Nick Graham 11PPR History Coursework
The Suffragettes- Coursework
Explain why women failed to gain the vote between 1900 and 1914
During the period of 1900 – 1914, there were various reasons as to why women failed to gain the vote. Traditionally, women were seen as second to men and their position in society was not high. They were seen on a par with criminals and children in terms of legal rights. When a woman married, if she owned any land or property it went directly to her husband, which was also the case if she inherited property or land. If she became a mother she had no legal rights over her children, as they were legally her husbands. If a woman decided to leave and divorce her husband, she lost all her possessions as well as her children. They were intellectual slaves who had no involvement in manual labour and were considered as the inferior sex, vulnerable and emotionally weak in comparison to males during this period.
During and towards the end of the nineteenth century, a lot more improvements were made to the status of the working woman. This was due to the fact that the British economy was at a high point and this was why more opportunities arose for women in teaching, shop work, and some clerical/office work. There was a lot more teaching vacancies due to the fact that the government in 1870 passed an education act, which doubled the amount of elementary schools in Britain. Many younger women who would have become governesses until married now turned their ways to teaching. This was also down to the fact that being a governess was a lot more stressful than being a schoolteacher. However, despite the improvements women’s options were still limited. The rule still stood if women married they had to resign and let her husband take care of her. There was a lot more office work and shop work for women due to technology developing, shop owners and office managers needing more help. In shops the pay was poor and the hours were long, but still the men held onto all the skilled and responsible posts. As women were unable to vote, they were also unable to influence or push for other changes in employment, which was seen as a good thing for the male population as they were not under threat by women.
Near the end of the nineteenth century education became a high priority especially for women who were usually taught at home or by governesses. Unlike boys, who were taught at schools. A key figure in the campaign to give women equal rights when it came to education was Emily Davies. She led campaigns to reform the education of girls. Due to these campaigns, the Taunton Commission paid more attention to schooling, they found that there were only 12 schools throughout Britain for girls and these were of a poor quality. In 1870 the government made it compulsory for local areas to have enough schools for children up to the age of 10 in their area. This changed in the 1890’s to the age of 11 or 12.
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Middle class women wanted to be able to have the best occupations in law and medicine. This was only achievable by attending secondary and higher education. Therefore, a series of colleges were opened for woman, due to the fact that many male universities would not give women degrees or allow them to be students. Around this period, women were gradually given more rights within their marriages and ownership of their possessions. For instance, women could now leave their husbands but could not divorce them.
In 1880, the “Education Act” was finally passed which stated school was now compulsory for all children in 1881 and attending school became free of charge. On the whole, this is good because more women turned to teaching and children became clever and more and more began to attend school and receive some sort of education. On the other hand there were limitations for women in certain areas. For example, because women were still seen as inferior to men, women were paid less than men, which led to little chance of promotion. The prejudice views held against women led them to be unable to demonstrate their full capabilities of working and voting like men.
There were various social problems the campaigners faced which again affected women gaining the vote. For example, some men thought that the traditional view of women should stay and also Queen Victoria was strictly against women voting. She said woman who were given the vote were “heartless human beings”! Still though the biggest downfall facing women in the nineteenth century was that they still could not vote.
Although there were various improvements, ‘the vote’ was still out of the women’s reach, even after many attempts between 1900 and 1914. There were three main factors why women failed to receive the vote by 1914. They were the failure of women movements, social reasons and political reasons. Firstly, the failure of women’s movements. For instance, in 1897 a group called the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed. The NUWSS was a group of mostly middle- class women. These women had gained success in the early stage with a lot of liberal and some conservative MP’s backing them. One in particular was John Stuart Mill.
The NUWSS was lead by a middle class woman called Millicent Fawcett. The NUWSS was extremely good at bringing their issues to people’s attention. They used tactics such as petitions and friendly demonstrations to gain support and respect to show the seriousness of their work. They met MP’s and argued their case but to only little success. For instants, improvement in jobs and standard of living. The problem was that no party was prepared to put women’s suffrage as one of their policies. The issue was raised 15 times in parliament but unfortunately it was refused each time. The NUWSS was not successful due to that there was extremely strong opposition. This opposition included Queen Victoria who thought that women’s suffrage organisations were ‘the most hateful, heartless and disgusting of human beings.’ Even a prominent woman such as Florence Nightingale believed there were more important issues to argue.
The social problems woman encountered, which affected them getting the vote were, some men thought women should stick to the traditional woman’s role. Women were unable to socialise with people as many husbands forbid their wives to do so. This is because they were considered to be intellectually and socially inferior to men. This was also a problem because women didn’t no how they could prove to men that they could actually vote intelligently.
The political problems women faced were that the liberals thought women would vote Tory or for the up and coming labour party. There was no such thing as female MP’s, but many liberal backbenches agreed with the women and their movements. Such leaders as William Gladstone who said, “only the better off women would get the vote” but in fact the truth was that the main leaders were worried that the women would vote against them and their party. On the other hand they were interested in the women’s fight for suffrage indicating their socialist attitudes towards the situation. The political reason for this is that the two main powers both had different interpretations of woman’s suffrage. Some were strictly opposed to the argument where as others were unsure, and didn’t really no what to think about situations as this.
