Great British History – The Suffragette

Britain has a big personality. A personality so big in fact it has often been a world centre of controversy but also a world centre of development. In the late 1800’s in particular Britain started one of the most influential journeys in world history and culture, votes for woman.

Since time began, a woman had her place at home as a mother and as a keeper. She was respecting of her husband and other men and was not to voice her inadequate opinions on any matters of life other than when supper would be served, or what pretty dress had been purchased by her owner.

But by the 1800’s (still a ridiculously long time to have waited) the industrial revolution had happened, Britain was full of big factories and these factories did of course require workers and as the factories got bigger and bigger, the worker in question did not necessarily have to be male, they just had to work. Woman were now working full time jobs (although paid less, given longer hours and their wages were also passed on to their husbands as they had no place in making financial decisions).

So things weren’t great for girls of team GB however the fulltime work trend allowed for something much bigger to develop. Woman were part of the working world and hence the levels of discussion and subjects of conversation obviously changed and moulded with that trend, woman were getting into politics and more to the point wondering why on earth they weren’t more involved.

Two key figures stand out at this point, Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett. Both these woman started peaceful protest groups, Emmeline Pankhurst (nee Goulden) from Manchester and her husband Richard Pankhurst ( a lawyer and firm supporter of the women’s movement) started the women’s Franchise League in 1889 and in 1897 Fawcett founded the National Women’s Suffrage League. What both these organisations have in common is A) they were both peaceful protest groups of discussion trying to persuade politicians to give woman the vote in a good British conservative manner and B) they were both completely ignored. Of course women were interested but no one with the power to change what was written on paper was!

At this point comes the reason you as a reader had probably only previously heard of one of the above names and that is because in 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst now widowed founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, this organisation couldn’t be ignored, it brought a whole new deck of cards to the table that British politicians just couldn’t trump.

Assisted by two of her daughters, (Pankhurst was a single mother to five children while she led British woman to freedom) Emmeline radicalised their movement. She knew no one was going to listen until woman across the country gave them a movement they couldn’t legally ignore.

Window smashing, Church burning, Politian’s house bombing suffragettes emerged. They were ready to give everything they had to prove that they would not lie down until they could vote for who was in power. There was not only the risk of physical harm appearing at protests but there was also risk of arrest and many suffragettes paid more than one visit to prison, Emmeline Pankhurst stayed six times between 1908 and 1912.

As things became more serious politicians needed a way to quiet them down without actually tying the noose with their own hands. Hunger strikes in prison had become somewhat of a trend amongst protestors and the first response by the men of Westminster was to force feed them. Demoralizing if nothing else did not prove a popular approach among the British public, why were educated woman across the country being given the treatment of patients in an asylum?

This brought on what came to be known as the Cat and Mouse Act, they were not force fed, they were simply kept in prison until they were too weak to move. At this point they were released meaning if they did die the prison was no longer accountable and if they survived they probably wouldn’t be in a fit state to do anything radical like say… to jump in front of the Kings Horse at the Derby.

In 1913, Emily Davidson made the ultimate sacrifice for the suffragette movement throwing her body in front of the Kings Horse and giving her life as a statement. The event received world coverage unlike other acts which had deliberately received minimal media attention to reduce attention to the campaign.

This left the world open mouthed, while some protested if this is how women behave why should they get the vote? Others questioned if this is what women are willing to give for the vote, then why don’t they already have it?

With the outbreak of WW1, Pankhurst called a ceasefire on the movement patriotically pleading to woman everywhere to put their focus to the war effort.

This request was met and more, woman didn’t just help the war effort in many ways they were the war effort, and in a beautiful domino effect, with all the drama Britain had created women worldwide were fighting for votes and for respect. In 1918 after the war, The Representation of the Peoples Act granted women over the age of thirty to vote and in 1928 women of 21 were granted the vote equal ages with the male vote. It was not the end of the struggle and women continue to fight today for absolute equality.

Today, woman don’t just work in factories they run them, they don’t just vote they are voted for, we are not JUST mothers or housekeepers or objects to be admired, we are whatever we want and we are excellent. Many of Britain’s most inspirational people are women, and today women make up for a huge section of our entertainment, commerce, finance and politics. In a way we are all suffragettes but for that we have many generations of hard work to thankful, and most certainly, Emmeline Pankhurst.

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