4GK005 Campaigning and Citizenship

Divisions in the Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women's Freedom League (WFL) were the main suffrage organisations but the movement also included the Women's Co-operative Guild and groups within political parties and trades unions.

1867 The first women's suffrage societies were formed. The National Society for Women's Suffrage was the umbrella organisation.
Lydia Becker became secretary of the Manchester Society. She edited the Women's Suffrage Journal and organised parliamentary work for the National Society.

Between 1870 and 1878, a private member's bill for women's suffrage presented each year.
Annual bills also from 1884, except in 1899 and 1901.

1890 Lydia Becker died and Millicent Fawcett became President of the National Society.

All exisitng suffrage societies brought together in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.
There were 70 groups in 1909 and 411 in 1913 - members known as suffragists.

1905 --> Many of the leading figures in the NUWSS had been associated with the Liberal Party but after 1905 lost faith in Liberal governments.
In 1912 gave full scale support to Labour when the Labour Party agreed not to support any extension to the franchise that did not include women.

NUWSS campaigning methods included petitions, open-air meetings, campaigning in elections, lobbying of Parliament, mass demonstrations.

1914 Massive march in London.

Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) formed by Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester. Had close connections with the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

In 1905, a desire for more progress on womne's suffrage led members of the WSPU to begin disruptive tactics.
Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney disrupted Liberal meeting in Manchester Free Trade Hall. They resisted arrest and were imprisoned.
The NUWSS in Manchester supported them at first - but came to believe disruption and seeking arrest was unproductive in building a mass campaign.
Eva Gore-Booth of the Lancashire Women Textile Workers Representation Committee wrote to Mrs Fawcett in 1906 that the members of that organisation did not object to demonstrations but to being "held accountable as a class for educated and upper class women who kick, shriek, bite and spit."

Around this time, the WSPU broke with the ILP, began to campaign against Labout candidates and moved to London.

1906-9 Campaign of disruption, Parliamentary lobbying and mass demonstrations.
In 1908 attracted 500,000 people to an open air meeting.

In 1909, the Prime Minister refused to meet a deputation from the WSPU.
In response they started a campaign of window breaking. Arrested and sent to jail.
When not treated as political prisoners, went on hunger strike.

1910-1911 Period of truce

1911 Window breaking on a massive scale

1913 Campaign of arson & destruction of property
Did not organise or join peaceful demonstrations in this period.

'Votes for Women' or 'Adult Suffrage'

Extension of the suffrage to women required a majority of votes in a Parliament consisting of men.
Campaigns to win a parliamentary majority were complicated by
  • views of individual MPs
  • party policies
  • estimates of impact of women's votes on party politics
  • question of the House of Lords
  • the Irish question
Campaigns particularly focused on periods when the question of the extension of the franchise to more men was before Parliament.

1867 women's suffrage petition would not have enfranchised married women if passed, because at that time women lost all civil rights on marriage.

The NUWSS and the WSPU (until 1907) called for
"The Parliamentary vote for women on the same terms as it may be granted to men".
All through the period before 1918, this would not have included all adult women but suffrage movement believed that it was important to get some women enfranchised in order to establish the principle.

In opposition to this strategy, many men and some women in the Labour Representation Committee and later the Labour Party argued that they could not support a campaign that

  • would not achieve voting rights for the mass of working women
  • would enfranchise propetied women who would support Liberal or Conservative candidates

The Lancashire suffragists challenged this view and argued that

  • even a limited franchise would include a large number of working women.
  • Adult suffrage was not feasible at that time.
But in 1905 the Labour Representation Committee Conference passed a resolution supporting adult suffrage in preference to one supporting a limited extension of the suffrage to women as a step on the road to adult suffrage.
1906 The same thing happened at the next conference, but by a smaller majority.
1907 This time the adult suffrage resolution was passed by an overwhelming majoirty.
1908 The same thing happened.

According to Liddington and Norris, most of the Labour Party saw the issue in the context of the party's likely electoral fortunes and of prevailing ideas about a 'women's place'.
The argument of the Lancashire suffragists that the vote would enable those working class women who got it to improve their wages and conditions was not supported by the majority.

1918 It can be argued that women only got the vote at the end of the war because there had to be changes to elctoral law in order to enfranchise soldiers and sailors who either did not have the vote or who did not meet residence requirements because of joining the forces.

If you print this page, it will take 3 sides of A4.

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/4GK005w10a.htm
Page created by Penny Welch June 2003/updated August 2011

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