4GK005 Campaigning and Citizenship

Campaigning for equal citizenship in Britain 1914 onwards

Task for students
Imagine you are living in England in 1918 and you are the same age, gender, class and ethnicity as you are now. If you are 24 or over, you may have some memory or experience of the pre-war suffrage campaigns. What would have been your main concerns in 1918?

Chronology of legislative change

1916 A general election in Britain was overdue, the electoral register was out of date and the existing rules determining which men could vote would result in many soldiers and sailors being denied a vote in the next election.
So the government set up a Speaker's Conference, with representatives from all political parties in Parliament. Women's suffrage was not on the original agenda for the conference, but became included, partly because of pressure from the suffrage movement and partly because it was hard for politicians to defend extending the vote to more men but not to any women.
The main recommendations of the Speaker's Conference were included in the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

1918 Representation of the People Act - women over 30 who were householders or the wives of householders or university graduates became eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections

Extract from the Representation of the People Act, 1918 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/brave_new_world/docs/repofthepeople_act.htm

The Representation of the People Act 1918, with explanatory notes by Sir Hugh Fraser, 1918, London: Sweet and Maxwell, http://www.archive.org/stream/representationof00frasrich#page/n25/mode/2up

As a result of this act, the electorate consisted of 10 million men and 6 million women.

1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act allowed women to stand for Parliament regardless of age.

1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act - women could join legal profession, become magistrates and serve on juries.
Woman's Hour discussion http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/04/2009_52_wed.shtml

1923 The Matrimonial Causes Act gave right to wives to petition for divorce on account of their husbands' adultery.

1925 The Guardianship of Infants Act gave parents equal claims over their children.

1926 Criminal Justice Act abolished assumption that a married woman who committed a criminal act in the presence of her husband had been coerced.

1928 Equal Franchise Act
British Library site http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/struggle/struggle.html

This act added 5 million women to the electorate.

1937 Matrimonial Causes Act introduced new grounds for divorce, including desertion of 3 years or more, insanity, cruelty, adultery, rape and sodomy.

Task for students
Why did it take another decade after 1918 for women to get equal voting rights with men?

Women's campaigning


On the outbreak of war, the NUWSS and the WSPU suspended suffrage activities.
NUWSS campaigned against discriminatory practices in women's employment and the moral supervision of soldiers' wives.
Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst campaigned for men to join the armed forces.

Some of the smaller sufrrage societies and a minority of the NUWSS and WSPU continued the suffrage campaign but added other issues to it.
For example, the East London Federation of Suffragettes campaigned for proper allowances for the wives and families of soldiers, against rising food prices and for better pay and conditions for women munitions workers.

While the majority of the NUWSS and the leaders of the WSPU were not pacifists, many feminist activists were.
Pacifist feminists supported the 1915 Women's Peace Conference at the Hague. Only 2 or 3 British women actually got to the Hague - British government denied passports to 180 women and then closed the North Sea to passenger ships (Kramarae and Spender 2000: 1513).
The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom was set up at this conference. The organisation still exists - see

1915 Women's Institute formed - also still exists - see http://www.thewi.org.uk/)

1916 Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations formed.

1917 Women Citizens' Associations formed by National Union of Women Workers and National Council of Women.

1917 Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst established the The Women's Party. Stood several candidates in 1918 election but did not win any seats. Emmeline later joined the Conservative Party.

1918 Several members of women's suffrage organisations stood as Indpendents in 1918 election - none elected.

After the 1918 Representation of the People Act, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) and were in existence until 1945.
They campaigned for equality of franchise between men and women, family allowances and the political education of women.
NUSEC originally opposed protective legislation on grounds that it undermined equality between men and women. Pressurised to change policies in mid-1920s when Labour government planning to extend protective legislation. When NUSEC's position changed in 1926, some members left and formed Open Door Council.

Liberal government opposed to NUSEC and PM Stanley Baldwin refused to meet a deputation until 1927. As a result, NUSEC developed close relationship with Labour Party.
In 1932 the organisation's campaigning and educational functions were separated - campaigning role to the National Council for Equal Citizenship and educational to Townswomen's Guilds.
Townswomen's Guilds still exist - see http://www.townswomen.org.uk/page.asp?node=2&sec=About_Us
Summarised from material provided by Women's Library http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cats/65/10594.htm

NUSEC banner http://www.mediastorehouse.com/nusec_banner/print/7145177.html

Extract from biography of Eleanor Rathbone (President of NUSEC from 1919) by Mary Stocks

Women's Freedom League campaigned for equal suffrage, the opening of all professions to women, equal pay, the right of a woman to retain her own nationality on marriage and equal moral standards. Continued in existence until 1961.

The Co-operative Women's Guild, women's trades union organisations and women's organisations within political parties also involved in campaigning

1921 The Six Point Group founded by Lady Rhondda

Consultative Committee of Women's Organisations formed by Nancy Astor.

Between 1919 and 1928, NUSEC lobbied MPs, encouraged Private Member's bills and organised meetings and marches, the latter in conjunction with other women's organisations.
In June 1919 and July 1926, in particular, women under 30 were prominent on the suffrage marches.
In 1926 alone, the NUSEC held 200 meetings across the country (Law 1998: 209).

