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Was the suffrage movement middle class?

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Introduction

Was the suffrage movement middle class? The movement for the women's vote early in this century is often seen as a middle class phenomenon, not relevant to the "real stuff" of politics and dominated by the Pankhurst family (Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela) to the exclusion of other activists. It was not only a struggle for women to gain the right to vote and express themselves as full political citizens, but also a struggle to unite women of all classes. For women of the time in Britain, campaigning for the vote represented the desire to break free of the Victorian mold, which required women to remain in the domestic sphere, far from the political activity. By rejecting Victorian ideals and becoming more involved in the public sphere of politics, British women transformed themselves as well as British politics. The women that emerged from this era was not only educated and a member of the work force, but also represented a member of British society. She became what Bonnie Smith calls the "New woman." ...read more.

Middle

Within the NUWSS, wives, mothers and daughters of prominent liberal leaders/politicians. Many suffragist leaders belonged to families who were committed to social reform in a wider context. Middle class had many opportunities in society and often committed themselves to what was on offer to them. Often, middle class families supported each other in their beliefs and there were groups such as 'suffrage families' who all supported the suffragette movement. The middle class dominated the suffragette movement until the myth was broken by Liddington and Norris who felt that it should be open to all classes in society. Many different classes dominated areas within England when it came to women's suffrage. For example, Oldham was predominantly middle class and only a few miles away in Clitkeroes WSPU membership was exclusively for working class only. One of the associations of NUWSS was committed to broadening the class composition of the suffrage movement. The association put effort into recruiting working class women. Tensions arose between the old, middle class and the new, working class recruits. The WSPU was initially set up for any woman who wished to attend the meetings and all were welcome between 1903 and 1906. ...read more.

Conclusion

The two main organizations, NUWSS and WSPU were categorized into two types: Suffragettes and Suffragists. Suffragists - - refers to those who mainly belonged to the NUWSS as they took part in no violent behavior. They supported universal suffrage by using more traditional practice of petitioning parliament for the right to vote. The suffragists usually refer to working to middle class women. Suffragettes - - this was the name that the 'daily mail' gave to the more militant women devoted to the suffrage course. Suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters were typically middle to upper class women who often used dramatic displays and occasional violence to draw attention to their political cause (this included, demonstrations, hunger strikes, slashing of paintings, setting fire to cables and post boxes etc. This violent behavior could be argued to have categorized the Suffragettes into criminal status in some people's views). Sylvia Pankhurst once explained the Suffragettes militancy as a way to "create an impression upon the public throughout the country, to set everyone taking about votes for women, to keep the subject in the press, to leave the government no peace from it." Suffragists and Suffragettes differed in socio-economic backgrounds and tactics but their goal was the same: Universal suffrage for women ...read more.

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