Suffragism was the beginning of the feminist movement and suffragettes were the first modern feminists.
Famous Suffragists and suffragettes:
Susan B. Anthony, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began working to establish women’s right to vote in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, Anthony never saw the impact of her efforts—the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was passed on August 26, 1920, more than a decade after Anthony’s death—but her activism remains one of the most important stories in women’s history. Explore this group to learn more about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and other leading suffragettes, including Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, Dorothy Day, Amelia Bloomer and Jeannette Rankin.
- Janie Allan (1868–1968) – suffragette activist and significant financial supporter of the WSPU
- Mary Sophia Allen (1878–1964) – women’s rights activist, involved in far right political activity
- Katharine Russell, Viscountess Amberley (1844–1874) – early advocate of birth control, mother of philosopher Bertrand Russell
- Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836–1917) – physician, feminist, co-founder of first hospital staffed by women, first dean of a British medical school, first female mayor and magistrate in Britain
- Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873–1943) – medical pioneer, member of Women’s Social and Political Union, social reformer, Chief Surgeon of Women’s Hospital Corps, Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine
- Jane Arthur (1827-1907) – educationalist
- Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879–1964) – politician, socialite, first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons
- Barbara Ayrton-Gould (née Ayrton; June 1886 – 14 October 1950) – Labour politician in the United Kingdom
- Sarah Jane Baines (1866-1951) – feminist, suffragette and social reformer. The first suffragette to be tried by jury and one of the first to advocate militancy.
- Frances Balfour (1858–1931) – highest-ranking members of British aristocracy to assume a leadership role in the women’s suffrage movement
- Rachel Barrett (1874-1953) – editor of The Suffragette
- Dorothea Beale (1831–1906) – educational reformer, author, Principal of the Cheltenham Ladies’ College
- Lydia Becker (1827–1890) – amateur scientist with interests in biology and astronomy, best remembered for founding and publishing the Women’s Suffrage Journal
- Ethel Bentham (1861–1931) – doctor, politician
- Annie Besant (1847–1933) – prominent socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer, orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule
- Rosa May Billinghurst (1875–1953) – member of the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Teresa Billington-Greig (1877–1964) – founder of Women’s Freedom League
- Barbara Bodichon (1827–1891) – educationalist, artist, feminist, activist for women’s rights
- Margaret Bondfield (1873–1953) – Labour politician, feminist, first woman Cabinet minister in the United Kingdom
- Catherine Booth (1829–1890) – speaker, known as the ‘Mother of The Salvation Army’
- Elsie Bowerman (1889–1973) – lawyer, RMS Titanic survivor
- Vera Brittain (1893–1970) – writer, feminist, pacifist
- Annie Leigh Browne (1851–1936) – educationalist, co-founder of College Hall, London and of Women’s Local Government Society
- Frances Buss (1827–1894) – headmistress, pioneer of women’s education
- Josephine Butler (1828–1906) – feminist, social reformer concerned about the welfare of prostitutes
- Mona Caird (1854–1932) – Scottish novelist, essayist
- Mabel Capper (1888–1966) – activist in the Women’s Social and Political Union, devoted to the struggle against bad luck and discrimination
- Isabella Carrie (1878–1981), suffragette. safe house keeper and schoolteacher
- Anne Clough (1820–1892) – promoter of higher education for women
- Jane Cobden (1851–1947) – Liberal politician who was active in many radical causes
- Leonora Cohen (1873–1978) – regional activist who was also an appointed OBE
- Margaret Cole (1893–1980) – socialist politician, champion of comprehensive education
- Florence Annie Conybeare (1872-1916) – campaigned on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, President of the Dartford Women’s Liberal Association, First World War fundraiser, VAD worker
- Selina Cooper (1864–1946) – local magistrate, campaigner against fascism, first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party in 1901 when elected as Poor Law Guardian
- Jessie Craigen (c.1835-1899) – a working-class suffragist.
- Richmal Crompton (1890–1969) – schoolmistress, writer who is best known for her humorous short stories
- Mary Crudelius (1839–1877) – campaigner for women’s education
- Emily Davies (1830–1921) – feminist, campaigner for women’s rights to university access, co-founder and first Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge University
- Emily Wilding Davison (1872–1913) – militant activist, key member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, died in a protest action at a racetrack
- Charlotte Despard (1844–1939) – novelist, Sinn Féin activist, vegetarian, anti-vivisection advocate
- Flora Drummond (1878–1949) – organiser for Women’s Social and Political Union, imprisoned nine times for her activism in Women’s Suffrage movement, inspiring orator
- Norah Elam (1878–1961) – radical feminist, militant suffragette, anti-vivisectionist and fascist
- Millicent Fawcett (1847–1929) – feminist, intellectual, political leader, union leader, writer
- Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845) – prison reformer, social reformer, philanthropist
- Edith Margaret Garrud (1872–1971) – professional arts instructor
- Mary Gawthorpe (1881–1973) – socialist, trade unionist, editor
- Gerald Gould (1885–1936) – writer, known as a journalist and reviewer, essayist and poet
- Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale (1883-1967) – actress, lecturer, and writer
- Cicely Hale (1884-1981) – health visitor and author
- Nellie Hall (1895–1929) – god-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst (the leader of British suffragette movement)
- Cicely Hamilton (1872–1952) – actress, writer, journalist, feminist
- Marion Coates Hansen (1870–1947) – early member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founding member Women’s Freedom League, important activist for suffrage
- Jane Ellen Harrison (1850–1928) – linguist, feminist, scholar, co-founder of modern studies in Greek mythology
- Evelina Haverfield (1867–1920) – aid worker, involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Emily Hobhouse (1860–1926) – campaigner, worked to change the conditions inside the concentration camps in South Africa during the Second Boer War
- Olive Hockin (married name Olive Leared) (1881–1936) – artist
- Winifred Holtby (1898–1935) – novelist, journalist
- Winifred Horrabin (1887–1971) – socialist activist, journalist
- Clemence Housman (1861–1955) – author, illustrator, activist
- Laurence Housman (1865–1959) – playwright, writer, illustrator
- Elizabeth How-Martyn (1875–1954) – member of the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Ellen Hughes (1867–1927) – Welsh writer, poet, suffragist
- Elsie Inglis (1864–1917) – innovative Scottish doctor
- Sophia Jex-Blake (1840–1912) – physician, teacher, feminist, a leading campaigner for medical education for women
- Ellen Isabel Jones (d.1948) – close associate of the Pankhursts
- Annie Kenney (1879–1953) – leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Edith Key 1872-1937 – secretary-organiser of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Huddersfield branch, and author of the only surviving regional WSPU minute book
- Mary Stewart Kilgour (1851-1955) – educationalist and writer
- Grace Kimmins (1871–1954) – active in the foundation of charitable foundations, particularly those concerned with the welfare of poor and disabled children
- Anne Knight (1786–1862) – social reformer, pioneer of feminism
- Annie Knight (1895–2006) – organizer
- Aeta Adelaide Lamb (1886-1928) – longest serving organizer in the Women’s Social and Political Union
- George Lansbury (1859–1940) – politician and social reformer
- Jennie Lee (1904–1988) – politician
- Lilian Lenton (1891–1972) – dancer
- Lady Constance Lytton (1869–1923) – writer and campaigner
- Agnes Macdonald (1836–1920) – spouse of the first Prime Minister of Canada
- Margaret Mackworth (1883–1958) – activist and director of more than thirty companies
- Sarah Mair (1846–1941) – campaigner and founder
- Edith Mansell Moullin (1859-1941) suffragist, settlement worker and Welsh feminist organization founder
- Kitty Marion (1871–1944) – actress and political activist
- Dora Marsden (1882–1960) – anarcho-feminist, editor of literary journals and philosopher of language
- Charlotte Marsh (1842-1909) – joined the Women Social & Political Union in March 1907. In March 1916 sh set up the Independent WSPU
- Selina Martin (1882-1972) – activist
- Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) – social theorist and writer
- Eleanor Marx (1855–1898) – activist and translator
- Eva McLaren (1852-1921) – suffragist, writer and political campaigner.
