Women And The Vote 1900-1918

Liberal Sunset 1890-1922

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  • Created by: beth
  • Created on: 21-05-10 15:25

Position of women in the mid 19th century

Before 1850 political and individual rights were allowed only to wealthier men.

Women were thought incapable of rational thought.

They had very few legal rights, especially married women.

The Victorian upper and middle class male view of women was of the ‘Angel in the House’.

Men and women were seen to occupy separate spheres of activity: public for men and domestic for women.

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Did women accept this?

Some women clearly did.

But there were also some strong minded women even among the upper class who didn’t.

In the mid 19th century there was a rapid growth in the number of single women.

The number of single women between the ages of 15 and 45 rose by 72% from 1851 to 1871.

Working class women had to be both home makers and contribute to the family income, so the spheres didn't really apply to them.

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Why did feminism emerge in the 1850s?

1832 Reform Act that prevented women from voting

Failure of Chartism

‘surplus women problem’

Lack of educational and work opportunities

Growing awareness of lack of legal rights

Realisation that parliament could be pressured

The support of some men

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Marriage and Divorce Act 1857

Abolished the need for a private Act of Parliament to obtain a divorce

Set up a civil divorce court to grant divorces

Women were permitted to sue for divorce if they could prove two of the following: cruelty, adultery, or desertion (men had to prove one)

It was later amended to say that divorced women could resume possession of their property and their future earnings and inheritance

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Married Women’s Property Acts


Allowed women to keep up to £200 in earnings and personal property

A move away from the idea that married women were the property of their husbands


Gave married women control of all money/property they brought into a marriage

Allowed them to carry on trade or business using their property

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Advances In Education and Medical Profession

In 1870 working class girls gained access to schools in all parts of the country

Throughout the mid 19th century colleges opened offering secondary and higher education to girls

Florence Nightingale reformed view of nursing and set up a training college in 1860

Elizabeth Blackwell took a medical degree and was placed on the British Medical Register in 1859

1875 an Act of Parliament was passed making it lawful for universities to accept female students.

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Advances in Local Government

1869 gained the right to vote in town council elections

1870 gained the right to be elected to School Boards

1875 could serve as Poor Law Guardians running workhouses

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The Chartists

The first 'working-class' mass movement which grew in the late 1930s

Based on the demands made in the six-point 'People's Charter'.

There were some male Chartists who supported women's suffrage.

But it was decided that it would delay the progress of the Charter as a whole.

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Suffrage Groups

The NSWS (National Society for Women's Suffrage) in 1868.

The first properly organised group to campaign nationally for women's suffrage.

Split in 1888 over whether to support the Liberal Party.

The NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) in 1897.

Disagreement over whether to campaign for (1) immediate inclusion of women in the franchise on the same terms as men or (2) the vote for all men and women over 21

It was worried that if they went with (2) votes would be gained for men but not women.

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In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst set up the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union)

She took the view that women should have immediate equality with men within the existing voting system.

After this they could campaign for full democracy.

She broke her political connections with the Liberals in favour of the ILP

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The WSPU and the ILP

Members of the ILP were also divided over which path to take.

The majority of them were in favour of the basic idea of right of women to vote.

However some, such as Kier Hardie agreed with the Pankhursts' demand for immediate female suffrage on equal terms.

Whereas others, such as Philip Snowden, wanted to wait for complete adult suffrage.

They were also aware of the hostility to female suffrage among working-class males.

In 1905 Kier Hardie introduced a private member's bill to extend the vote to women.

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It was defeated and the Pankhursts were left disappointed.

The WSPU still helped the ILP in the 1906 general election.

This only increased their anger as many Labour candidates rejected their help.

Mrs Pankhurst was convinced that women must use their own initiative.

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The Primrose League And The Women's Liberal Associ

Both groups were not suffrage movements, but many suffragists were members.

Women learnt the techniques of practical electioneering.

Primrose League: Set up in 1883 by the Conservative Party.

It was hierarchical, different classes of membership.

Women were heavily involved in both the social and political sides.

