The Women's Suffrage Movement -- Rheanna Henson


(This is an image of British propaganda for the Suffrage Movement.)

As defined by, the word "suffrage" is the right or privilege of voting. The Women's Suffrage Movement was the worldwide protest for women's right to vote. Before the movement began, a woman's place was considered at home if you were in the Middle Class or above, or working if you were a part of the Working Class. People who could not vote included: women, men who did own property or did not pay at least 10 pounds per year in rent, servants who lived with their employers, criminals, and lunatics. Not all men disagreed with this (Liberals and Socialists mainly), and not all women agreed; there were both men and women on each side of this issue and had been arguing about both universal and women's suffrage since the 1860's.

Anti-Suffrage men thought that women were too emotional to be allowed to vote. They also said that women needed to be protected from politics and that a woman’s place is at home, not the government. In response to these statements, an African-American suffragist named Sojourner Truth said, “Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mudpuddles or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”. Here, Truth says despite what men believe are good reasons to hold women’s suffrage back, no man is respectful to her or treat her the way that they describe women as. Even some women were against the movement altogether. Queen Victoria described the movement as "mad, wicked folly".


This picture is a cartoon of a husband who is overwhelmed with the tasks that women usually do, such as caring for the children, cooking, and cleaning, while the wife goes off to vote. This cartoon is an anti-suffragist view on the movement, telling men, that women shouldn't be able to vote because then they will soon become the man in the cartoon if women gain more freedom.

(An image of Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested)

Most women were for the suffrage movement, but were divided upon how to achieve it. The two main groups included the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) which was founded by Millicent Fawcett in 1897 and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) which was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters in 1903. The NUWSS was considered to be the more civil and principled group of the two, while the WSPU was more revolutionary and regarded as more contemptuously.

The NUWSS was aimed towards the continuity of working within the political system to achieve votes for women. The Liberal party, the party which promised suffrage for women, only offered little support for the cause and did not make a serious attempt to introducing the idea to Parliament. The Conservative party and the House of Lords were overtly hostile to the idea and vetoed the movement.

The WSPU was aimed towards Middle and Upper class women. It wasn’t until 1914 that it’s working class branch, called the “East London Federation of Suffragettes” finally split into two separate groups. The WSPU’s slogan was “Deeds Not Words” and Pankhurst justified violent actions saying that “There is something that governments care far more for than human life and that is the security of property, so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy.” In a speech, Emmeline Pankhurst was quoted to have said, “Now, I want to say to you who think women cannot succeed, we have brought England to this position; either women are to be killed or women are to have the vote.” This quote shows how far Pankhurst was willing to fight for women’s suffrage. Here she says that the only two options are to kill all women or give them the right to vote. Pankhurst has "trapped" the audience into a corner that they cannot get out of until they make a choice; to kill the women, some of whom they love and cherish or give them the right to vote. With this, many suffragettes proceeded with these aggressive tactics, such as interrupting speakers in Parliament by shouting “Votes for Women!”, collecting petitions, organizing public protests, and even going as far as chaining themselves to the Prime Minister’s railing and smashing windows and burning buildings. When police began arresting women, they suffragettes began going on hunger strikes in the prisons. The government was afraid of creating martyrs so they enforced the “Cat and Mouse” law which said that women could be freed until they recovered, then re-arrested to finish their term. Imprisoned women were held in jail for as short as three days to several months.

The struggle for women’s suffrage continued until August 1914, when World War I was officially declared. The suffrage movement had a ended temporarily as the Pankhursts and over a million other women took on men’s jobs as they supported the war effort. It wasn’t until February 1918 that Parliament passed an act allowing women the right to vote if they were over the age of 30 and wither owned property or paid 5 pounds per year for rent or had husbands that did. As a result, 8.5 million women were registered to vote that same year. It wasn’t until 1928 when younger women were allowed to vote. Some historians say that due to the WSPU’s violent and aggressive actions, the government was only more resistant and adamant on giving women their suffrage. Others say that the government created the Act of 1918 as a reward for their good behavior during the war.

  1. "Woman Suffrage: British poster." Online Photograph. Britannica Student Encyclopædia. 23 Sept. 2009 <>
  2. Election Day! 1909. Photograph. The Omaha Project. Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <>.
  3. PankhurstA rrest. Photograph. BBC News. Web. 27 Sept. 2009. <>.
  1. "Women's suffrage movement." Tracy Chevalier - Official site. Web. 25 Sept. 2009. <>.
  1. Bartley, Paula. "Suffragettes, Class & Pit-brow Women." Gale History Resource Center: World. MICDS, Dec. 1999. Web. 25 Sept. 2009. <>.
  2. "Pankhursts Found the Women's Social and Political Union, October 10, 1903." DISCovering World History. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. <http:/|<>.
Primary Source:
1. Pankhurst, Emmeline. "Militant Suffragist." Speech. 1913. Internet Modern History Sourcebook. Web. 20 Sept. 2009. <>.