1865-1928 (63 years)
In 1865 John Stuart Mill was returned to Parliament on a women's suffrage platform, which encouraged those who were eager to see a suffrage bill introduced. Thomas Huxley's Lay Sermons had appeared in 1865, advocating women's suffrage, an encouraging event. Also in 1865 a Ladies' Discussion Society in Kensington (London) began to discuss women's political activity--its members included Helen Taylor, Sophia Jex-Blake, Barbara Bodichon, Misses Beale and Buss, Elizabeth Garrett, and Frances Power Cobbe.
Bodichon wanted to form a regular Women's Suffrage Committee, but Davies opposed on the grounds that extremists might join. When Mill assured Barbara Bodichon that he could present a petition with 100 signatures, the Women's Suffrage Committee was formed. Davies wanted the petition to request the vote for unmarried women, but Mill refused anything short of equality. The petition, signed by Josephine Butler, Harriet Martineau, Mary Somerville, and a Westminister Hall apple vendor, was presented in 1866.
Meanwhile Barbara Bodichon read a paper on the enfranchisement of women at the Social Science Congress in Manchester later in the same year. Lydia Becker, a student of science, heard her speech and devoted her life to the cause of women's suffrage; more immediately she became the secretary of the Manchester Suffrage Committee.
In 1867 Mill introduced the first women's suffrage bill into the House of Commons, an amendment to the Reform Bill of 1867. His serious tone cut off what many anticipated would be a humorous debate. 80 members supported the bill (about 1/3), and its supporters optimistically hoped a similar bill might pass within a couple years.
1867 in London the National Society for Women's Suffrage was formed, with Frances Power Cobbe "in the chair," and Millicent Fawcett a member.
At first supporters of the suffrage tried to prove that women already had the vote, and accumulated some legal precedents for women's voting. A Mrs. Lily Maxwell, accidentally on the register in Manchester, voted, and 5346 Manchester women appeared at the polls requesting their right to register. The case was taken to court and defended by Dr. Richard Pankhurst and others, but the judge ruled that "every women is personally [legally] incapable" of voting and refused to hear other cases. Since the matter had previously been ambiguous, this was a great setback.
In 1869 Mill lost his seat in Parliament, another blow, though he published The Subjection of Women (co-authored with Harriet Taylor) in 1869. Becker, Fawcett and other leaders began to realize that the struggle would extend for many years and require extensive propaganda. Public meetings were needed, a very difficult step for women, who faced hostility to women's public speaking. In 1869 the first public suffrage meeting was held in the gallery of the Architectural Society, with Mrs. Peter Taylor presiding. Speakers included Mill, Charles Kingsley, Henry Fawcett, Millicent Fawcett, James Stansfield, and John Morley. Public reaction was not completely friendly.
Also supporters of the women's franchise had to visit smaller towns throughout the country, especially as before the 1884 Reform Bill constituencies might consist of a single small town. They always had audiences, for everyone crowded to see women speaking in public. Nervous chairmen sometimes found it necessary to assure audiences that the speakers were respectable! Worse, sometimes no local person could be persuaded to introduce speakers or sit on the platform at all.
1870 Dr. Pankhurst drafted a second suffrage bill, which carried a second reading 124 to 91. But in the committee stage Gladstone expressed his hostility, and the vote changed to a defeat. It was fifteen years until a suffrage bill could reach a second reading, in 1885, and after that no favorable majority was achieved until 1897.Queen Victoria--who of course exerted considerable political influence without need of the vote--expressed her position privately when Lady Amberley read a paper on suffrage at the Stroud Mechanics Institute, "The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of "Women's Rights" with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety. Lady Amberly ought to get a good whipping."
1870-1900 was a lean period for suffrage agitation. John Stuart Mill died in 1873. After 1870 the tone of the House debates was more facetious than hostile. Both political parties feared women might support their opponents. Meanwhile the municipal franchise was granted women ratepayers in 1869, and the Education Act of 1870 permitted women to serve on school boards. In 1876 women were granted the vote in the Isle of Man, and all hopes turned on a new Reform Bill.