Ideological differences between feminists
The main difference in the interwar period was between those feminists who emphasised the need for women to have equal rights with men and those who emphasised that women had special needs, for example, as mothers. Equal rights feminists believed that emphasising the difference between women and men would re-establish the notion of separate spheres - the public sphere for men and the private sphere for women.

Women MPs

1918 Constance Markievicz elected for Sinn Fein but did not take up her seat

1919 Nancy Astor elected for the Conservatives in a by-election - remained an MP until 1945.

1919 Margaret Wintringham elected for the Liberals in a by-election

1923 election - 8 women MPs elected

1929 Margaret Bondfield appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government - the first woman cabinet minister.

See Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics http://www.qub.ac.uk/cawp/UK%20bios/UK_bios_20s.htm and
House of Commons Information Office (2010) Women in the House of Commons factsheethttp://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/m04.pdf


By people involved

'Women, your country needs you. As long as there was any hope for peace, most members of the National Union probably sought for peace, and endeavoured to support those who were trying to maintain it. But we have another duty now....Let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim to it be recognized or not', Millicent Fawcett of the NUWSS writing in The Common Cause August 1914.

'Yet the memory of the old militancy, and the certainty of its recurrence if the claims of women were set aside, was a much stronger factor in overcoming the reluctance of those who would again have postponed the settlement', Sylvia Pankhurst on the 1918 Suffrage Act.

'The Women’s Party has been formed to unite the women to fight for victory and national security, and afterwards to wage a campaign of social reform to secure better housing, better education, greater security for mothers and infants, and a system of industrial organization which will give good conditions of work, short hours, good wages, and at the same time greater efficiency and increased national wealth', Emmeline Pankhurst (1918) 'War until the Victory', Britannia, 5 April, p. 405.

'The subjection of women, if there be such a thing, will not now depend on any creation of the law, not can it be remedied by any action of the law. It will never again be possible to blame the soveriegn state for any position of inequality. Women will have, with us, the fullest rights. The ground and justification for the old agitation is gone, and gone for ever', Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister, Hansard 29 March 1928, cited in Strachey (1928).

Task for students
What is Baldwin saying in the quote above?

By later writers

'The mass appeal of the suffrage campaign which had spread the conviction of women's rights and women's wrongs to all sections of society, would not survive the victory, and was not to destined to reappear until the new movement of the 1960s', Olive Banks (1981) Faces of Feminism, p. 149.

'The first women's liberation movement failed because the impulse towards female autonomy from male control over women's lives was submerged by the impulse towards equality with men in their world', E. Sarah in S. Friedman & E. Sarah (1982) On the Problem of Men, London: The Women's Press.

Task for students
From what you have learned so far, do you agree with the 2 quotes above or not?

Online Resources

Online quiz on citizenship http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/quiz/suffragette/suffragette.htm
From Kitchen Table to Conference Table, exhibition produced by National Co-operative Archive and other organisations http://www.co-op.ac.uk/politicalwomen/cs4_3.html
Leaflet produced for the 1922 general election by the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, http://www.unionhistory.info/equalpay/display.php?irn=772&QueryPage=/equalpay/links.php
UK Parliament archives http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/parliamentary-archives/archives-highlights/archives-the-suffragettes/archives-the-first-women-in-parliament-1919-1945/
Vellacott, J. (1987) 'Feminist Consciousness and the First World War', History Workshop Journal, 23(1): 81-101, http://hwj.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/1/81.full.pdf
Mayhall, L. (n/d) 'Suffrage and Political Activity', http://gdc.gale.com/assets/files/wws/GML40207_Suffrage.pdf
Smith, Angela K.(2003) 'The Pankhursts and the war: suffrage magazines and first world war propaganda', Women's History Review, 12(1): 103 — 118, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09612020300200349
Kingsley Kent, S. (1998) 'The Politics of Sexual Difference: World War I and the Demise of British Feminism', The Journal of British Studies, 27(3): 232-253 http://www.jstor.org/stable/175664

Kramarae, C. and Spender, D. (2000) Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women, London: Routledge (some pages accessible via Google books)
Davis, Mary (2007) An Historical Introduction to the Campaign for Equal Pay, http://www.unionhistory.info/equalpay/roaddisplay.php?irn=820 (accessed 28 February 2011).
Rake, Katherine (2008) 'The long fight for equality', New Statesman, 3 July http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2008/07/women-equal-girls-rights (accessed 27 February 2011).
The Fawcett Society http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=605

Printed Sources Used

Law, C. (1998) 'The old faith living and the old power there: the movement to extend women's suffrage', in Joannou, M. & Purvis, J. The Women's Suffrage Movement: new feminist perspectives, Manchester: Manchester University Press 324.6230941/WOM
Strachey, Ray (1978) [1928] The Cause: a Short History of the Women's Movment in Great Britain, London: Virago.
Wiltsher, A. (1985) Most Dangerous Women: feminist peace campaigners of the Great War, London: Pandora.

URL http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/4GK005w20.htm
Page created by Penny Welch February 2011/Updated March 2013