The Women's Social and political Union 1903-14

Who founded the WSPU?
Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia
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What were the Pankhursts motivated by?
Frustration due to years of defeat for the suffrage campaign and the desire to form a more effective political machine
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What was the Pankhurst family's background and how did this affect their political beliefs?
They lived in manchester and thus were steeped in the city's radical politics. Christabel and Sylvia had been taken to meetings of the ILP by their parents
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Why did Emmeline and her daughters become disillusioned with their local Labour Party?
Several of its male members were lukewarm in their support for women's suffrage. A building opened in 1903, in memory of Emmeline's late husband, to be the new local ILP headquarters was to be open to only MEN
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What was decided about the membership of the WSPU upon its creation?
The organisation would be independent of any male political party and that its membership would be all female.
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From its creation, what distinguished the WSPU from the NUWSS?
It would adopt a more confrontational approach than the suffragists
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What was the background of most of the leaders of the WSPU and what could explain this?
Mostly from affluent, middle-class families. Married to rich men or came from monied backgrounds. Perhaps because the WPSU relied on unpaid work so its members had to be economically independent to devote themselves to campaigning
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What evidence is there to suggest that the WSPU was elitist?
Leading members were wealthy: Lady Constance Lytton- came from highly aristocratic background and Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence was wealthy enough to donate large sums of money to the WSPU
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What evidence suggests that the WSPU was not elitist?
WSPU originated from the Labour politics of the North of England and recruited many working class women who did valuable propaganda work in the textile towns. Sylvia established the WSPU branch in the working class east end of london
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How was the WSPU run?
In a highly authoritarian, top down manner
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From 1906, how were WSPU policies decided?
By an unelected central committee dominated by the Pankhursts
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How was the central committee advised and assisted?
By a group which consisted mostly of friends and family of the pankhursts
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What was the role of the central committee?
Controlled all publications and the finances of the organisation- decided policy, made appointments to paid positions
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Was there much debate and discussion among members of the WSPU?
Not really- leading one suffragette to comment that although Emmeline Pankhurst 'wishes women to have votes she will not allow them to have opinions'
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What was the role and membership of the unelected Subcommittee?
Role was to assist the central committee and its membership consisted of friends and relatives of the Pankursts
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What was the role of the 'A Home' sessions and who attended?
WSPU members met every monday afternoon in WSPU headquarters to receive instructions and discuss strategies
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Where were the 11 regional offices of the WSPU and what was their role?
Bristol, Torquay, Manchester, Preston, Rochdale, Birmingham, leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen- they implemented the aims and objectives of WSPU with considerable local autonomy
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In the first two years of its existence, what forms of protest did the WSPU adopt?
The conventional peaceful forms of protest used by other suffrage societies: public meetings, distributing leaflets, petitioning parliament and writing letters.
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When did the WSPU adopt a more militant strategy?
In 1905
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From what year did the WSPU resort to a variety of law breaking, often violent, actions
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What political event was the last straw for WSPU leaders?
In may 1905 another of the many bills was talked out in parliament- MPs debated other more trivial issues to avoid giving time to a women's suffrage bill
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What did the failure of parliament to pass a women's suffrage bill in 1905 show WSPU leaders?
That the politics of persuasion would not work and they would have to force the government to grant women the vote
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In October 1905 what event sparked the increase in WSPU militancy?
Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted the speeches of two liberal party politicians in manchester- they were ejected from the meeting and Christabel spat at a policeman. Charged with misconduct, they chose prison over a fine
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What was the impact of Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankurst's arrest?
They gained publicity for the campaign - 'militant' action was front page news and the WSPU began to attract bigger audiences as well as a larger membership
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What kinds of militant tactics became common after Kenney and Pankurst's arrests?
Heckling the speeches of leading politicians- hecklers were arrested, refused to pay fines and imprisoned. Each incident brought with it publicity and increased membership
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How was Winston Churchill specifically targeted by Suffragette militancy?
He had his speeches interrupted several times and WSPU claimed a great victory when he lost his seat in a manchester by-election. Churchill became MP for dundee and suffragettes threw stones in a building's skylight where Churchill was due to speak
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How did the use of militant tactics appear to opponents of the WSPU?
As a reflection of the unstable nature of women generally and of their fanatical and hysterical tendencies- proof that women should not be granted the vote
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How did the WSPU justify its use of militant tactics?
It was a reaction to repressive measures taken by liberal gov-refusing to meet suffrage deputations, only option left now peaceful protest was curbed, it was a response to the authorities' use of force, physical force was tradition in GB
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What is evidence to suggest that violent protest had worked in the past in Britain?
Physical force had been used before the passing of the 1832 and 1867 reform acts, 1911 miners called for violence and were successful in getting better pay and conditions
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Was suffragette violence only ordered and directed by the leaders of the WSPU?
No, the use of violence often began at local level- breaking windows, arson and letter opening were initiated by local activists and only adopted by leadership when they gained widespread support among members of WSPU
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How did WSPU members react to the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst, particularly following her imprisonment in Apr 1913?
Acts of violence; several houses burnt down, grandstand at ayr racecourse burnt down, bomb exploded at railway station, telephone wires cut, paintings in manc art gallery were damaged, letters in pillar boxes were destroyed
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Did the WSPU only use militant tactics?
No, both suffragettes and suffragists continued to use traditional peaceful forms of protest, e.g petitioning parliament and lobbying MPs
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What are some examples of peaceful, often playful WSPU forms of campaigning after 1910?
In honour of new king, King George V in 1911 WSPU and NUWSS jointly organised coronation procession- WSPU members dressed in their colours of green, purple and white. Some dressed as famous women eg Joan of Arc or Eliz 1st.
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What was the conciliation committee?
A committee made up of a small number of MPs from all the main parties formed to gather support across party lines for votes for women
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When did the suffragists and the suffragettes cooperate with the conciliation committee?
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How did the conciliation committee attempt to achieve votes for women?
Drafted a private member's bill to extend the franchise to women (householders). A similar Conciliation bill was introduced into parliament in 1911. The different suffrage societies lobbied MPs and held meetings to pressure MPs to vote for the bills
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While the negotiations were in progress, did the WSPU use militant tactics?
No, they called a truce
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What was the result of the Conciliation bills?
Both bills failed to become law
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What did Herbert Asquith, prime minister, indicate about the government's own franchise bill that had been introduced to extend the male franchise?
it might be possible to add an amendment that extended the vote to women
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Was Asquith really committed to giving women the vote? What shows this?
early 1913 the speaker of the house of commons ruled that such an amendment could not be added (extending the franchise to women). Asquith wrote that it was a great relief as he was stubbornly opposed to women's suffrage
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How did the WSPU respond to the failure of gov. to pass the conciliation bills?
They resumed their campaign of militancy
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Card 2


What were the Pankhursts motivated by?


Frustration due to years of defeat for the suffrage campaign and the desire to form a more effective political machine

Card 3


What was the Pankhurst family's background and how did this affect their political beliefs?


Preview of the front of card 3

Card 4


Why did Emmeline and her daughters become disillusioned with their local Labour Party?


Preview of the front of card 4

Card 5


What was decided about the membership of the WSPU upon its creation?


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