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Spotlight on the Suffragettes

60 second histories
by: Squaducation date: 06 Dec

Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragette Movement


When I look into history I love to explore the prominent characters in the topic I’m studying and delve into their life before they became famous, so to speak.  So, when I was researching the Suffrage movement for 60 second histories, I had to take a look into the life of Emmeline Pankhurst.  After her husband died, she worked in Manchester as a registrar and I was shocked to discover how many infant deaths there were to under age mothers.  These poor girls were treated as criminals, yet no one seemed to question how they were made pregnant in the first place, it appears often by close relatives.  As a Poor Law Guardian one of Emmeline’s duties in Manchester was to visit the Manchester Workhouse, her visit there was to change Emmeline and it became one of the driving forces that led her to campaign for woman’s suffrage and equal rights.


Emmeline and her daughter Christabel set up the Woman’s Social Political Union in 1903.  The WSPU was the leading militant organisation campaigning for Women’s suffrage in the UK.  Their activities consisted of chaining themselves to railings, disrupting public meetings, damage to public property as well as arson.  The women themselves suffered greatly for their cause, they were beaten by the police, endured squalid conditions in prison and were brutally force fed when they went on hunger strike.  The most tragic, and memorable, incident was in 1913 when Emily Wilding Davison was killed as she ran out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.  Her reason was unclear, some say she was trying to pin a rosette to the bridle of the horse, but whatever her reason, Emily gave her life for the cause. 


When reading about woman’s suffrage it’s easy to believe that most men were against woman’s suffrage, but this is wrong, there were many male supporters of the WSPU.  One such supporter was labour politician Keir Hardy who became a friend of Emmeline Pankhurst. It is also easy to believe that the movement was centred around London, but the movement was truly nationwide with many thousands of women all over the country joining the WSPU.  The organisation had their own newspaper called Votes for Women, and adopted the colours purple, white and green on badges and sashes to identify themselves.  In June 1908, a rally was held in Hyde Park which became known as Women’s Sunday.  Over 300,000 women from all over the country turned up to the meeting which shows just how important woman’s suffrage had become.


During the First World war the WSPU suspended its militant action to support the war effort.  Many of its members took up work in the mines and factories whilst others served as nurses.  It wasn’t until the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 that women over the age of 30 were finally given the vote but even then, there were restrictions.  This was obviously a huge success for women’s suffrage.  Women were able to vote in a general election for the first time on 14th December 1918 with 8.5 million women eligible, but there would still be many obstacles to overcome before all women could have the vote. 


Even today there are still campaigns for women’s rights all over the world; in Britain, the campaign is for equality in the work place.  One day, the work started by the suffragettes back in the Victorian times will hopefully be complete and women will finally have the equal rights they deserve.


Kevin Hicks B.E.M.


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