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Women's Suffrage.

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Women's Suffrage The suffrage campaign began in the late 1860s with the establishment of two suffrage committees in 1867, one in London and the other in Manchester. They were followed a year later by similar committees in Bristol, Dublin and Edinburgh and spread to other provincial cities. From the start there were concerns about how the question of suffrage should be handled - corresponding to anxieties about women's agency from the early anti-slavery campaigns onwards. The London National Society for Women's suffrage set up a model designed to deviate as little as possible from accepted middle-class norms of womanly behaviour. It stressed the feminine nature of the female campaigners for the suffrage. John Stuart Mill was President of the Society for some years in the late 1860s and insisted that the secretary of the society should always be a married woman. This contrasted with the approach taken in the north of England where there was less concern with feminine behavioural norms and more focus on establishing a large-scale campaign along the lines of the anti-corn law movement. The establishment of a national women's suffrage campaign was due to women such as Lydia Becker who travelled round the country speaking at suffrage meetings. She also edited the Women's Suffrage Journal from 1870 until her death in 1881. Becker made a close connection between women's lack of the franchise and their disabilities in other arenas such as education, employment and the law and this was another contrast with the London society which focussed on the suffrage campaign not wanting to dilute the message by looking at the treatment of women more generally. Becker drew upon the work of Frances Power Cobbe on domestic violence. Becker publicised Cobbe's appeal for Isobel Grant, a woman sentenced to death for killing her husband during a drunken fight. In the same week, a habitual wife-beater who killed his wife was sentenced to one week in prison. ...read more.


Politicians were attacked as they went to work. They homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised. The cause was given its first martyr in 1913 when Emily Wilding Davidson threw herself under the King's horse on Derby Day, 1913. She was born in 1872 and was one of the first women graduates graduating with a BA at London University and after this gaining a first class honours degree at Oxford University. She joined the WSPU in 1906 and took part in attacks on property. She became a leading member of the Suffragettes and was imprisoned and force-fed. Emily Davison died from the injuries she sustained at the Derby. Ironically, her self-sacrifice may well have made the position of women worse in Britain. Some historians argue that Emily's act so horrified those in charge that they were even more against the right to vote for women. They argued that Emily was a highly educated person. If a highly educated woman was willing to do what she did, what could society expect of less educated women? The militant suffragettes developed a critique of male-centred society which formed the basis for their famous slogan 'Deeds, not words.' As the government refused to yield on the issue of women's enfranchisement, they became more daring in their exploits. They insisted on the unity of theory and practice, on words and action, since they believed that this was the most effective political strategy to win not just the enfranchisement of women but also an improvement generally in the social position of women in society. "We were willing to break laws," explained Mrs. Pankhurst, "that we might force men to give us the right to make laws". The daily lives of the militants were different from that large number of non-militant WSPU members but they brought attention to the suffrage cause and helped to increase membership of all suffrage organisations. ...read more.


In the event, only women over the age of thirty were given the vote, which enfranchised some 7 million British women but left another 5 million still without the suffrage. It is hard to argue that women received the vote in return for their contribution to the war effort when young female workers, who had contributed significantly to the war effort through their work in munitions factories and other sectors, remained disfranchised. The main reason for the restriction of the female electorate was simple: to ensure that men remained in a majority in the electorate as a whole, which they would be unable to do in an equal franchise situation because of the inherent demographic imbalance, further exacerbated by the losses in the trenches. In Britain, few women were elected to parliament: only one in 1918, eight in 1923 and fourteen in 1929. Women cabinet ministers were even rarer (the first being Margaret Bondfield who held office in the Labour government of 1924). By the end of the decade British Conservatives could be confident that neither society nor their own party interest would be damaged by the introduction of full suffrage equality. It was Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister who two years earlier had crushed the General Strike, who was responsible for the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act which gave women aged twenty-one and above the vote on the same terms as men. Prior to gaining the suffrage there had been a sense that the vote would in some way transform the situation of women but once it was gained it was clear that large numbers of women had very little interest in it. There was a sudden change of focus away from women and citizenship and towards the social and even domestic position of women. We will discuss the implications of this for feminism in the next two lectures. International Women's Suffrage COUNTRY YEAR OF SUFFRAGE Finland 1906 France 1944 Germany 1919 Greece 1952 Ireland 1922 Italy 1945 Norway 1913 Poland 1919 Spain 1931 Sweden 1919 UK 1918, 1928 Yugoslavia 1946 ...read more.

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