Why did women's suffrage become so important?
Suffrage - the right to vote
In the 19th century , women had more and more opportunities in life - there were new jobs such as teachers, shop workers and secretaries that girls from working class backgrounds could have and earn good money form.
Also, greater opportunities in education werre available, with a few middle class women going to university to become doctors.
In 1839-1886, laws gave married women greater rights, and the number of men that could vote increased too. This meant that women were beginning to wonder why they couldn't vote too.
Arguments against women's suffrage
1. Men can be more trusted to run the country. Some poeple believed that women didn't need to vote and that men could be more trusted in politics.
2. Women take the jobs from men. Some people were frustrated that with women working, jobs were being taken from men, and less money was being earned.
3. The majority of women don't want the vote. Some people believed that it was only a small minority of women that actually wanted the vote, with the majority merely worrying about her family's interests.
4. God created men to rule over women. Some people believed that it was God's eternal law that men were superior to women.
5. Women are physically weaker than men. Some people believed that since women were weaker than men their role was at home rather than working.
6. Women will devote less time to the family. Some people were worried that if women did get the vote they would forget their duties in the home.
7. Women are not capable of making important decisions. Some people believed this.
The Suffragettes wanted to make women's suffrage a serious issue for the government, to get the vote and to be equal to men. They were led by Emeline Pankhurst and achieved this by forcing the government using violence. The had a group called the WSPU.
1908 - Direct Action Begins
Direct Action began because another bill on female suffrage had been declined. Edith New chained herself to the railings to stop herself from being taken away by the police. Some threw stones at 10 Downing Street. Emeline and Christabel Pankhurst and Flora Dummond were incarcerated for inticing a crowd to rush into the House of Commons. They were prepared to break the law.
1911 - The Conciliation Bill
The Conciliation Bill was promised, giving women the vote, and had all-party support. Suffragettes suspended militant action. It got a majority of 167, the biggest ever, however Asquith, the Prime Minister, dropped it, instead introducing a bill where all men could vote. The suffragettes were furious, went on hunger strikes and were arrested. Some people were sympathetic while others were scornful. In response, the government passed the Cat and Mouse Act, which let hunger strikers out of prison to recover before putting them back in to complete their sentence.
The Suffragists were a group of campaigners for women's suffrages, but believed in constitutional campaigning - peaceful, law abiding protest. They were mainly middle-class women. Their leader was Millicent Fawcett and they formed the NUWSS.
When the suffragettes began their Direct Action, the suffragists' belief was that you could not claim a democtraic right (to vote) by undemocratic methods (violence).
At first they had the support of MPs in all three parties (Liberal, Conservative and Labour), however after the Conciliation Bill, they moved their support to Labour.
What were the problems with the suffrage campaign?
Divisions - Within the suffrage campaign itself there were divisions between the suffragettes, preferring a more violent approach, and the suffragists, preferring a more peaceful approach.
Public Support - Not all women supported women's suffrage, as they didn't want roles to change. Opposition to the suffrage campaign intensified as the suffragettes became more violent. The suffragettes lost the support of Lloyd George. Also, in 1913, the Cat and Mouse Act and the brutal death of Emily Davison, a suffragette, at the Epsom Derby horse race, put many people off the campaign, since many began to believe that anyone stupid enough to jump in front of a racing horse should not get the vote. In 1913, the Pankhursts were also exiled to Paris.
Parliament - Lloyd George's home was petrol-bombed. Militancy esclated after the Conciliation Bill. Many leading Liberals believed that if middle and upper-class women were given the vote, they would vote Conservative. Some MPs were against it due to principles - they didn't want change.
British Priorities - Women's suffrage was not a top priority at the time. Social unrest and poverty were considered more important.
Why did women finally get the vote?
In August 1914, women abandoned the struggle for suffrage with the outbreak of World War 1. They decided to help the war effort by doing the jobs that men used to do.
With conscrption introduced in 1916, the demand for female labour increased dramtically. They worked in munitions factories, stell mills, and building ships, as well as in agriculture in the "Land Army". This work was very dangerous. Some women went to help in war zones : the "Voluntary Aid Detachment", the "Women's Auxiliary Army Corps" and the "Women's Royal Naval Service".
Middle-class women were financially independent of the husbands for the first time and war gave women a greater sense of value in society. Attitudes towards women changed after the war - the nation was grateful for their contribution.
Some men serving abroad were losing the vote (disenfranchised) because you needed to have lived in Britan for at least a year to vote. This meant that an electoral reform was needed anyway.
In 1917, the Reprensentation of the People Act was passed with a majority of 7 to 1. It became law in 1918. All men over 21 and women over 30, who were householders or married to householders, were given the right to vote. This gave the vote to 9 million women, although ironically, not those who had fought the most for it.