Women’s Struggle for Emancipation, 1906-1914
Question 1 – Read the leaflet, The Case of Mrs Pankhurst
A) The leaflet, The Case of Mrs Pankhurst was published by the WSPU. On the bottom of the leaflet there is an address of where the leaflets can be obtained from and the purchase price. In reading the leaflet, the way it is written and the points that are highlighted, make me believe it was made to try to gain public support for the movement and to maybe even gain more members. It shows Mrs Pankhurst as hero of the movement, who has been badly treated by the Government and the Cat and Mouse Act in her many visits to prison. Being explained as “most devilish form of torture, that has been expressly devised for women”. The leaflet also gives a message and asks for the support of its members against the way the Cat and Mouse Act is being enforced and the way Emmeline Pankhurst was treated, “The members of the WSPU will not allow it; they dare the authorities to lay a finger on their beloved leader again ! They call upon those in the suffrage movement to rise as one woman, and protest against this abominable cruelty”.
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B) This leaflet was written and printed close to the time and I would consider it to be a primary source of information and a reliable one. It contains true fact and dates and is quite an informative piece of writing. Being a WSPU leaflet though and printed and written by them, it has been dramatised slightly and written in a way as maybe to gain public favour and to rally support for their cause. It is a factual piece, but one I would say that has been written with some bias towards the women’s movement.
C) To put a date to the leaflet, I would say it was produced in the last few months of1913. The main points addressed in the leaflet, the Cat and Mouse Act and the death of Emily Davison both happened in that year. The later being the death of Emily at the Derby in Epsom on the 4th June 1913.
Question 2 – Read the letter from Millicent Fawcett to David Lloyd George
A) In the letter to David Lloyd George by Millicent Fawcett in 1912, she makes very clear the differences between the NUWSS and the WSPU and all though they are both after the vote for women, the policies and the tactics used are totally different. The NUWSS had always protested, petitioned and campaigned in a peaceful manner to try and achieve their goal. They were against violence and the tactics used by the WSPU, and wanted everyone and the government to know that. They saw the actions of the WSPU as doing more harm than good, and that if continued may lose them their fight to gain the vote. The NUWSS was a massive peaceful organisation that didn’t want to be labelled or to be seen as the same as the WSPU “We make a strong personal appeal to you not to punish the great mass of law-abiding suffragists for the faults of the small section of law-breakers”.
B) The letter sent by Millicent Fawcett to David Lloyd George is a very important source. It clearly states that the NUWSS is in no way linked to WSPU and their tactics, and that they believe them to be making matters worse for the movement. Both groups had the same goal, but with a clear divide in the way wanted to achieve that goal. Most of the focus on the women’s suffrage movement has been based around the WSPU because of their actions and the way they campaigned and the things they did to get awareness in to the public eye. The WSPU was a small portion of the women’s movement and towards the later stages had lost lots of its members to the more peaceful groups. The NUWSS did just as much for the movement, but peacefully and in a law-abiding way. It was a massive organisation, with huge numbers of members and followers and shops around the country. The letter shows not all women wanted to be seen as the WSPU were, and that in fact they were in the minority in the movement, and that the cause shouldn’t suffer because of the few.
... campaign for a wide variety of causes, not just for the vote. ("NUWSS", NP) Previous to the NUWSS formation Fawcett worked for the Married Women ... 24 of the women suffragettes. ("WSPU", NP) Between 1905- 1911 the NUWSS and the WSPU adopted different election policies. The WSPU said, " ... militant activities and help the war effort. ("NUWSS" & "WSPU", NP) The WSPU received a 2, 000-pound grant from ...
Examine the methods of the WSPU in their struggle for
Women’s voting right down to 1914
Women struggled and campaigned from the middle of the 19th century for the right to vote on the same terms as men. Meetings were organised, petitions were sent to Parliament, they tried to persuade MP’s in an effort to change the laws. There were many small groups up and down the country, which in 1897 joined to form one group, The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS).
Led by Millicent Fawcett, this was a peaceful group that campaigned using only peaceful methods. From 1897 to 1903 they campaigned and petitioned for the right for women to vote, but with very little success. In October 1903 in the front room of a house in Nelson Street Manchester, the campaign for women’s suffrage saw the birth of the WSPU. The Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela. Its motto was “Deeds not Words” and its members were determined to get women the vote by any means necessary. Unlike the NUWSS their methods were very different and not as peaceful. They started out peacefully in 1903, but very soon turned in to a very well organised and very committed militant group. This essay will look at their methods and the way they campaigned for the women’s vote. It will look at three distinctive stages, 1903-1908, 1908-1912, then the finally the years 1912-1914.
