In 1865 a group of women in London formed a discussion group called the Kensington Society. It was given this name because they held their meetings at 44 Phillimore Gardens in Kensington. One of the founders of the group was Alice Westlake. On 18th March, Westlake wrote to Helen Taylor inviting her to join the group. She claimed that "none but intellectual women are admitted and therefore it is not likely to become a merely puerile and gossiping Society." Westlake followed this with another letter on the 28th March: "There are very few few of the members whom you will know by name... the object of the Society is chiefly to serve as a sort of link, though a slight one, between persons, above the average of thoughtfulness and intelligence who are interested in common subjects, but who had not many opportunities of mutual intercourse."
Nine of the eleven women who attended the early meetings were unmarried and were attempting to pursue a career in education or medicine. The group eventually included Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Helen Taylor and Elizabeth Garrett.
In October 1865, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, established the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women. Early members included Ursula Bright, Jacob Bright, Phillippine Kyllman and Richard Pankhurst. Wolstenholme-Elmy later recalled the group was formed with the express purpose of working for the women's suffrage petition to be presented to the House of Commons.
On 21st November 1865, the Kensington Society discussed the topic of parliamentary reform. The question was: "Is the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and if so, under what conditions?. Both Barbara Bodichon and Helen Taylor submitted a paper on the topic. The women thought it was unfair that women were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. They therefore decided to draft a petition asking Parliament to grant women the vote.
The Kensington Society and the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men. During the debate on Mill's amendment, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the House of Commons that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73.
The 1867 Reform Act granted the vote to working class males in the towns but not in the counties. William Gladstone and most members of the Liberal Party argued that people living in towns and in rural areas should have equal rights. Lord Salisbury, leader of the Conservative Party, opposed any increase in the number of people who could vote in parliamentary elections. Salisbury's critics claimed that he feared that this reform would reduce the power of the Tories in rural constituencies.
Members of the Kensington Society were very disappointed when they heard the news and they decided to form the London Society for Women's Suffrage. The following year, Millicent Fawcett joined the group. Although only a moderate public speaker, she was a superb organizer and soon became the leader of the London suffragists. John Stuart Mill became president and other members included Helen Taylor, Frances Power Cobbe, Lydia Becker, Millicent Fawcett, Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Catherine Winkworth, Kate Amberley, Elizabeth Malleson, Elizabeth Garrett, Priscilla Bright McLaren and Margaret Bright Lucas.
Mentia Taylor agreed to be secretary of the London Society for Women's Suffrage. On 15th July 1867 she wrote to Helen Taylor that "Our present course of action is the dissemination of information throughout the kingdom and it seems to me, we cannot apply our pounds to better purpose than by the publication of good papers." The following year the LSWS reprinted as a pamphlet, an article written by Harriet Taylor, The Enfranchisement of Women.
In 1867 the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women changed its name to the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage and Lydia Becker became the new secretary. She now began working very closely with the London Society for Women's Suffrage. In August 1867 Becker wrote to Helen Taylor asking for a donation. she pointed out that the London group was so rich in comparison with that in Manchester.
On 30th October 1868, the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage established a new executive committee that included Lydia Becker, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, Ursula Bright, Jacob Bright, Phillippine Kyllman, Josephine Butler and Katherine Thomasson. Other people who joined over the next few years included Alice Scatcherd, Eva Maclaren, Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth.
On 26th March, 1870, the London Society for Women's Suffrage, held a meeting on women's suffrage, in the Hanover Rooms on 26th March, 1870. Helen Taylor was the main speaker. Catherine Winkworth wrote later: "Miss Helen Taylor made a most remarkable speech. She is a slight young woman, with long, thin, delicate features, clear dark eyes and dark hair, which she wears in long bands on her cheeks, fashionably dressed in slight mourning; speaks off the platform in a high, thin voice, very shyly with an embarrassed air; on the platform she was really eloquent." Another observer, Kate Amberley commented that it was "a long and much studied speech; it was good but too like acting. Other speakers at the meeting included John Stuart Mill, Millicent Fawcett, Katherine Hare and Charles Dilke.