Lydia Becker, Emily Davies, and Elizabeth Garret were all successful candidates at the first London school board elections. Women were also able to be Poor Law Guardians (a capacity in which Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst served), but not until 1907 were they eligible for county and borough councils and for the offices of chairman of county and borough councils and mayor. Mrs. Garrett Anderson became the first woman mayor in 1908, chosen by her native town of Aldburgh. Through the lean years of the suffrage movement, women expended much effort in exercising what rights they possessed, and in performing every possible form of public service.
To continue direct suffrage agitation, Lydia Becker founded a Women's Suffrage Journal, which ceased with her death in 1887. The campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts (see the life of Josephine Butler, josephinebutler.htm, above) divided suffragists, as supporters of the two movements overlapped but not entirely. Some wanted a complete dissociation of the two causes, and a splinter in 1871 resulted in two suffrage societies; these were not reunited until 1879 by the strenuous efforts of Leonard Courtenay, the spokesman for suffrage in the House of Commons after John Bright's retirement.
In 1880 the general election resulted in a Liberal victory and the return of a majority of members who claimed support for women's suffrage. Debate occurred over whether the new bill should include married women or remain ambiguously worded on the matter. Mrs. Pankhurst and Mrs. Jacob Bright set up a small separate organization in the north of England in 1883, advocating the radical position of votes for all--a foreshadowing of the future.
The suffrage bill of 1884 was under the control of Gladstone, an opponent of women's voting rights; when the vote was given to every male householder and to agricultural workers but to no women, women received a severe blow. Seventy-nine Liberal members signed a petition requesting the inclusion of women, but to no avail. After this point Millicent Fawcett distrusted Gladstone and the Liberal Party, and suffragists began a long separation from all political parties. In 1884 Henry Fawcett died.
Around this time the Corrupt Practices Act forbade hiring of canvasssers, so the traditional parties wanted cheap labor. In 1886 the Women's Liberal Federation was founded by Mrs. Gladstone "to help our husbands"; in 1885 the Primrose League was founded as a women's wing to support the Conservative Party. Liberal women were harder to reign in, however, and a splinter group broke off in 1893, the Women's Liberal Federation, which supported only Liberal candidates pledged to suffrage.
Whether or not the suffrage societies should ally locally with the Women's Liberal Federation was a matter of intense dispute; Millicent Fawcett and Lydia Becker led a minority protesting any such union, and two central suffrage societies were again formed. Both societies managed to grow and to refrain from maligning the other. During this period the suffragists worked to pass suffrage resolutions in party conferences and meetings, such as the national Union of Conservatives and the Constitutional Association Councils.
A paradoxical deadlock emerged--the Liberals were committed in theory to women's suffrage but feared to suffer in practice, and the Conservatives were opposed in theory though expected to gain by the women's vote. Agitation had continued for so long that the press imposed a boycott. When Lydia Becker died in 1887, the cause lost the chief parliamentary agent of suffrage societies.
In 1889 a "Protest Against Women's Suffrage" signed by several distinguished women appeared in the Nineteenth-Century Magazine, asserting: "We believe the emancipating process has now reached the limits fixed by the physical constitution of women." Signatories included the novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward and social reformer Beatrice Webb (who later would recant). What seemed direct evidence that many women didn't want the vote was useful to their opponents. Mrs. Humphrey Ward later became leader of the National Anti-Suffrage League.
In 1893 New Zealand granted women's suffrage, and South Australia followed in 1894 (and all of Australia , Finland , Norway  and Canada except Quebec  would follow suit). Still after discouragements in the early 90's the two factions joined again in 1897 under the presidency of Millicent Fawcett, longtime suffrage campaigner and editor of an edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, forming the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. The NUWSS was equally concerned with converting public opinion as with gaining the vote, which would not be true later of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union.