In the early years between 1903 and 1905, the WSPU were still a rather peaceful and travelled around the north of England in the cotton towns doing valuable propaganda work. They canvassed doors and went to factories and mills at dinner times to speak, trying to drum up support and gain new members. From its birth in 1903, the WSPU made their intentions and what they wanted very clear. They wanted women to have the same equal rights to vote as men, and this would come at any cost. Emmeline Pankhurst described their aims: “to secure for women the parliamentary vote as it is or may be granted to men…..to limit our membership exclusively to women and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto” (Atkinson 1988, pg15).
... 4 million dollars. Just like the right to vote women have come long way to have equal funding for ... took almost 70 years for women to be able to vote. For women to able to vote, they started a faction ... also been able to play sports, and even vote. Women are not exactly equal to men but things ... it is important for woman to have the privilege to vote. They can vote on other issues besides presidential ...
This motto was to be the difference between the WSPU and the law-abiding NUWSS, and was to take the women’s suffrage movement to the next level. The WSPU believed in action and deeds to achieve their goal, and on the 13th of October 1905 the militancy began. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney went to a Liberal political rally in Manchester and demanded that it endorse votes for women. Christabel openly committed a technical assault on a police officer in order to be arrested and was later jailed for ten days. Annie was also arrested and jailed for disorderly behaviour. This was done purposely to generate publicity and to get the movement in to the public eye and to attract new members. Acts of this nature by women were unheard of at that time, and the unladylike like behaviour was a shock to most, this set them aside and made them different to the other groups. In 1906 the WSPU and the Pankhurst family moved to London. The first office was at 4 Clements Inn, The Strand (Atkinson 1988, pg17).
It was close to the House of Commons and the Law Courts. The WSPU went to work, MP’s were ridiculed during election campaigns, Politicians were interrupted at speeches. A founder of the early London WSPU branch, Dora Montefiore urged civil disobedience by refusing to pay her taxes in 1906; her home was besieged by bailiffs for six weeks trying to take her property (Longman 1998, pg29).
As the members grew and militancy increasing, some of the early members were unhappy with the way the WSPU were going. In 1907 after Mrs Pankhurst cancelled an annual meeting, Theresa Billington Greig, Charlotte Despard, Edith How-Martyn and a fifth of the WSPU members left to form the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).
After the split Emmeline and Christabel tried to take control of the WSPU, make it in to an army of followers, and often referred to the WSPU as a military organisation. This was not always the case though, and many of its members acted with out prior consent from the Pankhursts. Then in 1908, Herbert Henry Asquith takes over as the leader of the Liberal government. He was known to be very ‘Anti’ to the women’s suffrage movement. New militant tactics were starting and the WSPU was about to move in to its second stage.
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On appointment Asquith agreed to see a deputation of campaigners, He said if there was a popular demand for the vote for women and that the community would benefit by having it, the government would consider a bill in Parliament. Demonstrations were organised and on the 21st June 1908 seven processions marched through the streets of London to Hyde Park and formed a crowd of around 250,000 people. Asquith didn’t budge, the WSPU acted by stepping up militancy. At a later rally after seeing how fellow WSPU members were treated by police, Mary Leigh and Edith New went to Downing Street and threw rocks through the prime ministers windows as retaliation (Longman 1998, pg35).
This was the first out break of rock throwing and window smashing and was the start of the move to public property destruction for the WSPU. Another tactic being adopted was confronting senior politicians at meetings and speeches. In June 1909 a deputation tried to see Asquith and was refused, while being forced back by police, a small group were smashing the government buildings windows. One hundred and eight were arrested and fourteen window smashers were sent to Holloway for a month (Atkinson 1988, pg27).
WSPU members who were sent to prison still carried on the fight inside. In 1909 the first hunger strikes took place, the women would starve themselves in order to gain political status. Not long after the start of hunger strikes, the government introduced force feeding to keep the women alive. During 1910 the efforts of the WSPU and also the peaceful NUWSS were rewarded when the government proposed to set up a Conciliation Committee to draw up a bill to give the vote to women. A bill must be drawn up, that would be suitable for everyone. Mrs Pankhurst called a truce and all militant activity stopped. After months of debating and hard work from both sides, the bill got passed on its second vote by a large majority, but Asquith suspended the parliament saying no more time would be given till November and left the bill still not passed. WSPU were not happy and the truce was off. On the 18th November 1910 suffragettes took part in a demonstration at Westminster that soon became a riot. Police were drafted in to deal with over three hundred demonstrators, of which one hundred and fifty later claimed were victims of sexual assaults; the day was later named Black Friday (Atkinson 1988, pg29).