- Alice Meynell (1847–1922) – editor, writer and poet
- Harriet Taylor Mill (1807–1858) – philosopher and women’s rights advocate
- John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) – philosopher, political economist and civil servant
- Hannah Mitchell (1872–1956) – activist
- Dora Montefiore (1851–1933) – activist and writer
- Ethel Moorhead (1869–1955) – painter
- Anna Munro (1881-1962) – activist
- Flora Murray (1869–1923) – medical pioneer and activist
- Mary Neal (1860–1944) – social worker and collector of English folk dances
- Alison Roberta Noble Neilans (1884–1942) – activist, member of the executive committee of the Women’s Freedom League
- Ada Nield Chew (1870–1945) – organiser
- Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) – celebrated social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing
- Adela Pankhurst (1885–1961) – political organizer, co-founder of the Communist Party of Australia and the Australia First Movement
- Christabel Pankhurst (1880–1958) – co-founder and leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) – a main founder and the leader of the British Suffragette Movement
- Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960) – campaigner and anti-fascism activist
- Edith Pechey (1845–1908) – campaigner for women’s rights, involved in a range of social causes
- Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867–1954) – member Suffrage Society, secretary Women’s Social and Political Union
- Eleanor Rathbone (1872–1946) – campaigner for women’s rights
- Mary Reid (1880–1921) – Scottish trades unionist
- Mary Richardson (1882–1961) – Canadian suffragette, arsonist, head of the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists
- Edith Rigby (1872–1948) – founder of St. Peter’s School, prominent activist
- Elizabeth Robins (1862–1952) – actress, playwright, novelist
- Rona Robinson
- Esther Roper (1868–1938) – social justice campaigner
- Arnold Stephenson Rowntree (1872-1951) – MP, philanthropist and suffragist
- Agnes Royden (1876-1956) – preacher
- Margaret Sandhurst (1828-1892) – one of the first women elected to a city council in the United Kingdom
- Sophia Duleep Singh (1876–1948) – had leading roles in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, and the Women’s Social and Political Union
- Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) – composer, writer
- Ethel Snowden (1881–1951) – socialist, human rights activist, feminist politician
- Flora Stevenson (1839–1905) – Scottish social reformer with interest in education for poor or neglected children
- Louisa Stevenson (1835–1908) – Scottish campaigner for women’s university education, effective, well-organised nursing
- Una Harriet Ella Stratford Duval (née Dugdale) (1879–1975) – suffragette and marriage reformer
- Lucy Deane Streatfeild (1865–1950) – civil servant, social worker, one of the first female factory inspectors in UK
- Helena Swanwick (1864–1939) – feminist, pacifist
- Dora Thewlis (1890–1976) – activist
- Elizabeth Thompson (1846–1933) – prominent painter
- Violet Tillard (1874–1922) – nurse, pacifist, supporter of conscientious objectors, relief worker
- Marion Wallace Dunlop (1864–1942) – suffragett went on hunger strike after being arrested for militancy
- Harriet Shaw Weaver (1876–1961) – political activist, magazine editor
- Beatrice Webb (1858–1943) – sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian, social reformer
- Rebecca West (1892–1983) – author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer
- Olive Wharry (1886–1947) – artist, arsonist
- Ellen Wilkinson (1891–1947) – politician, Member of Parliament, served as Minister of Education
- Alice Zimmern (1855–1939) – teacher, writer
- Jane Addams (1860–1935) – social activist, president Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
- Nina E. Allender (1873–1957) – speaker, organizer and cartoonist
- Naomi Anderson (b. 1863) – black suffragist, temperance advocate
- Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) – co-founder and leader National Woman Suffrage Association, one of the leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed the right of women to vote, was popularly known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in honor of her work for its passage.
- Annie Arniel (1873–1924) – member of the Silent Sentinels, arrested eight times in direct actions
- Elnora Monroe Babcock (1852–1934) – pioneer leader in the suffrage movement; chair of the National Woman Suffrage Association’s press department.
- Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931) – African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, and early leader in the civil rights movement
- Bertha Hirsch Baruch – writer, president of the Los Angeles Suffrage Association
- Helen Valeska Bary (1888-1973) – suffragist, researcher, and social reformer
- Alva Belmont (1853–1933) – founder of the Political Equality League that was in 1913 merged into the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage
- Alice Stone Blackwell (1857–1950) – journalist, activist
- Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825–1921) – co-founder, with Lucy Stone, of the American Woman Suffrage Association
- Henry Browne Blackwell (1825–1909) – founded Woman’s Journal with Lucy Stone
- Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch (1856–1940) – writer (contributor to History of Woman Suffrage), founded Women’s Political Union, daughter of pioneering activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894) – women’s rights and temperance advocate; her name was associated with women’s clothing reform style known as bloomers
- Lucy Gwynne Branham (1892–1966) – professor, organizer, lobbyist, active in the National Women’s Party and its Silent Sentinels, daughter of suffragette Lucy Fisher Gwynne Branham
- Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872–1920) – suffrage leader, one-time vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, one of Kentucky’s leading Progressive reformers
- Sophonisba Breckinridge (1866–1948) – activist, Progressive Era social reformer, social scientist and innovator in higher education
- Gertrude Foster Brown (1867-1956) – pianist, suffragette, author of Your vote and how to use it (1918).