Between 1866 and 1903, when the militant suffrage movement was born, 1400 known public meetings and demonstrations were held on this issue. Usually the suffragists supported any candidate who favored suffrage, but on three later occasions they supported an independent suffrage candidate, though without winning. In 1894 a petition signed by a quarter of a million women was exhibited in Westminster Hall, and in 1897 a suffrage bill passed its second reading for the first time since 1886. Henry Labouchere a fanatic anti-suffragist (Liberal), had managed to filibuster previous suffrage bills and on this occasion he prevented the reintroduction of the bill by extensive debate on the previous bill, dealing with "verminous persons."
In 1899 the Boer War broke out. Millicent Fawcett supported the Government but many suffragists were pro-Boer, and this caused some division. During the war the press refused to print anything concerning suffrage. Meanwhile the early International Labour Party's feminists were discouraged by its refusal to support women's suffrage in practical recommendations; in 1901 a splinter group was formed, the "Textile and Other Workers Representation Committee," which canvassed for several years. The Women's Co-operative Guild granted public support for women's suffrage in 1903, which brought a good addition of working class support.
The Militant Suffragettes:
Also in 1903 Mrs. Pankhurst left International Labour Party and with her daughter Christabel formed the Women's Social and Political Union. Emmeline Pankhurst was born Emmeline Goulden in 1858, the daughter of a Manchester merchant. Handsome and bright, she married the reformer Richard Pankhurst in 1879, who for years had been a campaigner for women's rights. Of their five children, two sons died, and their three daughters were all remarkably active politically. Less scholarly than her husband, she was extremely energetic.
The Pankhursts broke with the Liberal Party in 1884 after Gladstone's refusal to insert women's suffrage into the Reform Bill, and joined the Fabians. Emmeline Pankhurst was a Poor Law Guardian and active in Manchester suffrage affairs; Richard Pankhurst's left-wing views damaged his career and money was short, and Mrs. Pankhurst twice tried running a fancy goods shop. They lived above the shop in an unsanitary district, where their son contracted diptheria and died. When the ILP was founded in 1893 the Pankhursts joined, and Richard Pankhurst was defeated as an ILP candidate for Parliament. He died in 1898 at the age of 62. It is interesting to wonder if his wife would have maintained her socialist connections longer had he lived another 10 or 15 years.
At his death Christabel was eighteen and Sylvia a sixteen-year old art student. Emmeline needed a salary and took a post as Registrar of Births and Deaths, a capacity in which she met many women who complained of desertion. As Poor Law Guardian she had been instrumental in establishing Poor Law workhouse reforms. Emmeline Pankhurst was an impressive orator, able to persuade many not only to devote their lives to the cause of suffrage but to accept her personal leadership. She favored Christabel among her children and often followed her lead in strategy. Christabel's application to Lincoln's Inn had been refused, and she was taking a Bachelor of Laws degree at Manchester Unviersity.
It was Christabel who named the Women's Social and Political Union as opposed to the Women's Labour Representation Committee, the title Emmiline Pankhurst had intended to adopt--a politically significant choice. Its slogan, "Votes for Women!" contrasted with the more qualified suffragist formula, "To extend the parliamentary franchist to women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men."
For the first two years the WSPU remained associated with the labour movement and conducted an educational campaign. Sylvia constantly interrupted her studies to join her mother and sister, and Adela and Harry helped from time to time. Annie Kenney joined them; she was a cotton factory worker who would become an important WSPU agitator. She suggested that they should hold open-air meetings on the Sundays before wakes, or travelling fairs, held in the cotton towns.
In 1905 a private member's suffrage bill reached a second reading and was fillibustered by Labouchere and others over a bill to provide that all horse-drawn carts should carry a rear-light at night. After the failed debate the women gathered in the street; Mrs. Wolstoneholme-Elmy, now aged, started to make a speech but a police inspector forced her to move on. The women reformed in another street, joined by Keir Hardie, and started an independent WSPU campaign.
