Suffragette100: What is a Suffragette?

14th June 1913: A memorial procession for the suffragette, Emily Davison, passing through Shaftesbu

14th June 1913: A memorial procession for the suffragette, Emily Davison, passing through Shaftesbury Avenue (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Before 1918 women had almost no role in British politics. A woman’s role was domestic, encompassing little outside having children and taking care of the home.

It is 100 years today since some women first gained the vote

It is 100 years today since some women first gained the vote - Credit: Archant

Campaigns for women’s rights, including the right to vote, started around the mid-19th century, after Mary Smith delivered the first women’s suffrage petition to parliament in 1832.

But it wasn’t really until 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, that the campaign for women’s suffrage really gained momentum.

These campaigners were known as suffragists and they believed debate, petitions and peaceful protest were the keys to success. But the suffragists failed to get results, and many campaigners decided a more militant approach was required.

In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst, and her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia, set up the Women’s Political and Social Union in Manchester with its slogan ‘deeds not words’. These women became known as Suffragettes and made headlines up and down the country.


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Suffragettes were a shock to Edwardian society. They interrupted political meetings, chained themselves to railings, yelled while waving banners emblazoned with ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’, were regularly arrested, went on hunger strike, cut phone lines and one, Emily Wilding Davison, threw herself to her death under a horse in the Derby to get the suffragette message heard.

But the suffragettes’ fight paid off. On February 6, 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, giving women over the age of 30, and who owned a certain amount of property, the right to vote. It would be a further 10 years until the vote was extended to all women, when the Equal Franchise Act was passed, but it was a major step in the right direction.

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