They organised political meetings, brought voters to the polls on election days, and canvassed.

WLA: First formed in Bristol in 1881.

Carried out canvassing and other political work.

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Millitancy: Phase 1: April 1906-June 1908

1) Confronting Parliament and ministers

# April 1906: An anti-suffrage MP attempted to talk down Kier Hardie's resolution in support of women's suffrage.

# The suffragettes began to heckle the MPs. This was condemned by Kier Hardie, but did gain a lot of publicity.

# February 1907: The King's Speech failed to refer to a Bill on women's suffrage.

# 300 Suffragettes marched to the House of Commons to protest.

# Organised sit down protests in Downing Street, chaining themselves to railings.

2) Campaigning at by-elections

# August 1906 the WSPU began to campaign against Liberal candidates in by-elections.

# Claimed responsibilty for pulling down the Liberal vote in nine by-elections in 1908.

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Phase 2: June 1908-Truce of January 1910

Rally on 'Women's Sunday'

# June 1908: Asquith announced the government would back an Electoral Reform Bill if it: (1) was on democratic lines; (2) had the support of the women of the country; (3) had the support of the electorate

# The WSPU organised a mass rally with over 300,000 women.

# However Asquith was unmoved and from then on the millitant tactics increased.

1) Stone Throwing

# June 1908: Two suffragettes threw stones at the Downing Street windows.

# They were sentenced to two months in prison.

# Stone throwing became part of the suffragettes' militant campaign.

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2) Campaigning at by-elections

2) Technical Offences

# The Public was shocked at the harsh sentences that the suffragettes recieved.

# So it was decided that they weren't to be arrested.

# The suffragettes began to commit 'technical' violent offences so they had to be arrested.

3) Hunger Striking

# Suffragettes were refused political status in prison.

# July 1909: they began to hunger strike in protest.

# September: government introduced forcible feeding

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Phase 3: November 1911-August 1914

# January 1910: government promised a 'Conciliation Bill'

# WSPU announced a truce to suspend all militant action

# The Bill failed as it was opposed by Asquith (as he was against female suffrage) and Lloyd George (because it would enfranchise the most conservative-minded women)

# The truce was ended and militant action grew

1) Mass window breaking

# 1912: windows broken in Downing Street and shops in the West End

2) Mass hunger strike in June 1912

# April 1913: Prisoner's Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act allowing authorities to discharge and rearrest prisoners

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3) Arson

# 1913: DLG's country house was fire-bombed and destroyed

4) Other violence against property

# slashed works of art, cut telegraph wires, burned messages into golfing greens.

5) Emily Davison

# June 1913: rushed on to the race course at Derby in front of the King's horse.

# died and became a suffragette martyr

War broke out in 1914 and a truce was called for its duration.

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Reactions to Militancy

Liberal Government

Couldn't be seen to give into violence.

Gave them an excuse not to give women the vote.

General Public

Gained public awareness

People were angry at disruption to daily life and lack of respect for law and order.

Saw it as undignified and unladylike behaviour.

Confirmed prejudices-women were irrational.

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Although it gained much support for both the WSPU and the NUWSS it alienated many potential supporters.

Also alienated those who had previously supported women's suffrage.

Provided an excuse for others to not support.


Millicent Fawcett and the NUWSS were frustrated as it was becoming an obstacle to change


Kier Hardie supported the militant action

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Why did women recieve the vote in 1918?

1) Their work during the war effort

E.g.: November 1918 947,000 women were employed in munitions work

This also allowed hostile MPs to back down without loosing face.

2) There was need for franchise reform anyway as many soldiers didn't have the vote.

3) The patriotic approach taken by most suffrage groups showed they were mature.

4) The coalition government meant there was less division between the parties.

5) There was an international trend towards women's suffrage.

In February 1918 the Representation of the People Act became law and gave the vote to all men and women over 30

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Very detailed notes - really useful.


Thanks very much, it was all very relevant and helped me fill in my revision notes :)


Brilliant! Thank you so much! :)

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