The Liberals were expected to win the election and so the WSPU concentrated on forcing Liberal candidates to declare themselves on the issue of suffrage. When Sir Edward Grey addressed a meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, Christabel and Annie Kenney attended with a "Votes for Women" banner, and Annie Kenney asked the question, "Will the Liberal Party, if returned, give votes to women?" There are different accounts of the scene, but Ray Strachey reports this one (293). Grey refused to answer the question, rather oddly, since he was a supporter of suffrage--strange behavior. Both Annie Kenney and Christable Pankhurst were arrested; according to one account Christabel had hit and spat at policemen.
Given the alternatives of fine or imprisonment they chose the latter, refusing to permit Mrs. Pankhurst to pay their fine. The London Daily Mail in condescesion called them 'suffragettes," and the name stuck. Millicent Fawcett, head of the rival NUWSS, felt the incident at least brought publicity for the issue which had been gagged by neglect (Kamm, 147). At a meeting after their release at which Keir Hardie and Christabel spoke, many were recruited to the Union and the incident formed a precedent for their later tactics.
In 1906 the WSPU moved south, and Mrs. Pankhurst and Sylvia formed a procession of women to the House of Commons after a suffrage meeeting at Caxton Hall. Only twenty women at a time were admitted into Westminister, and the delegation was dismissed with platitutdes; Mrs. Pankhurst felt this incident was a failure and a wider campign was needed. At this time she met the Pethick-Lawrences, Frederick and Emmeline, he a leftist lawyer and she a social worker (their partnership represented an early example of the use of a hyphenated name). The Pethick-Lawrences were excellent fund raisers, and also provided bail from their own resources. Emmeline was an effective speaker, and Frederick was helpful in business affairs. Meanwhile Christabel had graduated first in her class in Manchester, and moved south to join the movement. A deputation to the Prime Minister was organized, and when one of suffragettes accidentally opened the front door and she and Annie Kenney burst in, they were arrested.
In 1906 Keir Hardie introduced a private member's Suffrage Bill, with suffragettes as well as suffragists in the balcony. Insulting remarks served as fillibuster as the suffragetttes called, "Divide, divide!" in unison, and pushed little "Votes for Women" banners through the grille. Constitutionalists were incensed and the women were hustled out, but Keir Hardie encouraged the factions to reunite and a delegation of 300 women from all branches of the movement waited on the prime minister, who stated that, although he was sympathetic to their cause he could take no action on their behalf and advised patience. At this Annie Kenney lept on a chair and shouted, "Sir, we are not satisfied!"
After 1906 suffrage was of great public interest and constantly commented on in the press, and it received idealistic attention from those who felt the vote necessary for other reforms.
The WSPU not a representative body as was the National Suffrage Union, but rather virtually a dictatorship under Mrs. Pankhurst, Christabel, and the Pethick-Lawrences. It pursued a policy of repeated confrontations. In 1907 the Pethick-Lawrences started a newspaper Votes for Women; by 1909 this had a circulation of 50,000 and brought in income from advertisements. After 1906 WSPU tried to train members in the skills of miltancy (Kamm, 153). In 1906 Mrs. Pankhurst led delegation to Parliament to ask if the Prime Minister could hold out any hope for enfranchisement, now or in the future; his answer was no. The police intervened and flung her to the ground. After attempts to hold a protest meeting outside the House ten of her followers were arrested, including Adela Pankhurst, Annie Kenney and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. They were sentenced to two months in the second division of the prison, and Sylvia Pankhurst, who interrupted the court proceedings as they were tried, received two weeks in the third dividsion. Millicent Fawcett made a statement of support (Kamm 154).