- Olympia Brown (1835–1926) – activist, first woman to graduate from a theological school, as well as becoming the first full-time ordained minister
- Emma Bugbee (1888–1981) – journalist
- Lucy Burns (1879–1966) – women’s rights advocate, co-founder of the National Woman’s Party
- Zina Young Williams Card (1850-1931) – American advocate for women and children; midwife
- Frances Jennings Casement (1840–1928) – voting advocate, married General John S. Casement, who lobbied for voting rights for women
- Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) – president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women, campaigned for the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which enfranchised women.
- Tennessee Celeste Claflin (1844–1923) – one of the first women to open a Wall Street brokerage firm, advocate of legalized prostitution
- Laura Clay (1849–1941) – co-founder and first president of Kentucky Equal Rights Association, leader of women’s suffrage movement, active in the Democratic Party
- Mary Barr Clay (1839-1924) – first Kentuckian to hold the office of president in a national woman’s organization (American Woman Suffrage Association, and the first Kentucky woman to speak publicly on women’s rights
- Jennie Collins (1828-1887) – labor reformer, humanitarian, and suffragist
- Ida Craft – known as the Colonel, took part in Suffrage Hikes
- Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882–1964) – first executive secretary of the League of Women Voters, member of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association
- Lucile Atcherson Curtis (1894-1986) – the first woman in what became the US Foreign Service
- Lucinda Lee Dalton (1847–1925) – Mormon feminist and writer
- Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis (1813-1876) – a founder of the New England Woman Suffrage Association; active with the National Woman Suffrage Association; co-arranged and presided at the first National Women’s Rights Convention
- Mary L. Doe (1836-?), first president of the Michigan State Equal Suffrage Association
- Rheta Childe Dorr (1868–1948) – American journalist, suffragist newspaper editor, writer, and political activist
- Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) – African-American social reformer, orator, writer, statesman
- Anne Dallas Dudley (1876–1955) – suffrage activist; in 1920, she, along with Abby Crawford Milton and Catherine Talty Kenny, led the campaign in Tennessee to approve ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Abigail Scott Duniway (1834–1915) – women’s rights advocate, editor, writer
- Max Eastman (1883–1969) – writer, philosopher, poet, prominent political activist
- Katherine Philips Edson (1870-1933) – social worker and feminist, worked to add women’s suffrage to the California State Constitution
- Elizabeth Piper Ensley (1848-1919) – Caribbean-American woman who was the treasurer of the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association
- Helga Estby (1860–1942) – Norwegian immigrant, noted for her walk across the United States during 1896 to save her family farm
- Janet Ayer Fairbank (1878–1951) – author and champion of progressive causes
- Lillian Feickert (1877–1945) – suffragette; first woman from New Jersey to run for United States Senate
- Sara Bard Field (1882–1974) – active with the National Advisory Council, National Woman’s Party, and in Oregon and Nevada; crossed the US to deliver a petition with 500,000 signatures to President Wilson
- Margaret Foley (1875-1957) – active with the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association
- Jessica Garretson Finch – president of the New York Equal Franchise Society
- Clara S. Foltz (1849–1934) – lawyer, sister of US Senator Samuel M. Shortridge
- Marie H. (Moore) Forrest (1870-1942) – key participant in the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 and member, National Advisory Council, National Woman’s Party
- Nellie Griswold Francis (1874-1969) – founded and led the Everywoman Suffrage Club, an African-American suffragist group in Minnesota, civil rights and anti-lynching activist
- Elisabeth Freeman (1876–1942) – Suffrage Hike participant
- Antoinette Funk (1869-1942) – lawyer and executive secretary of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; supporter of the women’s movement in WWI
- Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826–1898) – activist, freethinker, author
- Hermila Galindo, (1896-1954) Mexican political activist, advocate for suffrage
- Edna Fischel Gellhorn (1878–1970) – reformer, co-founder of the National League of Women Voters
- Josephine Sophia White Griffing (1814-1872) – active in the American Equal Rights Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association
- Sarah Grimke (1792–1873) – abolitionist, writer
- Eliza Calvert Hall (pen name of Eliza Caroline “Lida” Calvert Obenchain) (1856–1935) – author, women’s rights advocate
- Ida Husted Harper (1851–1931) – organizer, major writer and historian of the US suffrage movement
- Florence Jaffray Harriman (1870–1967) – social reformer, organiser and diplomat
- Mary Garrett Hay (1857-1928) – companion to Carrie Chapman Catt and suffrage organizer in New York
- Sallie Davis Hayden (1842-1907) – one of the founders of the suffrage movement in Arizona
- Josephine K. Henry (1846–1928) – Progressive Era women’s rights leader, social reformer and writer
- Katharine Houghton Hepburn (1878–1951) – social reformer
- Elsie Hill (1883-1970) – activist
- Helena Hill (1875-1958) – activist, geologist
- Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910) – prominent abolitionist, social activist and poet
- Emily Howland (1827–1929) – philanthropist, educator
- Josephine Brawley Hughes (1839-1926) – established the Arizona Suffrage Association in 1891
- Inez Haynes Irwin (1873–1970) – co-founder of the College Equal Suffrage League, active in National Woman’s Party, wrote the party’s history
- Ada James (1876–1952) – social worker and reformer
- Hester C. Jeffrey (1842-1934) – African American community organizer, creator of the Susan B. Anthony clubs
- Izetta Jewel (1883–1978) – stage actress, women’s rights activist, politician and first woman to second the nomination of a presidential candidate at a major American political party convention
- Rosalie Gardiner Jones (1883–1978) – socialite, took part in Suffrage Hike, known as “General Jones”
- Belle Kearney (1863–1939) – speaker and lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association; first woman elected to the Mississippi State Senate
- Edna Buckman Kearns (1882–1934) – National Woman’s Party campaigner, known for her horse-drawn suffrage campaign wagon (now in the collection of New York State Museum)
- Mary Morton Kehew (1859-1918) – labor/social reformer and suffragist from Boston
- Helen Keller (1880–1968) – author and political activist
- Abby Kelley (1811–1887) – abolitionist, radical social reformer, fundraiser, lecturer and organizer for the American Anti-Slavery Society
- Caroline Burnham Kilgore (1838-1909) – the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- Sarah Knox-Goodrich (1826–1903) – women’s rights activist from San Jose, California
- Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin (1883–1965) – civil rights activist, organization executive, and community practitioner
- Clara Chan Lee (1886–1993) – first Chinese American to register to vote in the US, November 8, 1911
- Dora Lewis (1862-1928) – in 1913 became an executive member of the National Women’s Party; in 1918 became their chairwoman of finance; in 1919 became their national treasurer; in 1920 headed their ratification committee
- Lena Morrow Lewis (1868–1950) – organizer in South Dakota and Oregon; enlisted the support of labor unions
- Mary Livermore (1820–1905) – journalist and advocate of women’s rights
- Florence Luscomb (1887–1985) – architect and prominent leader of Massachusetts suffragists
- Katherine Duer Mackay (1878-1930) – founder of the Equal Franchise Society
