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Why did a campaign for women's suffrage develop in the years after 1870?

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Introduction

History Coursework Votes for Women Q1. Why did a campaign for women's suffrage develop in the years after 1870? The late 19th Century, as a period where social unrest was prevalent, became the major starting point of social, political and economic reform in Britain. Social groups were beginning to demand that their voices be heard by government in order to improve standard of living, working conditions and education opportunities. This period of reform was echoed by the height of the campaign for female emancipation. As the first trade unions and strikes were being organised by miners, labourers and other male workers, female workers and women in general were beginning to demand improvements in their legal, social and financial positions. New acts and reform bills were steadily introduced from around the mid 19th Century, improving women's rights. E.g. The 1839 Custody of Infants Act gave more rights to divorced women to see their children (although the father still had almost complete control of the children), and the factory Acts of 1842 and 1847 reduced maximum working hours for women in textile factories. At this time, many of Britain's poorest and most exploited people were women. By 1900 there were over 5 million wage-earning women in Britain, most of them grossly underpaid, working in awful conditions. These issues of poverty and inequality formed the background of the demand for votes for women. ...read more.

Middle

Although originating from a similar viewpoint, the WSPU and NUWSS were vastly different organisations. Whereas the Suffragists (NUWSS) were largely non-political, the Suffragettes were closely linked with the Labour party, whose party meetings were often attended by the Pankhursts as speakers. In addition, the Suffragists had a vast grass-root support system among working class women, whereas the Suffragettes had very few working class members (Annie Kenney being a high profile example). The early examples of the Suffragette's disruptive campaign included members attending political party meetings and heckling politicians/speakers with questions on how they intended to work for female suffrage, resulting in their removal and often, arrest. Rather than pay fines, many members opted to be jailed in order to further publicise the campaign. This publicity attracted new recruits and encouraged the WSPU's militant approach. The WSPU declared 'war' on the Liberal government for failing o do anything for votes for women. Leading liberal politicians were heckled during speeches, their houses picketed and demonstrations were held and disturbances caused outside the Houses of Parliament. More arrests and refusals to pay resulted in longer prison stays where women were forced to wear prison uniforms, denied visits or letters. This was another victory for the WSPU propaganda machine. They were able to show that their members were being treated more harshly than some hardened criminals, forcing the government to back down. ...read more.

Conclusion

dangerous jobs which really triggered the major changes which made the government's decision to give women the vote generally more acceptable to the public and therefore more likely to be introduced. While the men were fighting on the front line during WW1, the women were taking on the traditionally 'men-only' jobs on the home front. Women were becoming postal workers, bus conductors and mechanics out of necessity in order to aid the war effort and it was in these professions where many women proved themselves to be capable of much more than was traditionally expected of them, and earned the grudging respect and support of politicians who have previously been opposed to the female suffrage campaign. The fact that women had really earned acknowledgement for their efforts during the war was a great influence on the decision of politicians and the government to give some women the vote. Another influence might have been that the government were unwilling to come up against Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes and their temporarily called-off violent campaign now that the war was over. In conclusion, I agree with the original statement because I feel that the government would have been reluctant to introduce the radical and traditionally opposed idea of votes for women without the major social change and subsequent change in public opinion which was due to the changing face of industry and economical & social power which now included rather than disregarded women. Natalya Frederick 11JT ...read more.

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