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Women’s Suffrage in 19th Century England
Women’s Suffrage in the right of women to share political privileges on equal terms with men, the right to vote in elections and referendums, and the right to hold public office. The women’s suffrage was a worldwide issue that had begun a long time before the 19th century. The issues involving women’s right to vote was aroused in 1839 when the American Missionary Association began to work to develop education opportunities for blacks and other minorities in the U.S. which begun with the defending of the slaves of the Amistad. (Banner, Lois W. 1,NP)
The Amistad was a ship that carried fleeing slaves from the coast of Cuba that brought them to the U.S. These slaves had mutinied against their Spanish owners and had no choice but to run away. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott joined the antislavery forces. They decided that the rights of women, as well as those of black slaves, needed to be dealt with. In 1841 John Quincy Adams defended these blacks as freemen before the Supreme Court and won their freedom. (“American Missionary Association”, 333)
The women suffrage was first advocated in Great Britain by Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). During the 1830’s and 40’s British Suffrages received notable aid and encouragement from the Chartists, who fought unsuccessfully for human rights. John Stuart Mill, John Bright, and Richard Cobden were Liberal Legislators that helped to make the Women’s Suffrage issues public to Britain. (Banner, Lois W. 2)
John Stuart Mill was a great supporter of the suffrages. He helped to found the first British Women-Suffrage Association in 1865. At this same time he entered the Parliament as a member from Westminster. Mill emphasized that “Liberty could be threatened as much as social as by political tyranny.” (“Mill, John Stuart”; Encarta 2000, NP).
Barbara Bodichon and Elizabeth Garrett co-drafted a petition for Women’s Suffrage. The petition had 1,550 signatures. It was given to John Stuart Mill who presented it to The House of Commons in 1866. This petition was to support an amendment to the reform act so women could vote. In the voting of The House, it was defeated 196 votes to 73 votes. The Reform Bill of 1867 contained no provisions for women suffrage. (“Barbara Leigh Smith (Madame Bodichon) and Hastings”, NP)
In the 1870’s these organizations submitted to Parliament petitions that demanded the franchise for women and it contained almost 3 million signatures. . (“Barbara Leigh Smith (Madame Bodichon) and Hastings”, NP) This led to the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. Seventeen Suffragist societies had united to form a stronger, larger society. Lydia Becker was elected the President of the NUWSS; she died 3 years later, leaving Millicent Fawcett as the President. Millicent Fawcett believed that is was important to campaign for a wide variety of causes, not just for the vote. (“NUWSS”, NP)
Previous to the NUWSS formation Fawcett worked for the Married Women’s Property Act. In 1867 she published her book Political Economy for Beginners. She was also a member of the Liberal-Unionist group from 1887- 1903. Fawcett spent her life fighting for the women’s suffrage by giving National speaking tours, Parliamentary lobbying, and party alliances. (Uglow, Jennifer S, 171)
In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Members of the WSPU no longer were willing to restrict themselves to the constitutional methods used by the NUWSS. Their motto was “Deeds, not words”, which meant that they were ready to take action to get what they wanted. (“WSPU”, NP)
On October 13,1905, Christabel Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline) and Annie Kenney attended a meeting in London to hear Sir Edward Grey (Minister in British government). During the meeting the girls shouted “Will the Liberal Government get Votes to Women?” When the Minister refused to answer their question, they persisted to yell out the question. They were then evicted from the meeting but they refused to leave without a fight, which resulted with them getting arrested and charged with assault. This was the first time Britain Women used violence to win the vote. From that day on the WSPU started to use Militant actions rather than constitutional actions. The public gave members of the WSPU the name Suffragettes. Emmeline Pankhurst was first arrested in 1908, which accelerated the campaigns illegal tactics. (See figure 1)(“WSPU”, NP)
June 30th, 1908 Suffragettes marched into Downing st. throwing small stones through the windows of the Prime Minister’s home. As an outcome 27 women were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison. (“WSPU”, NP)
Figure 1: Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested in 1908
Another Large demonstration occurred in October of 1908 in London. The Suffragettes tried to forcefully enter The House of Commons. The police and authorities arrested 24 of the women suffragettes. (“WSPU”,NP)
Between 1905- 1911 the NUWSS and the WSPU adopted different election policies. The WSPU said, “Keep the Liberal out” because the government had the power to pass a Suffrage Bill and they continued to decline the suffrage, the WSPU would continue to use militants. The election policy of the NUWSS was “Obtaining declarations of opinions from all candidates at each election and supporting the man, independent of party, who gave the most satisfactory assurance of support.” The members of the NUWSS feared that the militant actions of the WSPU would alienate potential supporters of the Women’s Suffrage. However, they admired their courage to do such outlandish acts. By 1914, the NUWSS had 500 local branches with over 100,000 members whereas the WSPU had only 2,000 members which 1,000 of them had been arrested at some point during their protests. (“WSPU”, NP)
