
qualifications) the vote would help avoid the catastrophe
of universal male suffrage.
• Soon after its foundation, the Conservative and Unionist
Women‟s Suffrage Association joined the NUWSS
and here an obvious conflict developed. The
NUWSS was, in principle, a non-party organisation.
The problem was that the Labour Party, unlike the
other two, was officially committed to giving women
the vote. As a result, the NUWSS supported more
Labour candidates than those from the other two
parties, a relationship that grew closed in 1912-13.
• Many people warned Balfour and Bonar Law about the
dangers of allowing the Labour Party to take over
the women‟s suffrage question, as they feared that
women would become embittered against the
Tories. Since most of them believed that women
would one day get the right to vote, there seemed
to be no reason to create a large group of electors
hostile to the party. His then was the dilemma
facing all Conservative suffragists. Were they to be
Conservative first and then suffragists or vice
versa? Suffragism forced them towards the Labour
Party, hardly a prospect that appealed to many
Conservative women. On the other hand, they were
getting little positive response from their own party.
Battle did occur on this issue but most Conservative
suffragists subordinated their suffragism to their
Conservatism. In this, they were helped by the party
being out of power during the worst part of the
suffragette agitation. The Liberals bore the full brunt
of their fury.
• The Conservative and Unionist Women‟s Suffrage
Association was devoted to constitutional methods
and did not believe in the same methods as the
WSPU. This did not mean that they were
unsympathetic to the militants though few went as
far as Lady Constance Lytton. The general hostility
of the Conservative suffragists to the WSPU did not
prevent them from being in touch with the
Pankhursts and, on occasions, co-ordinating policy
with them. This process was aided by the growing
conservatism of Emmeline and Christabel
Pankhurst. Both increasingly distrusted the Labour
Party and the trade unions, both of which were to
some extent hostile to women‟s suffrage. The
Labour Party appeared more interested in adult
suffrage and only coincidentally with female
suffrage. The largely male trade unions were not
favourably disposed to women‟s rights seeing
female employment as unfair competition. However,
neither Balfour nor Bonar Law were prepared to
take the risk of committing their party to either the
WSPU or its methods largely because opinion in
the party was deeply divided on the issue. The crux
of the problem was that women‟s suffrage would
divide the Conservative Party. That is why no party
leader dared to take up the question until after the
First World War, when hostility to women‟s suffrage
and, more importantly universal manhood suffrage,
had declined.
• An examination of the voting records on all the women‟s
suffrage bills presented to Parliament shows that
Conservatives passed through three distinct
phases. From 1867 to 1883, Conservatives
consistently voted against suffrage bills by a margin
of three or four to one. However, the following
period, from 1884 to 1908, showed a reversal of
this trend and, with one exception, the suffragists
were in the majority. This growing support for
women‟s suffrage owed a great deal to the efforts of
the Primrose League and the National Union
approved suffrage resolutions in 1887, 1889, 1891,
1894, 1907, 1908 and 1910. After 1909, the results

1. Why have I chosen to focus on this area of the topic? / why does it interest me?
I find this topic interesting as I enjoy learning about british history and society.
This topic has impacted even me today and I would love to learn in detail about
how it occurred, and the impacts it caused at the time. Learning about social
impacts gives me a direct insight into the ways of living, ideas and general
behaviours of the time – which fascinates me. And political impacts give me a
clear display of how the government and authorities at the time worked and
rules Britain.

2. What information/ sources do I already have? What further information do I
need? Where will I get his info from?
I have secondary sources found on the internet from Diana Atkinson – a
historian. I have done brief research and are yet to go into great detail with my
research. I will need to visit my local library and search for books and other
resources that contain a wider range of sources that will assist me and my point
through the question I eventually formulate.

3. Why have I chosen to phrase my question this way?
I think I will phrase my question like this: To what extent did british societies
reactions to the suffragettes reflect political/social/anti feminist ideologies of
became less clear. A majority voted against
suffrage bills on five out of seven occasions. This
occurred because women‟s suffrage was mixed up
with adult suffrage and many Conservatives were
only in favour of limited female suffrage. Their votes
on these bills tell us more about their attitude to
democracy than to women.
The pre-war period was a time of fierce hostility between
the Conservative and Liberal Parties. Women‟s suffrage
played only a small part in that drama. Far more important
were the issues of the powers of the House of Lords and
home rule for Ireland. The support, tepid though it was, of
the Conservative leadership for women‟s suffrage had
less to do with principle than party advantage. Like the
Liberal Party, the Conservatives were divided over the
question. However, there was no inherent conflict
between conservatism and women‟s suffrage.
time? As it provides me with a bit of choice to change and manipulate the
information to suit the question, depending on the sources that I find and their
relevance to the topic.


BBC Suffragettes documentary

the more extreme their tactics, the more they alienated society
disliked by the rest of society
their violence began to turn people against them
the government did not want to appear to be giving into woman who were
behaving like terrorists
violence of the suffragettes began to loose them support

To what extent did british societies reactions to the
suffragettes reflect political and social ideologies of the

Within British Society of the early 20
century, the suffragettes and their
movements cause distinct reactions within British politics and society. To a
large extent, British societies reflected the reactions of politics and social aspects
of the time period, which resulted in significant forces for change affecting both
the present and the future. This is seen through the harsh and dehumanizing
treatment from the government upon the women within the suffragette groups,
the advertising and media of the events and public occurrences of the suffragette
movements, and the persistence of the woman within these movements through
passion and determination for their right.

The movements of the Suffragettes within the early 1900’s generated various
reactions within English politics during the time period, reflecting ideologies of
feminist deflections and oppositions towards the involvement of women within
the government. These ideologies become evident through the various
movements and events that the suffragettes established or interrupted in order
to gain attention and awareness within the government of their strong beliefs
and desires for the right of female voting. The suffragettes, lead by Emmeline
Pankhurst held numerous strikes and