"Suffrage" means the right to vote and that is what women wanted. The move for women to have the vote had really started in 1897 when the National Union of Women's Suffrage was founded.
Millicent Fawcett, the founder believed in a peaceful protest. Her plan was to use patience and logical arguments. Fawcett argued that women could hold responsible places in society such as sitting on school boards; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men and one of her most powerful arguments was that wealthy mistresses of large manors and estates employed gardeners, workmen and labourers who could vote, but the women could not regardless of their wealth.
Fawcett's progress was very slow. She converted some of the members of the Labour Representation Committee but most of them still believed that women simply would not understand how Parliament worked and therefore should not take part in the electoral process. This left many women angry and in 1903 the Women's Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. They wanted women to have the right to vote and they were not prepared to wait. Members of the Suffragettes were prepared to use violence to get what they wanted.
They started up with relative peace but in 1905 the organization created a stir when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting in Manchester to ask to Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed women should have the right to vote. Neither man replied and it was when the two women got out a banner which had on it "Votes for Women" and shouted at the two politicians to answer their questions. Such actions cause the two women to b thrown out of the meeting and arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.
Some words that appear in Emmeline Pankhurst’s autobiography:
The Suffragettes refused to bow to violence. They burned down churches as the Church of England was against what they wanted; they vandalised Oxford Street, apparently breaking all the windows in this famous street; they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family were seen to be against women having the right to vote; they hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat; others refused to pay their tax. Politicians were attacked as they went to work. Their homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised. The first decade of Britain in the 20th Century was proving to be violent in the extreme.
Suffragettes were quite happy to go to prison. Here they refused to eat and went on a hunger strike. The government was very concerned that they might die in prison thus giving the movement martyrs. Prison governors were ordered to force feed Suffragettes but this caused a public outcry as forced feeding was traditionally used to feed lunatics as opposed to what were mostly educated women.
The Cat and Mouse Act was passed when a Suffragette was sent to prison and it was assumed that she would go on hunger strike as this caused the authorities maximum discomfort. The Cat and Mouse Act allowed the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and let them get weaker and weaker. Force feeding was not used. When the Suffragettes were very weak they were released from prison. If they died out of prison, was of no offence to the government’s image. These women didn’t die but they were so week that they could not be involved in Suffragette’s campaigns. When they regained their strength, they were re-arrested for the most trivial of reason and the whole process started again. From the government's point of view this was a very simple and effective weapon against the Suffragettes.
As a result, the Suffragettes became more extreme. The most famous act associated with the Suffragettes was when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King's horse. She got killed and the Suffragettes had their first martyr. This caused more problems to the movement as many men in answer to their claims asked the simple question - if this is what an educated woman does, what might a lesser educated woman do? How can they possibly be given the right to vote?
However, when Britain and Europe entered World War One in a display of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst told the Suffragettes to stop their support in every way the government and its war effort. Women in England received the right to vote in 1928 with the Representation of the People Act.
María Traver Boix - AA
María Traver Boix - AA