Imprisoned Suffragette Marion Dunlop started the Hunger Strikes in July of 1909 when she refused to eat. The suffragettes cried out that they were “Political Prisoners” therefore they thought that they should be treated different than criminal prisoners. They wanted special prison cells, they didn’t want to wear the prison uniforms and they wanted the freedom of association. Unfortunately the authorities didn’t consider them a political campaign and gave them no special treatment. This led to more hunger strikes, which led to the authorities giving force feedings. (Atkinson, Diane, NP) The Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of ill Health act also known as the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913 stated that they were allowed to go on hunger strikes. When they became ill they were released until they recover, then they were re-arrested to finish their sentence.(“WSPU”, NP)
On August 4, 1914, the British Government declared war on Germany. Millicent Fawcett declared that the NUWSS was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. The WSPU negotiated with the British Government to release all the suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end militant activities and help the war effort. (“NUWSS” & “WSPU”, NP)
The WSPU received a 2,000-pound grant from the government, so they organized a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as; “We demand the Right to Serve”, “For men must fight and women must work”, “ Let none be Kaiser’s cat ’s paw”. 30,000 People attended the demonstration. (“NUWSS” and “WSPU”, NP)
During the war, women had to take over the jobs in industries where men were predominant. Emmeline Pankhurst went through Trade Unions to let women work in the place of the men. (Uglow, Jennifer S., 357-360) Millicent Fawcett gave a speech to the NUWSS at the beginning of the war. She said “ Women your country needs you…Let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim to it be recognized or not.” (“Millicent Fawcett”, NP)
January of 1917, the House of Commons began to discuss granting women the vote in parliamentary elections. On March 28,1917 the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 for the Qualifications of Women Act. This allowed women over the age of 30 who were householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of 5-pounds or graduates of British Universities. In February of 1918 the House of Lords passed the act also. (“Qualification of Women Act”, NP)
“Freedom of all human creatures are essential to the full
development of human life on earth. We shall have to
Labour, not merely for a larger freedom for ourselves, but
For every subject race and class, and for all suppressed
Individuals.” (Olive Schreiner, 1918)
This was the lesson the John Stuart Mill wanted to teach to everyone.
In 1928 the Reform Act of 1928 was passed. This set identical voting qualifications for men and women. So women and men of 21 years of age could vote. (“Reform Bills”, Encarta 2000, NP) In 1929 British Trade Union leader Margaret G. Bondfield became the 1st women cabinet member in British history, and in 1979 Margaret Thatcher became 1st women Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Victory had finally been won after a century of fighting, their dreams has come true. (Banner, Lois W., 2)
“But when an impossible dream comes true, we must go on to another. The true unity of men and women is one such dream. The end of war, of famine- they are all impossible dreams, but the dreams must be dreamed until it takes a spiritual hold.” (Charlotte Despard, 1919)
“Adams, John Quincy” ”, Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.1 Macropedia, Pg.86, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1926
“American Missionary Association”, Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.1 Macropedia, Pg.333, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1926
Atkinson, Diane. “Historian on Suffragettes.”, Museum of London, 1988
“Barbara Leigh Smith (Madame Bodichon) and Hastings” http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/gender/wojtczak/bodichon.html
Despard, Charlotte , quote from “Qualifications of Women”, section 4, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/W1918.htm
“Fawcett, Dame Millicent Garret”, Versa ware Inc., 2000 http://www.fwck.com/encyclopedia/low/articles/f/f00800184.html
“Millicent Fawcett”, section 8, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WfawcettM.htm
“Mill, John Stuart”, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia.2000 ed. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1999
“Qualifications of Women Act”, http://spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/W1918.htm
“1832 Reform Act”, http://spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/pr1832.htm
“Reform Bills”, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia.2000 ed. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1999
Schreiner, Olive, quote from “Qualifications of Women”, section 6, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/W1918.htm
Uglow, Jennifer S. “Fawcett, Dame Millicent Garrett”, The International Dictionary of Women’s Biography. Pg 171, New York: Continuum, 1982
Uglow, Jennifer S. “Pankurst”, The International Dictionary of Women’s Biography. Pgs 357-360, New York: Continuum, 1982
“Women’s Suffrage” Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol.12 Macropedia, Pg 733-734, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1926
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