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Shortly after Asquith agreed to provide facilities for a bill if the Liberals were put back in to office again in the following year. WSPU responded by going to see Asquith at Downing Street, breaking his car windows and injuring the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrel (Longman 1998, pg 35).
The conciliation committee abandoned its talks with Asquith. The WSPU militancy had stopped the act being put forward, the NUWSS weren’t happy. They were still trying and campaigning peacefully, but being hindered by the WSPU. With no bill, the truce was off for good and the WSPU stepped up by a mass window smashing demonstration in London. They targeted government buildings, West End shops, offices and for the first time commercial buildings causing thousands of pounds of damage. The WSPU seeing no sign of a bill being passed step up the militancy to its final stage.
After the first mass outbreak in November of 1911 window smashing was an official policy of the WSPU. In early 1912, Asquith yet again stalled the new Reform Bill. WSPU organised more window smashing marches in London and caused thousands of pounds of damage, the public were outraged. The government reacted and went after the main WSPU headquarters, Christabel was tipped off and went to Paris, while the Pethick Lawrences were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit damage. In October 1912, Mrs Pankhurst introduced the new policy of attacks on private property at the Albert Hall meeting with a dramatic announcement: “I incite this meeting to rebellion” (Longman 1998, pg36).
At another meeting, she said “Our very definite purpose is to create an intolerable situation for the Government, and if need be, for the public as a whole” (Atkinson 1988, pg 32).
The WSPU tactics were now vast, more guerrilla and getting more violent. Window smashing, stone throwing, arson attacks, attacks on public and private buildings were now common. Bombings started in empty buildings, churches and in February 1913 a newly built home of Lloyd George was badly damaged by a bomb planted by Emily Wilding Davison. Telephone and telegraph wires were cut, chemicals were poured in to pillar boxes to destroy letters, sports pavilions were burned and lawns burned and slogans cut. With the number of suffragettes in prison rising and the growing hunger strikes, the force feeding issues reaches a climax and the government had to introduce the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act. It was later named the Cat and Mouse Act, due to prisoners being released after getting weak from hunger strikes only to be brought back when fit again. It was hoped this might demoralise the suffragettes, but it didn’t work and the violence continued. On the 4th of June 1913 at the Derby horse race at Epsom, Emily Wilding Davison committed the ultimate sacrifice for the women’s suffrage movement. She ran out in front of the Kings horse, Amner and grabbed the reins. The horse and rider fell and four days later Emily died of her injuries. She was haled as a martyr and her funeral was an organised procession by the WSPU (Atkinson 1988, pg34).
... for their acts of militancy. Throughout the Women’s Suffrage Movement the WSPU’s activities included constitutional methods as well as ... At first it was smashing windows shop fronts, but ultimately escalated into the burning of houses and public buildings including Westminster Abbey ... spitting on police officers, and smashing of government windows and in June alone the WSPU made $54,000 worth of damage ...
During 1913 with the escalation of violence and the views of the public, the WSPU had to go underground, meetings couldn’t held as public would turn up and cause trouble, members were harassed, the public were fighting back and WSPU shops in certain areas were attacked and smashed. This continued in to the early parts of 1914, but the women’s suffrage campaign stopped for the First World War in August.
In looking at the three distinct stages in the life of the WSPU. From its origins as a peaceful movement in the beginning, trying to gain members and support, to it being a massive and very well organised militant organisation. The WSPU wanted change and believed the way to get it was through action. From the beginning they were different from the other women’s suffrage groups, like the peaceful NUWSS, who did everything by the law and in a correct manner. At first the NUWSS haled the women for what they did and for trying to help the movement, as the violence escalated though, there soon became a big divide between the NUWSS and WSPU. They believed what the WSPU was doing was wrong, they saw their actions as a hindrance to the cause, and the government would never give in to violence. They saw peaceful campaigning the only way forward. The policies and methods of campaigning between the groups were very different, but they both played a key role in the women’s suffrage movement. The WSPU methods may have been violent and may not have been the best way to achieve their goal, but they kept the theme in the public eye and made everyone aware of the situation, and the need for change. Their antics and what they did is how we know of them today, the peaceful NUWSS will have done more good for the cause than we may believe, but the WSPU suffragettes will get all the glory and be the remembered ones. Deeds, not words.
Atkinson D (1988) Women in History, Votes for Women, Cambridge, Cambridge Uni Press
Smith H L (1998) The British Women’s Suffrage Campaign 1886-1928, Longman
Suffragette Weekly picture, Google Images
Student Handouts information used is below
Demanding the Vote for Women, Pg 1-3, www.museumoflondon.org.uk