- Theresa Malkiel (1874-1949), labor organizer and suffragist
- Arabella Mansfield (1846-1911) – first female lawyer in the United States, chaired the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1870, and worked with Susan B. Anthony
- Wenona Marlin – New York suffragist from Ohio
- Anne Henrietta Martin (1875–1951) – Vice-chairman of National Woman’s Party, arrested as a Silent Sentinel, president Nevada Equal Franchise Society, first US woman to run for Senate
- Ellis Meredith (1865–1955) – journalist
- Jane Hungerford Milbank (1871–1931) – author and poet
- Inez Milholland (1886–1916) – key participant in the National Woman’s Party and the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913
- Harriet May Mills (1857–1936) – prominent civil rights leader, played a major role in women’s rights movement
- Abby Crawford Milton (1881-1991) – traveled throughout Tennessee making speeches and organizing suffrage leagues in small communities; in 1920, she, along with Anne Dallas Dudley and Catherine Talty Kenny, led the campaign in Tennessee to approve ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution
- Virginia Minor (1824–1894) – co-founder and president of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri; unsuccessfully argued in Minor v. Happersett (1874 Supreme Court case) that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote
- Caro Garland Burwell Moore (1860-1942) – key participant in the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913
- Esther Hobart Morris (1814–1902) – first female Justice of the Peace in the United States
- Mary Foulke Morrisson (1879-1971) – organizer of 1916 suffrage parade in Chicago at the Republican national Convention; founder of chapters of the League of Women Voters
- Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) – Quaker, abolitionist; women’s rights activist; social reformer
- Frances Lillian Willard ”Fannie” Munds (1866-1948) – leader of the suffrage movement in Arizona and member of the Arizona Senate
- Sarah Massey Overton (1850-1914) – women’s rights activist and black rights activist
- Maud Wood Park (1871–1955) – founder of the College Equal Suffrage League, co-founder of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG); worked for passage of the 19th Amendment
- Alice Paul (1885–1977) – one of the leaders of the 1910s Women’s Voting Rights Movement for the 19th Amendment; founder of the National Woman’s Party; initiator of the Silent Sentinels and Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913; author of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment
- Juno Frankie Pierce, also known as Frankie Pierce or J. Frankie Pierce (1864-1954) – African-American suffragist
- Helen Pitts (1838–1903) – active in women’s rights movement and co-edited The Alpha
- Anita Pollitzer (1894–1975) – photographer, served as National Chairman in the National Woman’s Party
- Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887–1973) – philanthropist, heiress to the Post Cereal company fortune
- Florence Kenyon Hayden Rector (1882–1973) – first licensed female architect in the state of Ohio and the only female architect practicing in central Ohio between 1900 and 1930
- Florida Ruffin Ridley (1861–1943) – African-American civil rights activist, suffragist, teacher, writer, and editor from Boston
- Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842–1924) – African-American publisher, journalist, civil rights leader, suffragist, and editor
- Ruth Logan Roberts (1891-1968) – suffragist, activist, YWCA leader, and host of a salon in Harlem
- Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) – birth control activist, sex educator, nurse, established Planned Parenthood Federation of America
- Julia Sears (1840–1929) – pioneering academic and first woman in the US to head a public college, now Minnesota State University
- May Wright Sewall (1844-1920) – chairperson of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association’s executive committee from 1882 to 1890
- Anna Howard Shaw (1847–1919) – president of National Women’s Suffrage Association from 1904 to 1915
- Mary Shaw (1854–1929) – early feminist, playwright and actress
- Pauline Agassiz Shaw (1841-1917) – co-founder and first president of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government
- Judith Winsor Smith (1821-1921) – president of the East Boston Woman Suffrage League
- May Gorslin Preston Slosson (1858–1943) – educator and first woman to obtain a doctoral degree in Philosophy in the United States
- The Smiths of Glastonbury – a family of 6 women in Connectictut who were active in championing suffrage, property rights, and education for women
- Louise Southgate, M.D. (1857-1941) – physician and suffragist in Covington, Kentucky, a leader in both the Ohio and the Kentucky Equal Rights Association and an early proponent for women’s reproductive health
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) – initiator of the Seneca Falls Convention, author of the Declaration of Sentiments, co-founder of National Women’s Suffrage Association, major pioneer of women’s rights in America
- Helen Ekin Starrett (1840–1920) – Illinois Woman’s Press Association; author, educator, editor, business owner, early suffragist, and one of the two delegates from the 1869 National Convention to attend the Victory Convention in 1920
- Sarah Burger Stearns (1836–1904) – first president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association
- Doris Stevens (1892–1963) organizer for National American Women Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party, prominent Silent Sentinels participant, author of Jailed for Freedom
- Lucy Stone (1818–1893) – prominent orator, abolitionist, and a vocal advocate and organizer for the rights for women. She was the main force behind the American Woman Suffrage Association and the Woman’s Journal.
- Helen Taft (1891–1987) – daughter of President William Howard Taft; traveled the nation giving pro-suffrage speeches
- Lydia Taft (1712–1778) – first woman known to legally vote in colonial America
- M. Carey Thomas (1857–1935) – educator, linguist, and second President of Bryn Mawr College
- Grace Gallatin Seton Thompson (1872-1959) – American author
- Dorothy Thompson (1893–1961) – Buffalo and New York activist, later journalist and radio broadcaster
- Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) – abolitionist, women’s rights activist, speaker, gave women’s rights speech “Ain’t I a Woman?“
- Harriet Tubman (1822–1913) – African-American abolitionist, humanitarian and Union spy during the American Civil War
- Mina Van Winkle (1875–1932) – crusading social worker, groundbreaking police lieutenant and national leader in the protection of girls and other women during the law enforcement and judicial process
- Mabel Vernon (1883–1975) – principal member of the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage, major organizer for the Silent Sentinels
- Sarah E. Wall (1825–1907) – organizer of an anti-tax protest that defended a woman’s right not to pay taxation without representation
- Emmeline B. Wells (1828–1921) – American journalist, editor, poet, women’s rights advocate, and diarist
- Rosa Welt-Straus (1856–1938) – feminist, born in Austria, first Austrian woman to earn a medical degree, first female eye doctor in Europe
- Ruza Wenclawska (1889-1977) – factory inspector and trade union organizer
- Marion Craig Wentworth (1872-1942), playwright
- Frances Willard (1839–1898) – leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and International Council of Women, lecturer, writer
- Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927) – women’s rights activist, first woman to speak before a committee of Congress, first female candidate for President of the United States, one of the first women to start a weekly newspaper (Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly,) activist for labor reforms, advocate of free love
The most famous suffragist is Emmeline Pankhurst.
