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[Detail] Suffragettes procession after release from prison.

Suffrage in the United Kingdom

A number of scrapbook entries focus on the suffrage struggle in the United Kingdom.  In parts of Britain, unmarried women had been granted the right to vote in local elections in the 1860s; by the end of the 19th century, married women could vote in some elections but were denied the franchise in national elections.  Leaders of the suffrage movement in the United Kingdom disagreed over strategy. One faction under Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, adopted a more militant policy of disrupting public meetings and acts of civil disobedience.  Read the biographic sketch of Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst printed in the Woman’s Journal.

  • How did Emmeline Pankhurst first become involved in the British woman suffrage movement?
  • What convinced her and her associates in the movement to abandon meetings and petitions and adopt a more aggressive policy?
  • Why was she called the “mother of the Gracchi”?

On a speaking tour in the United States and Canada in 1909, Pankhurst argued that militant measures were necessary in order to get publicity for the movement because the British press ignored women’s gentle appeals for the vote. In a Buffalo lecture, she traced the history of the woman suffrage movement in England. Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone, the American suffrage pioneer, introduced Pankhurst before a speech in Boston.  Blackwell told the audience that the Women’s Social and Political Union’s campaign in Britain was justified and that the press had misrepresented the steps that Pankhurst had taken to revitalize the movement.

One of the news clippings in the scrapbook, “Suffragettes in Battle,” reports on a street confrontation outside the House of Commons on March 30, 1909.

A miniature battle, such as has been seen seldom in the remarkable history of the women’s movement, occurred outside the House of Commons yesterday afternoon.  The militant suffragettes succeeded in getting as far as the St. Stephen’s entrance of the House and demanded admission, which, of course, was refused.

Upon this the woman [sic.] literally flung themselves upon the line of defense returning to the attack again and again when repulsed by the police.  One of the most daring of the attacking party was its “standard bearer,” who badeheaded [sic.], for her hat lay in the muddy road, fought with such impetuosity as impelled a burst of cheering from the thousands of lookerson [sic.].

From “Suffragettes in Battle with police outside House of Commons”

  • What is the tone of the news report?
  • Does the account reflect a bias? Explain.

Women who attempted to demonstrate in the public square or challenged political leaders by shouting questions at public meetings were arrested and imprisoned. Jailed women often resorted to hunger strikes to call attention to their cause, prompting their jailers to begin force-feeding.  Alice Paul, reported in the American press as the inventor of the hunger strike, was arrested for disturbing Prime Minister Asquith’s speech at the London Guildhall and sentenced to a month of hard labor at Holloway jail.  Paul had become active in the suffrage movement as a young American studying economicsin London.  Read Alice Paul’s account of her hunger strike and force-feeding during her incarceration.

  • Why was Alice Paul arrested?
  • Why did women jailed for suffrage demonstrations consider themselves political prisoners?
  • Why did Paul go into such detail in describing her force-feeding?
  • How do you think the public would react to Paul’s description of food being forced through her nostrils?

British poet and novelist George Meredith did not support the approach taken by Emmeline Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union.  Meredith supported the “more gentle” efforts of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, “who preserve the rule of good manner and understand how the cause is to be won, while combative suffragists play the enemy’s game.” Why might someone think that the more militant approach was “playing the enemy’s game”?  Do you agree?