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Pics, video: Suffragette movement 100 years ago

In 1912, the suffragettes were engaged in an increasingly confrontational campaign to secure voting rights for women which included bomb attacks and hunger strikes.

A suffragette being removed from a meeting addressed by Lloyd George in 1913.
A suffragette being removed from a meeting addressed by Lloyd George in 1913.
Image: PA Archive

WORLD WAR I proved the seismic turning point in the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain. However, serious groundwork had been laid by the Suffragette movement in the years leading up to the Great War, particularly a century ago – in 1912 and 1913 – as their tactics became increasingly confrontational and controversial.

Campaigns calling for women to have voting rights began in the mid-19th century in response to the Great Reform Act which blocked women from voting. Millicent Garrett Fawcett launched her peaceful campaign for women’s rights in the 1860s, but the women’s suffrage campaign became more radical with the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia.

Tactics employed by the suffragettes included lobbying campaigns targeting politicians and acts of civil disobedience such as mass protests, arson and disrupting political party meetings. Suffragettes who were arrested in connection with their campaign began holding hunger strikes in prison, but were forcibly fed. Here is an extract from an account suffragette Emily Wilding Davison wrote in 1912 of her force feeding experiences:

(Document via parliament.uk)

In February 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst was sentenced to three years after claiming responsibility for a bomb attack on a house being built for the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George. No one was injured in the explosion, and Pankhurst was released early after going on hunger strike. According to a Manchester Guardian report at the time, Pankhurst said:

If they torture me with force-feeding, that cannot last very long; they cannot keep me alive very long; and they will have to let me die or let me go. If I drop out of the fight hundreds will take my place.

Photo of broken windows at Lloyd George’s house following the bomb attack. (PA Archive)

Two months after the attack on Lloyd George’s house, the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Health Act was hurriedly passed through parliament. Under this legislation, hunger striking suffragettes in custody were monitored and released when they became seriously ill or weak, but could be re-arrested again once their health improved. However, the legislation – popularly known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ – was counter-productive in failing to bolster public support against the suffragette movement.

Public awareness of the suffragette campaign was further heightened by a tragic event several weeks later. On 4 June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison stepped out in front of King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby and died from her injuries a few days later.


(YouTube/britishpathe)

In photos: The Suffragette movement in 1912 and 1913:

Pics, video: Suffragette movement 100 years ago
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  • The Suffragettes

    Suffragettes Lady Barclay (Berkeley) and Miss Fitzgerald attempt to present a petition to the King at Buckingham palace in 1914. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Detail from a poster condeming the 1913 "Cat-and-Mouse" Act. (TOPHAMS/Topham Picturepoint)
  • The Suffragettes

    'Where shall I find the key? - Convicts and lunatics have no vote for parliament - Should all women be classed with these?' A poster from the Suffragette campaign of the early 20th century. (PA/TOPHAMS/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images)
  • The Suffragettes

    June 1913: the funeral procession of Emily Wilding Davison, after she was killed by throwing herself under King George V's horse at the Epsom Derby. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    St Catherine's church, Hatcham, London, burnt down by suffragettes on 6 May, 1913. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pilgrimage in Hyde Park in July 1913. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Suffragettes protest outside of the Albert Hall where the International Congress of Medicine is being held. ( Sport & General/S&G Barratts/EMPICS Archive/PA)
  • The Suffragettes

    A suffragette is removed by police during a meeting in Sutton-on-Ashfield, 1913, addressed by David Lloyd George. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Detectives watching the London home of Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Emmeline Pankhurst leaves Bow Street police station, London after being bailed on a conspiracy charge, 1912. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Women protesters being arrested in Hyde Park in 1912. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Suffragettes at a mass meeting in the Royal Albert Hall circa 1913. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    A Suffragette meeting in 1912 amid a by-election at Holmfirth. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    A Suffragette is led away by the Police during a London demonstration in 1912. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Police raid Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) offices in Kingsway, London 1913. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Saunderton Station, Buckinghamshire was damaged by members of the Suffragettes as part of their escalating campaign for voting rights. (PA Archive)
  • The Suffragettes

    Image dated January 1913: Suffragettes from various parts of the country cycled to London for a meeting of the Suffragette Movement. (PA Archive)

WWI

The Suffragette campaign for voting rights was essentially suspended during World War I and the war saw a significant social shift in the numbers of women from different classes working in traditionally male-dominated roles to produce weapons and food.

Legislation empowering women to vote, run for office and take their seat in parliament was finally enacted in 1918. However, this legislation still restricted women voting with the inclusion of a clause requiring a minimum qualifying age of thirty for a woman to be allowed vote. Equal terms with male voters were enacted ten years later with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise Act) 1928.

The first woman elected to the House of Commons was the Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz, who refused to take up her seat in accordance with her party Sinn Féin’s boycott of the British parliament.

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