The nineteenth century was a time of social revolution. Social classes came into conflict across Europe as people realised that they were entitled to more than society was prepared to give them. The women’s movement was no different. In the late 1800’s women realized that they too deserved more; they wanted to be considered equals in society.
Middle and upper class women started making public speeches demanding Women’s Suffrage – the right to vote alongside men – but as the movement progressed some women decided to become more militant. This escalated tension, as well as demonstrating their devotion to the cause. Dubbed ‘Suffragettes’ their revolutionary ideas encouraged many women and some men to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the cause.
The success of the Suffragettes’ movement was one that can be attributed to its leaders. A number of strong individuals organised, drove change and eventually realised their hopes of equal rights. These great minds provided the impetus the revolution needed. Among these demonstrators were Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, Constance Lytton, and Emily Davison. These women, along with many others across the United Kingdom, united to fight for women’s rights.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), of Manchester, was one of the leading women’s rights activists of her time. She led the movement that eventually allowed women to gain the right to vote. She was married to Richard Pankhurst, who was a lawyer and a supporter of the Suffragettes. He supported Emmeline in her revolution and together they fought against the strictures of Victorian Society. Richard’s death in 1898 took Emmeline by surprise, but she carried on towards accomplishing her goals of suffrage. Emmeline founded the women’s franchise league, which allowed married women to vote in local elections in 1889.
Emmeline helped found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. This union proved to be almost too militant for its own good. Emmeline actively led this group – of newly named Suffragettes – on many protests. Many of these protests were followed by imprisonment and hunger strikes. Emmeline was arrested many times and herself participated in the strikes. Notoriously, the hunger strikes lead to force feeding of the women within the prisons. These graphic police tactics shocked many members of the public, offended by their use in a civilised society. It was later outlawed under the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a remarkable woman who put all of her efforts into her cause. Yet, when the Great War broke out in August 1914 she – like many Suffragettes – decided to turn her energies towards the war effort. A few years after the war women were granted the right to vote. Emmeline had lived to see the day. She died ten years later in 1928, still fighting for women’s rights.
Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) was the daughter of Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst. Christabel was one of the most vociferous members of the Suffragette movement. She was born in Manchester, where her father’s radical social views influenced her greatly. Her surroundings and upbringing played a large part in forming her early political and social views. In 1901 she was introduced to the views of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. Christabel thought that their views were intriguing, but felt that they needed to be more aggressive in their cause. Verbal arguments were not enough to promote the kind of change that Christabel wanted to pursue.
With many influences around her, no one shaped her like her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst. Together they were also founder members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. She was arrested, with Annie Kenney, for interrupting a meeting of the Liberal Party. The Suffragettes were imprisoned. Christabel was arrested many times and even left the country to escape further imprisonment in 1912. In 1906 she was awarded a law degree from Manchester University. She then moved to London, and was named the organizing secretary of the WSPU.
Christabel helped form the goals of the Union: it was necessary to become disruptive in order to achive lasting change. New tactics were agreed, including stone throwing, the breaking of shop windows using hammers secreted in handbags, arson and attacking politicians. Her efforts against the state were unceasing, although, like her mother, she supported the war in 1914. After the war she continued her efforts. Today she is regarded as a model for suffrage movements all over the world.
Annie Kenney (1879-1953) was compared by WT Stead to Joan of Arc, and Josephine Butler described her as: “A woman of refinement and of delicacy of manner and of speech. Her physique is slender, and she is intensively nervous and high strung. She vibrates like a harp string to every story of oppression.”
Annie was born near Oldham and worked in a local cotton mill. In 1905 her sisters convinced her to go to a meeting where Christabel Pankhurst was speaking about women’s suffrage. Annie promised Christabel that she would bring along women from the factory to have a meeting. The meeting turned out to be a great success.
Annie joined the WPSU in 1905 and her involvement only grew from then on. She attended a Liberal rally with Christabel Pankhurst at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, where the two ladies were going to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey what they would do for women’s suffrage. When there was no reply they released a banner that said “Votes for Women”. They were kicked out of the meeting and then arrested and charged with assault.
Throughout the movement she was charged with many offences and participated in the hunger strikes, which she never fully recovered from. When Christabel went to France to escape imprisonment in 1912, Annie was put in charge of the WSPU. Annie saw Christabel as a great leader and heroine and imitated her activities for women’s suffrage until her death in 1953.
Lady Constance Lytton
Constance Lytton (1869-1923) was a Suffragette activist, writer, speaker and campaigner for prison reform, votes for women and birth control. The daughter of Lord Lytton, Constance came from the British aristocracy. In order not to receive special treatment she worked under an alias, Jane Warton. This allowed her avoid charges that she was part of the elite and gave her the opportunity to be an activist with no special privileges.
In 1909 she became a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In 1911 she was imprisoned in Holloway Prison and went on hunger strike. Her identity was discovered by the prison authorities and she was released. Enraged by this, she criticized the decision by writing to the Daily Liverpool Post. Like most Suffragettes, she was imprisoned many times and was involved in self mutilation and hunger strikes.
Constance wrote about all of her experiences and publicised them in several newspapers. This contributed to the growth of the suffrage campaign and allowed it to reach more potential activists. Lady Constance died at the early age of 54. Partly because of her involvement in the hunger strikes she never fully regained her health.
Emily Davison (1872-1913) was born in Blackheath, South London. She studied at Oxford University, although women were not allowed to receive degrees at that time. In 1906 she joined the WSPU and gave up her job to devote herself to the Suffragette movement. She was arrested on many occasions and in 1909 was jailed in Strangeways Prison in Manchester, where she promptly went on hunger strike. She became a very militant Suffragette.