The biggest problem, which arose as to why women failed to get the vote, was that men were too selfish, scared and unsure whether to let women have a chance of proving themselves and their individual capabilities. Women were generally looked down on by men. Men continued to argue, “women are physically incapable of supporting their vote”. Men were concerned that if they gave women the vote, they would become MP’s and gain lots of power and take over parliament. This threatened men and so they worked together to continually campaign against movement. Which men felt threatened over. Men claimed that if they were to give a few responsible women the vote it would open the door for other eager women. This is really why women didn’t receive the vote between 1900 – 1914.
Women did not have one main leader, which gave men another reason to ignore them on the grounds that they didn’t no in what direction they wanted to go. The suffragettes and the suffragists were two different groups. Campaigning for similar issues but in very different ways, to push their view into the public eye.
The suffragists were a well-organised campaigning organisation that began to campaign in 1886. Millicent Garret was a devoted campaigner who believed in constitutional campaigning and put the organisation together. She became the President of the National Union of Women’s Socialist Suffrages in 1889. She was an active campaigner who campaigned for woman’s suffrage and for higher education for women of both upper and lower classes denoting status. This campaign was very good at bringing their views to the public.
The suffragists gained support throughout society. They issued leaflets, made posters, created petitions, held meetings and met with important MP’s to argue their case. They gained support from sympathetic MP’s, however the government would have nothing to do with the campaigning organisation!
Although the suffragists pushed for support and attention, they unfortunately failed to obtain any great success. The only real success was the increased support from MP’s and from members of society. None of their campaigns ever worked. Their methods were seen as to moderate and although MP’s gave them time to discuss their points. Parliament ran out of time and patience and neither of the two main parties were willing to adopt women’s suffrage as one of their policies. Consequently this frustrated the suffragists. Overall they didn’t force issues far enough despite the fact they were determined campaigners, and as a result of this, women were denied the vote.
The suffragettes were a later campaigning organisation who were much more rash. In 1903, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst founded a new campaigning organisation called the ‘women’s social and political union’, which was known through the tabloids as the Suffragettes. They soon made the headlines, gaining lots of publicity as their methods proved to be violent and unacceptable and a threat to society.
The suffragettes proved to do more harm than good to society. For instance, they harassed ministers and disrupted political meetings. The suffragettes caused harm to property by smashing windows, setting fires through letterboxes and damaging cricket and golf pitches. Bombs were placed in warehouses and buildings and also telephone lines were damaged. The suffragettes were charged with ‘incitement to mutiny’ and many of them were sent to prison, but even then the suffragettes went on hunger strikes to prove their point even further. In 1913 the government passed the ‘cat and mouse act’. This meant the prisoners could return home and recover and gain strength and then return to prison to finish their sentence. Many suffragettes were willing to kill themselves to show and prove the importance of their campaign.
The Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith was firmly opposed to women’s suffrage and their movements, he received heavy criticism and abuse, along with many others. A suffragette called Edith New chained herself to the railings of the houses of Parliament in protest. Flora Robson another suffragette with strong views, attacked two MP’s and threatened them violently. In 1913, Mary Richardson, a devoted suffragette, declared, 'if we sat and did nothing, we still wouldn’t get the vote even if our methods are violent’, which suggests how serious they were to push for reform.
Despite the outrageous and dangerous behaviour of the Suffragettes, not all of them wanted it to continue this way whereas others were happy to go to these extremes. In the end, the situation got totally out of hand and a lot of the suffragette campaigners became a danger not only to themselves, but others in society!
One reason why they failed was because of the relationship between the two campaigning organisations was difficult. Rivalry between the two groups did not help the cause. And this caused tension and many problems. They were ‘sore and bitter’ towards one another. This caused a lot of arguing about who had won support from Parliament and who had pushed the women’s point the furthest into the public eye. This was strange because they were both fighting for the same cause and arguments arising between the campaigning organisations proved nothing and campaigning periods were affected due to squabbling.
Although women failed to get the vote between 1900 – 1914, they were very close on several occasions. It was the violent ways of the Suffragettes and the outbreak to the First World War that prevented them from getting the vote in the end. Eventually, Cristobel Pankhurst called for the Suffragettes and the suffragists to join hands and ‘all fight on one front.’ Unfortunately this didn’t happen as there was still rivalry remaining between the two campaigning organisations
On the whole, the main reasons why women didn’t get the vote between 1900 – 1914 were because of the violent and disruptive methods of the Suffragettes. Which unquestionably changed the views and attitudes that men had of women. The behaviour of the suffragettes portrayed that women were untrustworthy and irresponsible and also a danger to others in society. The suffragette’s actions were a step to far and certainly stunned the Government and society in general. The downside of the suffragette’s movements was that the women could have voted intellectually and the violence was not needed. However there were other long-term factors like political reasons and social reasons.
Overall, it was such a male dominated society that women were never given a chance to prove their potential and usefulness. If the women had been given a chance from the beginning a lot of problems would never have occurred. They would have also proved a lot to the men. If the Suffragists and the Suffragettes had joined and worked together on the campaigns, the outcome would have been more effective and they may have unquestionably achieved the vote a long time before they actually did.