Wednesday, 5 May 2010

THE FIGHT FOR A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO VOTE...



In 1897, still in the Victorian era, the philosopher J. S. Mill campaigned for women to receive the vote. When he failed, Millicent Fawcett began her lifetime’s work. Founding the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, she advocated peaceful and persuasive debate, during which she maintained that if a woman could hold a position of social responsibility and pay taxes on any monies earned, then surely she should be trusted to vote in an election. 

The following year, Richard Pankhurst MP failed in his own bid for electoral reform, after which his wife and daughter, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, decided to take up the fight.
Emmeline Pankhurst

When Christabel and Annie Kenney broke into a political meeting they were charged with obstruction and assault. Afterwards, rather than paying a fine, they chose to go to prison, hoping the ensuing publicity would serve to aid their protest. At this time Emmeline was to write: “This was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter in any other country...we interrupted a great many meetings...and were violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.”

Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested

It was only the start. Where lawful petitions failed, those strongly in favour of reform felt they were left with little choice but to resort to civil disobedience. So, when opposed by the Church of England, the Suffragettes burned several churches. They fire bombed the homes of MPs. They rioted in Oxford Street, chained themselves to the railings of Buckingham Palace, and hired a boat to sail up the Thames, shouting abuse through loud hailers when they passed by the Houses of Parliament.

 

The outcome of such behaviour resulted in more incarcerations. Some women went on hunger strike causing a national outrage when they were forcibly fed; treated as if they were lunatics. The government of Asquith responded, not by backing down, but by passing the Cat and Mouse Act which allowed a woman on hunger strike to practically starve herself to death before being released from prison. By then, she might either die at home or remain in such a weakened state that, until her health had been restored, she was unlikely to cause any trouble.


At this stage different tactics were employed. In the June of 1913, Emily Wilding Davison went to the Derby races and threw herself in front of the king’s horse. Emily was to die, becoming the first Suffragette martyr. But, even then, the government argued that if so-called educated women could behave in such an unstable way, then how could they be ever be trusted to make a rational vote.
The government’s mind was only changed following the end of the First World War. During that terrible time, along with many other women, the Suffragettes withheld their political protest and contributed selflessly to work in what had previously been exclusively male occupations. At enormous cost, their point was finally driven home and, in 1918, the historic Representation of the People’s Act was passed.

Women working in an armaments factory


The VV urges everyone to recall the enormous sacrifice made by those women who fought hard and long, and sometimes even went on to die, because of their fervently held belief that a woman should have equal rights to a man and be able to cast her own personal vote.



Thanks to History Today Magazine for commenting below and for supplying links to futher information regarding Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst - this article from the magazine's archives throws a great deal more light on the subject.

11 comments:

  1. To vote is a right hard fought and should be considered a treasured gift. It is sinful to squander it.

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  2. Thank you, Ann - I agree. It's easy to think that the 'right' to vote has always been there.

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  3. A great post and very important reminder of the importance of voting. I found two very interesting articles in our archive about the career of Emmeline Pnakhurst (http://www.historytoday.com/MainArticle.aspx?m=18291&amid=18291) and the role of Scottish men in the campaign for female suffrage (http://www.historytoday.com/MainArticle.aspx?m=9470&amid=9470). I hope they will be of interest.

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  4. History Today - that's wonderful. Thank you. I'll link those into the main post.

    Essie

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  5. Being a suffragette was not an easy choice to make, was it? Women who wanted equality in voting were treated in a number of different ways, all hideous:
    1. treated as if they were mentally impaired;
    2. laughed at for being unfeminine, sterile and ugly;
    3. gaoled for criminal behaviour;
    4. divorced for not obeying their husbands. In this case, the husband would take the children away; and
    5. ridiculed in newspapers with the most vicious cartoons.

    How amazing then that any women joined up.

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  6. Hels - you have said it all, and very succinctly. Thank you.

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  7. fantastic blog - really enjoying it. On the topic of women's rights I've just covered Elizabeth Garrett Anderson the first female doctor in the UK over at my blog.

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  8. Thank you, Ruairidh - what is your blog called?

    Essie

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  9. Why was the vote so important to them any way? The suffragettes did any thing they wanted freely any way
    E.g.
    Bomb houses,hunger strike,trying to blow up Lloyd George's house

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  10. Thanks for the help and the pictures - it was vry useful.

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