Publicity concerning prison sentences brought recruits and money to the WSPU, and the sufragettes continued to heckle at every by-election campaign. Emmeline Pankhurst, now supported financially by the Pethick-Lawrences, devoted her whole time to the WSPU. She resigned from the Labour Party, believing that suffragettes shoudl support no party. In Febrary 1907 a National Union procession marched to Exeter Hall in the Strand, called the "mud March." Emmeline Pankhurst held "Women's Parliament" at Caxton Hall to debate King's Speech, after which Charlotte Despaird led a procession to the House of Commons. Despard was the estranged sister of Sir John French, the commander of Bristish forces in France at the sart of WWI; she was a theosophist, vegetarian, social worker and member of the Labour Party. The delegates were attacked by both mounted and foot police, and many were arrested. Two men and 50+ women were charged with obstruction and sentenced to fourteen days, Charlotte Despard and the three Pankhurst daughters among them.
All was not well internally, however. Many members of the rank and file of the WSPU resented its autocracy and certain specific decisions. Bertrand Russell, Lady Amberley's son, stood as a Women's Suffrage candidate in 1907, but the SWPU was forbidden to support him because of his Liberal sympathies. Ann annual conference of the WSPU was to be held yearly, but Mrs. Pankhurst decided in 1907 that the conference should be discontinued and the constitution annulled.
Mrs. Despard and other dissidents formed the Women’s Freedom League. Now there were two militant organizations, although the WFL was never as influential or large as the WSPU. The WFL originated the scheme of householders’ refusal to pay tax, in contrast to the WSPU tactics which now emphasized disguise and surprise (Strachey, 311, 312). In 1908 Emmeline Pankhurst decided to go to prison herself for the first time (Kamm, 159-60). The National Union organized a procession of 15,000 supporters to march from Albert Hall in a show of strength, then in midsummer an outdoor march composed of seven separate processions converged on Hyde Park. The suffragettes wore purple, white and green, and the suffragists wore red, white and green. (It was a time of emblems and display--on souvenirs from teacups to postcards.) The demonstrators sent a petition to Asquith, who replied non-commitally.
A few days afterwards a WSPU deputation to Parliament was broken up by the police, helped by local toughs, at which the women went by taxi to Downing Street and threw stones at the windows of no. 10! This marked the beginning of routine window-smashing, and the attempt at more serious confrontations. Mrs. Pankhurst incited the suffragettes to “rush the House of Commons,” and she, Christabel and Flora Drummond were arrested for breach of peace. Christabel conducted the defense at their trial; Mrs. Pankhurst and Flora Drummond were sentenced to three months in prison and Christabel to 10 weeks, but they did not serve the full term and returned to the usual triumphal suffragette post-prison breakfast.
While they were in prison three members of the WFL chained themselves so firmly to the grille of the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons that the grille had to be removed before they could be freed. During this period women also protested their right to status as political offenders, and sought to be placed in the First Division. When public meetings were declared closed to women the suffragettes managed to hide under platforms or let themselves down through skylights. Prisoners used hunger strikes to force their release, but the authorities began forced feeding with rubber tubing, a painful and dangerous process. Emily Wilding Davies, who had won a first in English at Oxford, barricaded herself in her cell and was forced out by a hose. Members of the medical profession protested against the government’s treatment of suffragettes. Lady Constance Lytton, in bad health, was released by the prison doctors without forcible feeding, so she dressed as a seamstress, threw stones, was arrested and forcibly fed, and released when the government learned of her identity, but remained a semi-invalid all of her life. The suffragettes protested that the government had one set of rules for the rich, another for the poor.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, then over 70, joined the WSPU. Lady Frances Balfour obtained from the Home Secretary a promise that she would never be arrested. 1910 was a year of truce. The Liberals had a reduced majority, and Asquith stated that they could vote as they wished in the House. A Conciliation Committee in the House prepared a bill to give votes to women householders and ten pound ratepayers, which would have enfranchised 1 million women. In response a monster procession to Albert Hall was held, where Lord Lytton precided over an immense meeting, of which 600 suffragettes who had been imprisoned formed a separate contingent and Laurence Housman led a contingent of men. The bill passed a second reading with a majority, but Asquith refused to allow time for the additional stages required for its passage. After Asquith told a delegation of Liberal women, “Wait and see,” Pankhurst ordered resumption of militancy.