In 1913, Emily stepped into the path of the King’s Horse during the Epsom Derby and attempted to catch its reins as it passed. She was badly injured from the collision and died from her injuries on 8 June. Her purpose was not clear, but she did cross boundaries in order to demonstrate her devotion to the cause and allowed others to see the seriousness of the Suffragettes.
Black Friday 1910
The Suffragettes carried out several demonstrations to support their cause during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The acts were designed to widen understanding of their cause and demonstrate their absolute devotion. The first Suffragette protest involving the Metropolitan Police, known as Black Friday, was held at Westminster in 1910. 300 Suffragettes and 6,000 policemen were present at the protest. Many women were arrested and assaulted during this day of action. They were protesting Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s decision to shelve the so-called Conciliation Bill. This bill aimed to extend the vote to over one million land owning women in Britain. Many women were outraged and the Women’s Social and Political Union took direct action.
The women of the WSPU chained themselves to railings, smashed windows and disrupted public meetings. The women’s Union was unpopular at the time and over 200 protesters were arrested. Others were assaulted and viciously manhandled by a large crowd of onlookers. As a result of Black Friday, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was forced to promise a bill devoted to women’s suffrage. It would be David Lloyd George, Asquith’s successor as Prime Minister, who would eventually introduce women’s suffrage legislation.
The Cat and Mouse Act
The Prisoners Act of 1913, also known as the Cat and Mouse Act, was an Act of Parliament, passed by Herbert Asquiths’s Liberal government, that outlawed force feeding in prisons. The Act allowed those on hunger strike to be temporarily discharged from prison for illness, and then re-imprisoned when they regained their health. The Liberal government’s aim with the Act was to suppress the Women’s Social and Political Union as a threat to society. Yet the Act was difficult to enforce: the police found it hard to re-arrest those who were pardoned from prison as suffragettes would either leave Britain or go into hiding.
The Act was referred to as the Cat and Mouse Act because it was thought that the police were playing with the Suffragettes much like a cat plays with a mouse. The Act caused profound WSPU resentment toward Prime Minister Asquith. The Prisoners Act did little to deter the Suffragettes from their activities. One year later, in 1914, the First World War broke out and most women devoted themselves to their country in its time of need. This put a temporary halt to the Suffragette movement, but they would prevail in their efforts years later.
The Representation of the People Act 1918
After the war ended in November 1918 the Representation of the People Act was overwhelmingly passed in the House of Commons. This act gave women with property, over the age of thirty, the right to vote. This was a conservative start but it was a milestone in the campaign to gain suffrage for women. Its passing was enabled by public recognition of the great work women had carried out during the Great War. This epic win for the Suffragettes snowballed into further future women’s rights measures.
The legacy of the Suffragettes is still evident today through the struggle for equal rights. Even though much has been overcome up to the present day, there is still room for improvement in equal rights. In 2012 activist Helen Pankhurst is still campaigning for the platforms of her great grandmother Emmeline Pankhurst.
Women’s rights have come a long way over the last one hundred years and are still evolving. The Suffragettes of the early twentieth century shaped today’s society and their impact on equal rights legislation persists, now and for the future.
Women’s movement during the 19th century
In the nineteenth century women had no place in national politics. They could not stand as candidates for Parliament. They were not even allowed to vote. It was assumed that women did not need the vote because their husbands would take responsibility in political matters. A woman’s role was seen to be child-rearing and taking care of the home.
As a result of the industrial revolution many women were in full-time employment, which meant they had opportunities to meet in large organized groups to discuss political and social issues.
Organized campaigns for women’s suffrage began to appear in 1866 and from 1888 women could vote in many local council elections. When parliamentary reform has been 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.
Nineteenth century feminists talked about “The Cause”. This described a movement for women’s rights generally. It had no particular political focus. But by the close of the century the issue of the vote became the focus of women’s struggle for equality.
The movement to gain votes for women had two wings, the suffragists and the suffragettes.
The suffragists had their origins in the mid nineteenth century, while the suffragettes came into being in 1903.
In 1897, various local women’s suffrage societies formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett. The NUWSS wanted the vote for middle class property-owning women. 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.
At the end of 19 th century due to the inequality between women and men, men had the right to vote while women didn´t.
Only a few countries of the north of Europe and New Zeeland had accepted the women right to vote
“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”
She was born in 1858, and she founded The Women’s Franchise League, promoted not only the breaking of the law but also hunger strikes in female prisons.
In 1881, the Isle of Man gave women who owned property the right to vote. In 1893, the British colony of New Zealand, granted women the right to vote. The colony of South Australia did the same in 1894 and women were able to vote in the next election, which was held in 1895. South Australia also permitted women to stand for election alongside men. In 1899 Western Australia enacted full women’s suffrage, enabling women to vote in the constitutional referendum of 31 July 1900 and the 1901 state and federal elections. In 1902 women in the remaining four colonies also acquired the right to vote and stand in federal elections after the six Australian colonies federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia. Discriminatory restrictions against Aboriginal people, including women, voting in national elections, were not completely removed until 1962.
The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, which elected the world’s first women Members of Parliament in the 1907 parliamentary elections. Norway followed, granting full women’s suffrage in 1913.
In Romania, starting in 1929, women who met certain qualifications were allowed to vote in local elections. After the Constitution from 1938, the voting rights were extended to women for general elections by the Electoral Law 1939. Women could vote on equal terms with men, but both men and women had restrictions, and in practice the restrictions affected women more than men. In 1946, full equal voting rights were granted to men and women.
Feminism in the 19th-century
19th-century feminists reacted to cultural inequities including the pernicious, widespread acceptance of the Victorian image of women.
Was an statistician who founded modern nursing and tried to reform the society.
The suffragettes, a name given to them by the newspaper The Daily Mail, were born out of the suffragist movement. Emmeline Pankhurst, who had been a member of the Manchester suffragist group, had grown impatient with the middle class, respectable, gradualist tactics of the NUWSS. In 1903 she decided to break with the NUWSS and set up a separate society. This became known as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
Mrs Pankhurst believed it would take an active organisation, with young working class women, to draw attention to the cause. The motto of the suffragettes was deeds not words and from 1912 onwards they became more militant and violent in their methods of campaign. Law-breaking, violence and hunger strikes all became part of this society’s campaign tactics.
In 1907 the Women’s Social and Political Union itself split into two groups after Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel came into conflict with other members of the WSPU’s executive body. Those who left formed the Women’s Freedom League, while the Pankhursts and their supporters established an even tighter grip on the workings of the WSPU.
