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

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History GCSE Coursework, James Cunnington

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

                    Women in the hundreds of years preceeding the crucial date of 1870 had always faced a life that they would be better of in as men. They had few, if any, rights to the things they owned, even there own children and they could effectively be bought or sold by parents and prospective partners alike. A woman belonged first to her parents then to her husband and was expected to carry out certain duties according to her class, without hesitation or complaining. The closer we get to the 1870s, the more middle and upper class women start to realise that the duel roles of child bearer and home maker are not the one that they need to be confined to. Shifting views in society about the role of women happened over time but nothing was really accomplished until 1839 when the ‘Custody of Infants Act’ was passed which meant that women could now take custody of her children in the then unlikely event of a divorce. It was, many believe, the first step on a long road to equality which would take well over 150 years.  


                   The way in which women were treated increased the level animosity to such a point that the government started having to make concessions to women in the form of such Parliamentary acts as the aforementioned ‘Custody of Infants Act.’ Also the 1857 ‘Matrimonial Causes Act’ which enabled women to have a divorce through the law courts, instead of the slow and expensive business of a Private Act of Parliament. Under the terms of the act, the husband had only to prove his wife's adultery, but the wife had to prove her husband had committed not just adultery but also incest, bigamy, cruelty or desertion, it was, however, still an improvement.

                 Education and schooling are also quite important for showing how improvements before 1870 helped advances after it. Francis Buss and Dorothea Beale became headmistresses of their own girl’s schools in 1853 and 1857 respectively. This was the first time that it had been considered worthwhile schooling girls to level where they could partake in public exams and, therefore, gain qualifications not only making them able to get respectable, well paid jobs thereby being able to support themselves financially (in theory). The girls taught at schools like these would be the sort of people to go on into the women’s suffrage movement post 1870 with the ability to make well constructed and relevant arguments in order to get their message across. Some of the other ways in which women were treated differently was to do with the actual vote itself. In 1867 there was a reform act passed which allowed almost the entire population of men to vote which only gave renewed vigour to the argument that women should be allowed to do the same. Two years later women then were allowed to vote on school boards and in local elections which only really served to fuel the fire within the recently created discussion groups like the Kensington Society.

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                        The Kensington Society was the first group of women, most of them unmarried, who got together in order to pressure MPs into hearing what arguments they felt needed to be heard. The Manchester, Edinburgh Bristol and Birmingham Societies formed soon after as an outlet for similar women all over the country. Unification started in 1967 when a reform act that tried to give women the same voting rights as men was defeated. The initial name for this loose ...

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