On November 18th, 1910, a deputation to the House of Commons was attacked by the police and thugs, who knocked down and kicked their victims. 115 women and two men were summoned to court but all were released (perhaps with a view to the coming general election). Pankhurst left on a fund-raising tour of America. In 1911 a new conciliation bill was introduced without women’s suffrage, but an amendment was possible. Window-smashing raids produced sentences for 150 women. Emily Wilding-Davison began an epidemic of arson by pushing burning linen through a post office letterbox in Parliament Square, and at this point Elizabeth Garrett Anderson left the militants. The conciliation bill was thrown out March, 1912, since members were expecting a new Electoral Reform Bill, and Millicent Fawcett was dismayed (Kammn, 169).
Mrs. Pankhurst returned to window-smashing in Downing Street (Ethel Smythe noted that her stones went wide of the mark!) and was sentenced to two months in Holloway Prison, where she heartened the women prisoners who now occupied an entire wing. During the exercise hour they chanted the “March of Women,” conducted by Ethel Smythe from her cell window. The headquarters of the WSPU was raided and all charged with conspiracy to damage property; the Pethick-Lawrences and Mrs. Pankhurst stood trial but Christabel escaped to France and continued to organize from Paris.
Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Mrs. Pankhurst made great speeches at the trial, but despite the jury’s plea for leniency all three defendents were given 9 months in the second division and assessment of damages. They began a hunger strike, and Mrs. Pankhurst resisted force-feeding, after which all were released. This incident prompted great anti-government sentiment on this issue, but even so, yet another electoral bill was smothered in 1913. Emmeline Pankhurst and the Pethick-Lawrences fled to France, Mrs. Pankhurst in disguise.
Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel wanted an increased campaign against private property and the Pethick-Lawrences wished a wider educational campaign; Pethick-Lawrence was declared bankrupt and his house confiscated for the costs of the trial. At this point Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel decided to dispense with the Pethick-Lawrences’ services and to direct policy themselves; Mrs. Pankhurst announced this at what was to have been a welcome-home meeting for them all in Albert Hall. The principled Pethick-Lawrences continued their educational work outside the Union and refrained from publicizing their grievances. After their departure suffragette militancy intensified--arson, the cutting of telephone and telegraph wires, the wrecking of the Orchid House at Kew!, the slashing of paintings at Burlington House, the bombing of a house being built for Lloyd George. Sylvia Pankhurst, then a prisoner, refused both food and water, and when Mrs. Pankhurst came up for trial she publicized her daughter’s sufferings.
In 1913 the so-called Cat and Mouse Act was passed, permitting the government to release prisoners in bad health and rearrest them after a period of recuperation. Emmeline Pankhurst and Sylvia refused to return voluntarily and were under constant police surveillance. At this point the Labour Party pledged to oppose any suffrage bill which excluded women, so Millicent Fawcett changed her policy of neutrality and the Unionists began to support Labour candidates. They organized a six weeks pilgrimage during which women from all parts of England and Britain converged on London, a delegation met with the prime minister, and Fawcett was encouraged.
In June 1913 Emily Wilding-Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby races. Mrs. Pankhurst refused to consume water, escaped from prison to France, and made a successful tour in America, although she was arrested immediately on her return. In May 1914 another massive confrontation between the police and the suffragettes occured in front of Buckingham Palace. Christabel, Mrs. Pankhurst, and Sylvia met in Paris and agreed that the latter--more identified with the problems of the poor and a supporter of universal suffrage--should separate and form the East London Federation; Christabel saw the Conservatives as the party most likely to give women the vote, and would concentrate her energies to this end.
By the summer of 1914 the suffragists believed they saw an improvement in the attitude of the public and the press, and even Mrs. Humphrey Ward, head of the Anti-Suffrage League, agreed. Millicent Fawcett began to study the effect of female suffrage in New Zealand and Australia. Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation felt their deputation was favorably treated for the first time. The claim that the First World War won women the vote is probably therefore untrue.