The three groups disagreed over tactics but their message was consistent and they regularly worked together. Despite opposition, the argument for women’s suffrage seemed to be winning support. By 1909 the WSPU had branches all over the country and published a newspaper called Votes for Women which sold 20,000 copies each week. The NUWSS was also flourishing, with a rising membership and an efficient nation-wide organisation.
The rough treatment of many suffragettes arrested and jailed during the course of their protests also won the suffrage cause increasing sympathy and support from the public. The commendable behaviour of the suffrage movement during the war – suspending their protests for the sake of national unity – also proved that the women were far from unreasonable.
Summary of the suffrage movement
Historians debate the effectiveness of the different groups in the struggle for women’s suffrage. Some modern historians argue that the influence of NUWSS has not been given enough credit. Membership of this organisation remained high throughout the period. Many women who became alienated from the suffragettes because of their militancy switched allegiance to the suffragists.
Even more controversial is the role of the WSPU. At the time, and ever since, there have been divisions of opinion: some argue that its activities were critical in keeping The Cause high on the political agenda; others believe that its violent tactics actually delayed votes for women by its “irresponsibility” in attacking private property.
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.
On 4 June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom Downs to watch the Derby, carrying two suffrage flags – one rolled tight in her hand, the other wrapped around her body, hidden beneath her coat. She waited at Tattenham Corner as the horses streamed past, then squeezed through the railings and made an apparent grab for the reins of the king’s horse, Anmer. In the Manchester Guardian in the next day, an eyewitness reported: “The horse fell on the woman and kicked out furiously”. News footage shows racegoers surging on to the track to find out what had happened.
Davison suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding, and as hate mail against her poured in to the hospital, she remained unconscious. She died four days later. Thousands of suffragettes turned out on the London streets dressed in white, bearing laurel wreaths for her funeral. They marched four abreast behind purple banners, urging them all to fight on.
There has always been speculation about Davison’s intentions. The return train ticket she was carrying, for instance, offered as evidence that she didn’t mean to die. But there’s no doubt she was prepared to make dangerous sacrifices for women’s rights. As Fran Abrams writes in her book Freedom’s Cause, Davison had been imprisoned repeatedly for her suffrage work, had gone on hunger strike and been force fed numerous times.
In 1912, when she and a large number of other suffragettes were imprisoned in Holloway, there was what Davison referred to as a siege – the doors of women’s cells were broken down by guards – and she determined that one big tragedy might save her sisters. Davison threw herself over a balcony, was caught by some netting, then immediately tried again, launching herself down an iron staircase. This led to two cracked vertebrae, and a thwack to the head, but the authorities were unmoved. She and the other women continued to be force-fed, regularly and brutally.
In a movement defined by acts of daring, Davison’s bravery was extraordinary. A hundred years later, votes for women are long since won in most countries – though not all – and the feminist revolution continues. Campaigners worldwide fight for equal political representation, an end to women’s poverty, freedom from sexual violence, control over our own bodies, and – ultimately – for that most basic, yet radical, demand: for women to be treated as human beings. A century after Davison’s funeral programme declared “She died for women,” what can today’s feminists learn from the suffragettes?
Demands of the suffragettes
Find your voice, and use it
The dearth of women in public life today is often attributed to a lack of confidence, and the suffragettes sometimes struggled with this too. Margaret Wynne Nevinson, an avid campaigner, once wrote she felt a “dizzy sickness of terror” the first time she stood up to speak publicly, outside a gasworks in south London in 1906. There were shouts of derision as hundreds of men crowded around her, and she almost succumbed to stage fright before hearing a voice whisper: “Go it, old gal, you’re doing fine, give it ’em.”
This echoes the recollections of Kitty Marion, an actor as well as a suffragette. The first time she sold the Votes for Women newspaper in Piccadilly Circus, Marion wrote, “I felt as if every eye that looked at me was a dagger piercing me through and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. However, that feeling wore off and I developed into quite a champion.”
Sweetness is overrated
Women were bound by feminine ideals at the start of the last century – expected to be submissive, nurturing, self-effacing – and we still are today. The suffragettes weren’t having it. As Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the militant suffragettes, once said, “We threw away all our conventional notions of what was ‘ladylike’ and ‘good form’, and we applied to our methods the one test question: will it help?”
This was echoed by Fred Pethick-Lawrence, who fought strongly for women’s votes alongside his wife – who was also called Emmeline. In his 1911 book, Women’s Fight for the Vote, he offered a rallying cry. “Nothing has done more to retard the progress of the human race than the exaltation of submission into a high and noble virtue,” he wrote. “It may often be expedient to submit; it may even sometimes be morally right to do so in order to avoid a greater evil; but submission is not inherently beautiful – it is generally cowardly and frequently morally wrong.”
Take strength from the haters
Anyone who writes about feminism online knows there can be a nasty response, and the suffragettes received hate mail too. In Joyce Marlow’s essential anthology, Votes for Women, from which many of these recollections are taken, she includes a letter sent to Hugh Franklin, a male suffrage activist, which has a strikingly familiar tone. “We would give you and old Mother Pankhurst (the fossil-worm) Five Years Penal Servitude and then burn you both together. YOU ARE A DIRTY TYKE AND DANGEROUS MADMAN.” (All emphases the writer’s own.)
But it wasn’t just hate mail they had to contend with. Rats would be let loose into suffrage meetings, while rotten eggs and fish were pelted at the women. Nevinson once wrote that they kept their eyesight largely as a result of the huge hats that were then fashionable, the wide brims saving them “from hard missiles and the cayenne pepper blown at us from bellows”.
Their detractors were often very powerful. Winston Churchill described the militant movement as a “copious fountain of mendacity”, while Arthur Conan Doyle opted for “female hooligans”. The only useful response was to take strength from the insults. The current deputy editor of the New Statesman, Helen Lewis, has written that today “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”, which mirrors Rebecca West’s reflections on events of a century ago. “The real force that made the suffrage movement was the quality of the opposition,” wrote West. “Women, listening to anti-suffrage speeches, for the first time knew what many men really thought of them.”
Accept that those haters will include other women
In a male-dominated society, women are often brought up to identify with men, to see men’s views and rights as paramount, and so it’s not surprising that many women oppose their own liberation. In the suffrage era the most prominent was Queen Victoria, who once wrote a letter stating she was “anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad wicked folly of ‘Woman’s Rights’, with all its attendant horrors, on which [my] poor sex is bent”.
There were a number of thriving anti-suffrage groups, including the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, run by one Mrs Frederic Harrison, who stated: “Women have to destroy a women’s movement.” It rarely feels right to celebrate female failure, but in Harrison’s case let’s make an exception.
