Suffragette history has had a monumental influence on our lives. We went from being second-class citizens to fighting for women’s right to vote.
Women’s suffrage movement shook the entire world. Women everywhere showed people that they refuse to sit back and obey sexist patriarchal laws and started taking action.
The movement that wrote suffragette history was introduced in 1897 when the National Union of Women’s Suffrage was founded by Millicent Fawcett.
The word “suffrage” means the right to vote, “suffragette”: women’s right to vote. The 19th century made no room for women in national politics, as it was the husband’s responsibility to be engaged in political matters, whereas the wife would take care of the home and children.
Due to the industrial revolution, women started working full-time and thus gained more power and opportunities to debate social and political issues. This soon became a movement that was dedicated to women’s right to vote, and later, the birth of the suffragette history.
Learning about suffragette history: how did the movement affect women’s right to vote?
Suffragette campaigns first started appearing in 1866. Two years later, it showed an effect when women were able to take part in local council elections. In 1867, an amendment was proposed by John Stuart Mill that would provide women’s right to vote on the same term as men, but sadly, it was overruled.
It was rejected by 194 votes to 73. This caused the campaign to gain more power. Women started discussing the movement that was basically about women’s rights and not specifically about women in politics.
Why couldn’t we do the same things men did? Why do men get to have more rights? By the end of 19th century, women’s right to vote became the core issue the movement dealt with in their struggle for equal rights. This is how the early stages of suffragette history were established.
Suffragists and Suffragettes
One of the first things we should know about suffragette history is how the movement was divided into 2: suffragists and suffragettes.
Suffragists originated in the mid 19th century, whereas suffragettes were first noted in 1903. After Millicent Fawcett founded National Union of Women’s Suffrage, her plan was for the movement to practice peaceful protests.
She believed that violence would lead to men thinking that women were untrustworthy and troublesome. She felt that if men were persuaded by those ideas, then women’s right to vote would never be granted.
Thus, Fawcett brought to the table logical arguments. Why can women be members of school boards, but not be able to participate in elections? Why can the parliament pass laws that referred to all people, but women can’t take part in making those laws?
Millicent Fawcett presented intelligent arguments for the movement to show that women were capable of engaging in politics, and it was only a matter of time until women’s right to vote was fully authorized. The movement started gaining support from MPs but not enough to ratify it.
How did the suffragettes come into existence?
The Daily Mail gave that name to suffragists who decided to start a separate movement. Emmeline Pankhurst soon grew impatient with Fawcett’s NUWSS, and initiated her own movement known as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
WSPU’s motto was “deeds not words”. Soon after its establishment, the peaceful protests turned violent and militant. Pankhurst used hunger strikes and law-breaking strategies for sending a message. Not long after, Emmeline and her daughter Christabel faced conflicts with other members of the campaign, which led to the WSPU to split into 2 in 1907.
The ones who left the campaign started the Women’s Freedom League. Now, we had 3 different campaigns that all contributed to the movement of women’s right to vote. All 3 disagreed, but they had the same goal.
Little by little, suffragettes started winning people’s hearts. More and more people were becoming in favor of the movement. WSPU published a newspaper called Votes for Women, and NUWSS had shown a nation-wide productivity.
Comparing the suffragette movement with suffragists: how different were the branches of the movement? Which one contributed more to suffragette history?
Let’s start with what they had in common. Both suffragettes and suffragists strived for the same objective: granting women’s right to vote. Propaganda was both of their weapons in spreading awareness, and their main target was influencing the opinion of important figures of society.
They both thought that their means of protests and campaigns were better and more effective than the other. The contrasts lied mainly in their methods of campaigning: suffragists believed they could get the message across peacefully, suffragettes used violence and militancy.
Suffragettes were a smaller organization than the other: they had 2000 members at its peak in 1914. Suffragists believed men could join the movement and allowed them, whereas suffragettes didn’t.
Because the suffragettes used more severe means of protesting, most of them were arrested and jailed. This led the people to sympathize with them, and they started getting support from the people. This also led to their campaign to receive more publicity. When WWI broke out, most of them put their activities and protests on hold, in order to face bigger threats.
Fun facts about suffragette history
The movement for women’s right to vote had interesting details about their practice.
Since their campaigning was violent, suffragettes were trained in Jiu-Jitsu in order to defend themselves during protests. Edith Garrud was the one who taught them. There was even a cartoon image of her in an issue of Punch where she’s fighting six policemen alone.
Hunger strikes were also means of protesting with Marion Wallace-Dunlop being the first one to do it in 1909 for not being given political prisoner status in prison. Lady Nancy Astor made suffragette history when she became the first woman to become an MP.
She won her husband’s Sutton Plymouth seat at a by-election in 1919. Although suffragettes didn’t allow men to join them, Pankhurst’s husband, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was one of the editors of Votes for Women. Funny enough, not every woman was in favor of gaining the right to vote. The National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage had author Mary Ward as a member.
Suffragette history has taught us a lot. It became the foundation which gave us all the rights we now have. The movement is not over yet, we still have a long way to go. It doesn’t just stop at gaining women’s right to vote. Suffragette history’s legacy is continued by 21st-century feminists.
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