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More about Suffrage Campaigners



suffrage campaigners


Organised campaigns for women's suffrage began to appear in 1866 and from 1888 women could vote in many local council elections. When parliamentary reform was being debated in 1867, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment that would have given the vote to women on the same terms as men but it was rejected by 194 votes to 73. The campaign gained momentum after this.


NUWSS - National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (1896-1918)

The non-militant or 'constitutionalist' NUWSS was set up after a conference in 1896 to consider amalgamating a growing number of separate women's suffrage societies around the country.

Its leader was Millicent Fawcett. Members of the NUWSS were suffragists, not suffragettes; that is, they believed in the power of peaceful demon­stration and persuasion rather than in forcing the issue by violence. They believed they would achieve their end using peaceful tactics - non-violent demonstrations, petitions and the lobbying of MPs. Fawcett believed that if the organisation was seen to be intelligent, polite and law-abiding then women would prove themselves responsible enough to participate fully in politics.

The leadership of the suffragists was exclusively middle class but some of the more radical members recognised early on that the movement needed the support of working class women. The issue of the franchise was drawing women of various sections of society together and giving them an identity which they had lacked until that time.

By 1900 there was already evidence that many Members of Parliament had been won over. Several Bills in favour of women's suffrage gained considerable support in Parliament, though not enough to pass. Some believed it was only a matter of time until women would gain the vote.

The majority of campaigners for votes for women were members of the NUWSS;

by 1914 there were six hundred branches with tens of thousands of members and an annual expenditure exceeding £45,000.

Constituent societies were arranged into nineteen geographical fed­erations with a central office in London.

Members took part in some of the most spectacular processions of the age, and were responsible for the Great Pilgrimage of 1913 - a protest march in favour of votes for women and against militancy - which was arguably the single most influential event in the fight for the vote.   Their colours were red, green and white.



WSPU - Women's Social and Political Union (1903-17)

Emmeline Pankhurst was a disaffected suffragist when she set up the WSPU in Manchester. She was angered by the campaign's forty-year history of what she considered to be fruitless agitation for the vote. It was originally designed to be a ginger-group within the Independent Labour Party, but soon developed into a society in its own right. The organization's headquarters moved to London in 1906, where its members were christened 'suffragettes' by a journalist on the Daily Mail.

Inspired by the violence of past campaigns for men's suffrage, the suffragettes turned to militancy to counter the perceived complacency of the NUWSS and to force the government's hand. Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison, (who died tragically at on Derby Day 1913 when she ran onto the race track to try to pin Suffragette colours to the King’s horse), took direct action and drastic measures to draw attention to the appalling injustice that allowed the law to be based on the decisions of men only.

Over one thousand were jailed, not as political prisoners but as common criminals; many went on hunger strike and were forcibly fed. Despite this few lost their commitment to the Cause. The rough treatment of many jailed also won the suffrage cause increasing sympathy and support from the public.

From 1912 onwards they became more militant and violent in their methods of campaign but when World War I broke out in 1914 the whole suffrage movement immediately scaled down and even suspended some of their activities in the face of a greater threat to the nation which added to their support.

Although the WSPU was a smaller organization than the NUWSS, in terms of membership, branches and revenue, its members and their actions retain the strongest memories of the campaign for the vote, and their slogan, “Deeds Not Words”, is one of the most enduring in British politics. Their colours were purple green and white.







Emmeline Pankhurst in prison c.1911





The headline reads:

FORCIBLE FEEDING THROUGH THE NOSE

OF WOMEN SUFFRAGETTE PRISONERS,

Pronounced as dangerous by many

Leading Members of the Medical Profession”.




The Great Pilgrimage of 1913

The Great Suffrage Pilgrimage was initiated by the Suffragists who prided themselves on their peaceful tactics: rallies, marches and petitions.  The idea for the march was first put forward by Katherine Harley at an NUWSS subcommittee meeting in London on 17 April 1913. Plans were rapidly drawn up, and publicised through the NUWSS newsletter Common Cause, for six routes along which marchers would converge on London for a rally in Hyde Park on 26 July 1913. These were named the Great North Route (from Newcastle and East Anglia); the Watling Street Route (from Carlisle, Manchester and north Wales); the West Country Route (from Land's End and South Wales); the Bournemouth Route; the Portsmouth Route; and the Kentish Pilgrim Way.


In the 19 June 1913 edition of The Cornishman, sandwiched between a report on the output of black tin from Botallack Stamps and a physician’s advice about curing indigestion, was a short notice headlined MRS. PANKHURST RELEASED.

On Thursday 19 June 1913 seven women gathered at Land’s End to start the Suffrage Pilgrimage, a gruelling march through Cornwall and up country to London.

The Cornishman reported:

There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs; but surely, when it is realised that not one of the marchers has been guilty of breaking the law or inciting others to break the law, they will be treated with as much respect as would be a procession of Oddfellows or Freemasons.”

Mrs. Robins Bolitho, who is actively interested in the non-militant movement, gave the party a hearty send-off, whilst a number of men who had assembled raised a cheer. Along the route to Penzance literature was left at the houses, and the idea of the movement explained.”

The march proceeded to Penzance and paused at Trereife crossroads.

The report continued, “Quite a crowd of people had assembled to witness the junction, and the numbers were constantly added to as the procession neared Penzance.”

A rally led by Fraser took place on a makeshift stage in the Pig Market where a large crowd gathered, including the “hobble-de-hoy.”

Fraser’s eloquence was complemented by the reporter,

few orators of the masculine gender could have held and swayed an audience in the open air as did Miss Fraser.”

A scuffle broke out after her rousing speech as she had apparently been kicked in the ankle. The leaders had to be escorted by police to a safe-house on Clarence Street.


The report ends:

“…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”


The march resumed on the Friday morning on the second stage of the long, self-imposed tramp to London and it is documented that it passed through Fowey and Liskeard, and although not mentioned, will almost certainly have come through Lostwithel gaining in number all the way.


An estimated 50,000 women reached Hyde Park in London on 26th July.



The Times newspaper reported –

"On Saturday the pilgrimage of the law abiding advocates of votes for women ended in a great gathering in Hyde Park attended by some 50,000 persons. The proceedings were quite orderly and devoid of any untoward incident. The proceedings, indeed, were as much a demonstration against militancy as one in favour of women's suffrage. Many bitter things were said of the militant women."

On 29th July 1913, Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith "on behalf of the immense meetings which assembled in Hyde Park on Saturday and voted with practical unanimity in favour of a Government measure." Asquith replied that the demonstration had "a special claim" on his consideration and stood "upon another footing from similar demands proceeding from other quarters where a different method and spirit is predominant."

In October 1913, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George referred to the pilgrimage as one of the cleverest political moves that had been organised in recent times, because it was a dramatic way of catching the public attention but was lawful and peaceful.


Five years on - in 1918 - the campaigners won their battle and women over the age of 30 had the vote.They had to be householders, the wives of householders, property owners or university graduates.It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women over the age of 21 in 1928.  That was a full 15 years after the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage and the height of Suffragette action.