Fortune favours the brave
After a meeting of 30,000 suffragettes in 1906, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence said she had “never met anyone so fearless as were these young girls. I never saw a suffragette, under menace of violence, otherwise than cool and collected.”
Such bravery was necessary, as the women often faced serious violence. On 18 November 1910, for instance, a date which became known as Black Friday, Emmeline Pankhurst led 300 women to the House of Commons in a peaceful protest. There, they were met by police, and reported being beaten and sexually assaulted. One woman, quoted in Marlow’s anthology, said: “Constables and plain-clothes men who were in the crowd passed their arms round me from the back and clutched hold of my breasts in as public a manner as possible, and men in the crowd followed their example … My skirt was lifted up as high as possible, and the constable attempted to lift me off the ground by raising his knee. This he could not do, so he threw me into the crowd and incited the men to treat me as he wished.” She later had to seek medical attention for the bruising on her chest.
Over the course of the militant campaign, around 1,000 suffragettes were imprisoned in the UK, and many went on hunger strike and had to contend with the torturous process of force feeding. In 1913, the Cat and Mouse Act was brought in, a cruel law which meant suffragettes could hunger strike to the point of emaciation, be let out of prison to recover, recalled to serve a little more of their sentence, on and on, until the term was served.
The suffragettes kept going, despite the opposition and immediate consequences. Abrams describes a London action in the early 1910s when, “on two separate days, at a preordained time and with no warning, hundreds of smartly dressed women from Oxford Street to Whitehall, all along Piccadilly and Bond Street, produced hammers … and laid waste to hundreds of square feet of shop frontage.” Emmeline Pankhurst was one of 220 protesters arrested. Modern feminists might balk at some of the suffragettes’ more destructive actions, but their audacity is inspiring.
Christabel Pankhurst at Trafalgar Square, 1908. Photograph: Mary Evans Picture Library
Publicity is power
The suffragettes were a creative whirlwind, constantly devising new ways to catch the attention of politicians and the public. On one occasion, two women posted themselves as human letters to Downing Street; on another, suffragettes boarded a boat, and sailed towards the terrace of parliament, where 800 people had gathered for tea. Once in clear view, they unveiled two banners, the first with details of their upcoming demonstration, the second stating: “Cabinet ministers especially invited.”
A report in the Daily Express, in 1909, told of the young suffragette Miss Muriel Matters, who “sailed aloft from Hendon in the diminutive basket of a cigar-shaped dirigible balloon, for the very latest thing in suffragist dashes to Westminster”. Matters dropped leaflets as she flew, finally returning to earth near Croydon, helped “by a friendly though rather startled farmer”.
The suffragettes staged a census boycott in 1911, during which women stayed out all night, on the basis: “If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted.” Some took to Wimbledon Common in horse-drawn caravans, others spent the night rollerskating around the Aldwych Rinkeries – the venue was kept open especially – and Davison hid herself in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons, with a small picnic of lime juice and meat lozenges. (Many years later, Tony Benn secretly put up a plaque in this cupboard, in tribute to Davison’s extraordinary contribution to democracy.)
If you’re trying to create a popular movement, you obviously need to be popular, and the suffragettes were: an estimated half a million people attended their Hyde Park demonstration in 1908. It was the publicity campaigns and the strength of the central message that brought them there, as well as the fact that being a suffragette must have looked exciting, a revolutionary approach to female life. There’s often tension today between those who deliver feminism with humour and those who prefer unfiltered anger – the suffragettes showed that both are necessary.
Strength through solidarity
There were often major splits in the suffrage movement but there was also enough solidarity to keep the mission afloat. One strong example arose in 1906, when Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the leader of the non-militant side of the movement, wrote to the Times in support of the militants. “I take this opportunity of saying that in my opinion,” she wrote, “far from having injured the movement, they have done more during the last 12 months to bring it within the realms of practical politics than we have been able to accomplish in the same number of years.” It was a generous statement from the woman whose conscientious campaigning, over the course of many years, is often credited with being the essential force in the fight for the vote.
Many of the suffragettes also recognised that women could be oppressed by factors beyond their sex, and went to great lengths to support their sisters. For instance, when Lady Constance Lytton was imprisoned in 1909, and quickly released, she was determined to expose the fact that working class suffragettes had faced much more brutal treatment than her. She therefore disguised herself as Jane Warton, a seamstress, travelled to Liverpool and staged a protest; she was imprisoned and force fed eight times, proving her point. This experience did her health no favours, and she went on to suffer a heart attack in 1910 and a series of strokes, but wasn’t deterred. Lytton’s dedication was such that she once carved a large “V” for “votes” into her own breast, and she continued to campaign for the suffrage cause until her death in 1923.
Never give up
Many feminsts today complain of burnout and fatigue over problems that seem to stretch ahead intractably. The suffragettes must have felt the same at times. Histories often focus on the last 20 years or so of the struggle, but women fought for the vote for more than a century, with Mary Wollstonecraft helping to kick off the campaign in 1792, in Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with a reference to the need for women’s political representation. Forty years later, in 1832, the first petition for the women’s vote was presented to the Commons, and over the course of the next century campaigners kept up the pressure – reinventing and re-energising their fight, and passing the baton from woman to woman. They were finally granted the vote on the same terms as men in 1928.
Accept victory – nothing else
There are often arguments today about who should represent feminism, but the suffrage fight suggests we need the whole spectrum: the rabble-rousers, theorists, dogged campaigners, sympathetic politicians, those whose wit draws women to the cause, those whose anger keeps them motivated, and those who quietly, conscientiously chip away at issues that make others give up in despair. We need those who refuse to see any conceivable option but victory. Women like the one who wrote to the Daily Telegraph in 1913. “Sir, Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote. Yours truly, Bertha Brewster.”
Fashion, feminism and politics has always been heated territory, and the suffragettes knew this and they used it for their cause. Instead of deploying a strategy of resistance by refusal, they chose resistance through reversal. They sought to effect change not by challenging contemporary fashion and ideals of femininity, but by conforming to them. Haunted by the stereotypical image of the “strong-minded woman” in masculine clothes, pebble-thick glasses and galoshes created by cartoonists, they chose instead to present a fashionable, feminine image.
The suffragettes took care to “appeal to the eye” – particularly when in full glare of media attention on parade or demonstrating. In 1908, one of their newspapers, Votes for Women, declared: “The suffragette of today is dainty and precise in her dress.” Five years later, sellers of the Suffragette were requested to “dress themselves in their smartest clothes”.
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