Women’s suffrage was not a creation of the 20th century, in fact the movement can be traced to the heart of the 18th century with the birth of capitalism. However, it is the actions of the 20th century that are most recognised and associated with the Women’s Suffragette Movement in Britain. Today, we recognise the efforts of Emmeline Pankhurst along with her daughters Sylvia and Christabel, the martyrdom of Emily Davison and the countless other women who were imprisoned, force-fed and tortured in the fight for political identity and equality.
It is axiomatic to mention that before the turn of the 20th century, organizations had been founded to aid the battle of in-equality within the political sphere. By far the largest of these organisations was the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society with its origins tracing back to the 1866 Reform Bill. The organisation had democratically appointed Millicent Garrett Fawcett as party president and by 1897 the organisation grew in popularity and in doing so gave birth to the NUWSS. The significance of this organisation is that it was solely based as a ‘non militant’ group which I believe it is imperative to consider when researching into the actions of the militancy used by other organisations that were campaigning for the same cause.
The Women’s Social and Political Union orchestrated and choreographed many iconic events throughout the period of the suffrage movement that would send tremors through Edwardian society and aid the future of political equality in Britain. The WSPU was founded in Manchester in October 1903 by the Pankhurst family. The organisation was breakaway group of the NUWSS with an adjusted agenda. The main objective for the party was to advance the cause for enfranchisement for women just as the NUWSS had attempted, however, the WSPU would endeavour to reach their goal through the use of militant action. This is where a separation in terminology occurs as the labelling of ‘Suffragette’ refers to a women who used militant force to achieve their final objective unlike their non-militant counterparts the ‘Suffragists’.
The extent of the events varied from peaceful protest to a more direct action through the use of mass demonstration and militant force. The three stages of militant forces is described by Kristina Cowman in ‘Women in British Politics, C.1689-1979’. Cowman explains the primary stage of militancy focused upon politician and parliament which invoked heckling and low level of civil dis-obedience. The second stage of militancy is described as an advancement in the repressive treatment of feminist women and to conclude was the organised smashing of windows on a large scale across London and destruction of art work in retaliation to brutality that was enforced upon the protesting women.
This series of Blog post will narrate and explore four key events in the 20th century that had an unequivocal impact on the Suffragette Movement. As a contrast I will compare the protests and demonstrations that had taken place in the early 20th century to events regarding equality in the latter part of the 20th century.
As another point of interest I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to visit the Museum of London where you can explore the Suffragette Exhibition in more detail. Click the link below.
The London Museum
 Garner, L. “Stepping stones to Women’s Liberty” Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1984 p11
Cowman, K. “Women in British Politics, C.1689-1979’ Palgrave Macmillan, 2010 p67