Millicent Fawcett supported the war, “Women, your country needs you . . . . Let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim to it be recognized or not.” The NUWSS agreed to suspend suffrage activities for the duration of the war.
Women were recruited for many jobs once held only by men--bargers, grave diggers, bus conductors, clerkships in government offices and positions in munitions factories. A pacifist wing of the National Union resigned; Fawnett continued her activities. The WSPU called immediate halt to militant tactics and the government released the remaining suffragettes still inprison. Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel addressed army recruiting meetings all over the country, and Mrs. Pankhurst recruited women for munitions factories. By contrast Sylvia and Adela were pacifists--Adela was already involved in left-wing politics in Australia, and Sylvia spent the war years organizing infant welfare centers, day nurseries, cost-price restaurants, and a co-operative toy factory; and in addition she put out a newspaper. Mrs. Pankhurst adopted war orphans, a financial burden, and donated large sums to the war effort.
In 1916 Asquith told Parliament that women should receive consideration after the war. The National Union negotiated with Parliament a bill to enfranchise all men over 21 and all women over 30 on the local government register or wives of electors and university-trained women over 30, a bill which was finally passed under Lloyd-George's administration in 1918. Celebration meetings were held (Kamm, 184-85). When the Allies were victorious in 1918, a bill was rushed through permitting women to stand for Parliament, and 17 women, including Christabel Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence ran, though all were defeated. Only Constance Gore-Booth was elected, a Sinn Fenian who refused to take her seat.
Christabel’s defeat was a blow to Mrs. Pankhurst. At this point Christabel lost interest in politics and renounced her former interests and became a Seventh Day Adventist preacher announcing the second coming of Christ in simplistic sermons. Mrs. Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party, and Sylvia became a crusader against fascism in Ethiopia and elsewhere (her partner was an Italian political refugee). After the war women were forced out of industrial jobs, and many were constrained to return to their former jobs as servants; even so, more occupations remained open to women than before the war. In 1919 the National Union renamed itself the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, and continued the fight for an equal vote for women and an end to discrimination against women in general. Fawcett retired and Eleanor Rathbone became the head of this organization.
At last, in 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act permited women to become solicitors, barristers, and magistrates. The first woman M. P. was Conservative Viscountess Nancy Astor (d. 1964), an American by birth. She was voted in when her husband was elevated to the House of Lords, and despite her party affiliation, she battled for many women’s causes.
Between 1921-28 ten more women were elected to Parliament, and in 1928 the Conservative Party granted the vote to all women. When the bill was introduced, Fawcett, now over 80, and Emmeline Pankhurst, nearly 70, appeared together on the platform of a celebratory meeting Mrs. Pankhurst had recently agreed to become a Conservative Party candidate, but she died two weeks before the final bill, named the Representation of the People (equal franchise) Act, was passed. Millicent Fawcett died in 1929, Christabel in 1959, and Sylvia in 1960.
The reading of such a heroic struggle--claiming the lives of a few outright and consuming years of the lives of many others--prompts thoughts a hundred years later. Is violence and confrontation in fact necessary for social change, even in a partial democracy? Could there have been no better way? And though few would deny that twentieth-century women used the vote to support reforms in health care, custody laws, employment for women, housing and social welfare, after a century of two disastrous major wars and many smaller conflicts, it is impossible not to wish for even better results.
Whether or not these would have or could in the future occur if women retained a separate voice in politics--on the model of the Feminist Party in Iceland, say, which developed considerable left-liberal support among both sexes--as they have generally been unable to do even within the Labour Party, is of course uncertain.
It is also an unfortunate fact that in both Britain and the United States, voter turnout is low and in recent years has been declining further. It behoves any who understand the massive struggles waged in order to gain the right for all to vote to exercise their rights as citizens even in so nominal a way.