Women`s suffrage

Why did it take so long for women to gain the vote?
How important a role did the Suffragists play in winning women the vote?
Did the Suffragettes’ militant campaign do more harm than good in the cause of
votes for women?
To what extent was women’s war effort the main reason for winning the vote in
Emily Davies
Millicent Fawcett
John Stuart Mill
Elizabeth Garret Anderson
Sophia Jex-Blake
Emmeline Pankhurst
Herbert Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister)
Married Women’s Property Act (1870)
Matrimonial Causes Act (1873)
Women’s Trade Union League formed (1874)
NUWSS (Suffragists) formed (1887)
Match Girls Strike (1889)
WSPU (Suffragettes) formed by Emmeline Pankhurst
Failure of Conciliation Bill leads to the ‘Wild Period’ (1912)
Emily Davison Incident (1913)
‘Cat & Mouse’ Act (1913)
Suspension of Militant Campaign (1914)
Enfranchisement of Women (1918/28)
In the 19 century, women were discriminated against in many areas of society
They made up 1/3 of the work-force but worked in low-paid menial jobs in factories or
domestic service
Women were considered ‘too emotional’ and incapable of understanding the issues of the day
Women were ignored in the reform acts of 1867 and 1884 leading to the rise of female
suffrage groups
World War1 provided women with new opportunities to prove their worth in society
Politics was traditionally male – dominated; there was deep-rooted prejudice against women
becoming involved
Women were often poorly educated & had few opportunities to better themselves
The achievements of the suffragists won sympathy but their methods were too moderate to
force the issue on to the public agenda
The militant campaign of the suffragists lost a great deal of public support for the campaign
Many MP’s considered votes for women to be an unimportant issue; others like the Prime
Minister Asquith were opposed to votes for women
Industrialisation saw a huge increase in the number of women in the workplace. At first,
women were not allowed to belong to Trade Unions; suffrage groups were formed to
campaign for better working conditions
In 1874, the Women’s Trade Union League was formed. It campaigned successfully against
sweated labour and low pay
The Match Girls Strike was a landmark victory for the women’s movement
In 1887, Millicent Fawcett brought together the various female suffrage groups under the
banner of the NUWSS (Suffragists)
The Suffragists always campaigned within the law. They held peaceful demonstrations,
organised petitions and wrote letters to MPs
Their leadership was largely intelligent, middle-class, well-connected women who were in a
position to influence a growing number of sympathetic politicians. From 1888, many women
were able to vote in local council elections
The suffragists also campaigned successfully for changes in domestic law: the Matrimonial
Causes Act and the Married Women’s Property Act gave women more control over their
domestic circumstances
Despite compulsory education from 1870, further education was still denied to most girls;
some universities accepted female students but refused to award degrees
Leading suffragists championed the right of women to enjoy further education: Emily Davis
founded Girton College in 1874 while Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson (who took her medical
degree in Paris) and Sophia Jex-Blake founded the London Medical School for Women
The Suffragists won a great deal of admiration and helped to improve the status of women in
society but were too moderate in their methods to force the issue of votes for women
The WSPU (Suffragettes) was formed in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst: they were
disillusioned by the slow progress of the Suffragists
They believed in ‘deeds not words’. They campaigned on the single issue of ‘votes for women’
The Liberal Government were divided over the issue of votes for women. Prime Minister
Asquith opposed female suffrage. The Liberals increasingly became ‘the enemy’ of the
Militancy increased in 1909 with damage to public property: hunger strikes began – this
caused public anger
Some members disapproved of militancy; others were unhappy with Mrs Pankhurst’s
dictatorial leadership. This led to the formation of the Women’s Freedom League in 1907
In 1910, The Liberal Government was re-elected. Under pressure, Asquith agreed to a
Conciliation Bill which would have given some women the vote if it became law
The Bill failed to go through Parliament 3 times between 1910 – 1912. MP’s used ‘filibustering’
to delay the Bill’s passage. Irish MP’s refused to vote on the Bill considering it unimportant
The failure of the Bill signaled the ‘Wild Period’. The ‘Cat & Mouse’ Act was passed due to
the alarming increase in hunger strikes
The suffragettes lost sympathy from the public and important politicians such as LloydGeorge and Churchill. The Media condemned their ‘irresponsible’ behaviour, such as the Emily
Davison incident
When war broke out, Mrs Pankhurst suspended the militant campaign and demanded the
right for women to contribute to the war effort
Women were required to fill the jobs in industry left vacant by military recruits; the
government launched a huge recruitment campaign
By 1918, around 4 million women were employed directly by the war effort. Around 800,000
Munitionettes who worked in highly dangerous conditions while about 250,000 worked in the
Women’s Land Army.
Women also worked in transport, engineering, construction, clerical work, public services (eg
postal workers) and emergency services. In 1915, the Women’s Police Service was formed
The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) recruited volunteer nurses like Vera Brittain to
serve behind the lines. Women also joined the military services – WRENS, WAAC and WRAF
where they performed tasks such as telephonists, engineers, drivers, decoders etc
Women proved their capabilities and won great admiration for their skill, determination and
bravery. Even Asquith had to admit their crucial role
In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave propertied women over 30 the vote
(this excluded many of those who had helped the war effort)
Nancy Astor became the first female MP in 1919, but it was not until 1928 that the Equal
Franchise Act was passed
It is often argued that the war effort alone won women the vote but this is too simplistic an
argument; the Bill to give women the vote was drafted in 1910 and may have been delayed by
the war; many women who helped the war effort were excluded in 1918
There were many formidable obstacles in the way of women receiving the vote
Although they did not win the vote, the Suffragists were very important in improving the
status of women in society
The Suffragettes grabbed the headlines but militancy held back their cause
World War 1 gave women new opportunities and was a significant factor in the
enfranchisement of 1918: full equality, however, was not achieved until 1928
Many historians agree that the war was the most important factor in winning women the vote
‘war smoothed the way for democracy.’ AJP Taylor
others argue women would have been given the vote without the war and that the female
suffrage campaigns were more important
Some historians believe that the Suffragists achieved more than the Suffragettes, whose
militant campaign backfired
[Women’s suffrage is] ‘a mad, wicked folly.’ Queen Victoria
‘The presence of a young woman in the operating theatre is an outrage.’ Middlesex Hospital
‘We are here not because we are law-breakers but because we wish to become law-makers.’
Emmeline Pankhurst
‘Their cause had marched backwards’. Churchill
‘How could we have carried on the war without women?’ Asquith