According to Martin Pugh, the author of The Pankhursts (2001), Emmeline Pankhurst attended her first suffrage meeting in 1872, hosted by veteran campaigner, Lydia Becker. "During the late 1860s Manchester also became the scene of one of the earliest campaigns for women's suffrage, and at fourteen Emmeline returned home from school one day to find her mother preparing to attend a suffrage meeting addressed by Lydia Becker in the city. Jane Pankhurst had no hesitation in agreeing to Emmeline, satchel in hand, accompanying her to hear the arguments."
In November 1871, Jacob Bright suggested at the annual general meeting of the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage that greater pressure could be applied on members of the House of Commons by establishing a Central Committee for Women's Suffrage in London. The first meeting of this new group was held on 17th January 1872. The first executive committee included Frances Power Cobbe, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Agnes Garrett and Lilias Ashworth Hallett. Members of this new group included Millicent Fawcett, Florence Nightingale and Harriet Martineau.
The London Society for Women's Suffrage held several meetings every year. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "In the year 1875-76 the London National Society appears to have held three public meetings, four at working men's clubs, and 13 drawing-room meetings." Crawford points out that at one of these meetings held at St Pancras it was made clear that "the object of the society is to obtain the parliamentary franchise for widows and spinsters on the same conditions as those on which it is granted to men."
Lydia Becker became secretary of the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage in 1881. Other members of the executive committee included Helen Blackburn, Jessie Boucherett, Frances Power Cobbe, Millicent Fawcett, Margaret Bright Lucas, Eva Maclaren, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Helen Taylor and Katherine Thomasson.
In 1884 William Ewart Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. Although the bill was passed in the House of Commons it was rejected by the Conservative dominated House of Lords. Gladstone refused to accept defeat and reintroduced the measure. This time the Conservative members of the Lords agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and £10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections.
However, this legislation meant that all women and 40% of adult men were still without the vote. According to Lisa Tickner: "The Act allowed seven franchise qualifications, of which the most important was that of being a male householder with twelve months' continuous residence at one address... About seven million men were enfranchised under this heading, and a further million by virtue of one of the other six types of qualification. This eight million - weighted towards the middle classes but with a substantial proportion of working-class voters - represented about 60 per cent of adult males. But of the remainder only a third were excluded from the register of legal provision; the others were left off because of the complexity of the registration system or because they were temporarily unable to fulfil the residency qualifications... Of greater concern to Liberal and Labour reformers... was the issue of plural voting (half a million men had two or more votes) and the question of constituency boundaries."
William Ewart Gladstone came under pressure from the left-wing of his party to introduce the vote for women. In 1892 he read the book, The Emancipation of Women and Its Probable Consequences, that had been published in Leipzig. Written by Adele Crepaz it was a strong attack on those calling for reform. Susan K. Harris has pointed out: "If women take the jobs, Crepaz argues, men won't be able to support wives and families. Hence marriage rates will decrease. And if marriage rates decrease, culture will fail. Additionally, women who work won't be able to serve their husbands as they should, with the consequence that woman's nature will be prevented. Even women doctors ultimately undermine women's sacred role. Rather than trying to serve in more than one capacity, women should remember that the greatest civic role is to bring up their children well, and that the highest moral role is to serve their husbands."
Gladstone read the book in German and urged Crepaz to have it published in English. He wrote to Crepaz to say that "it seems to me by far the most comprehensive, luminous, and penetrating work on this question that I have yet met with." In 1893 it was translated into English and published in London. It included the letter that Gladstone had sent Crepaz. Ellis Wright, who did the translation has suggested: "Whilst.... acknowledging most fully the benefit accruing to the women of Great Britain from increased facilities for self-support, it is against their claim to equal political and social right with men that Frau Crepaz would earnestly protest, convinced that therein lies much danger to the welfare of humanity. The recognition accorded to her views by England's Prime Minister is some indication that they are not without supporters in this country."
William Ewart Gladstone sent copies of the book to female members of the Liberal Party who supported women being given the vote. Margaret Cowell Stepney was one of those who sent her comments on the book to the prime-minister: "I feel fearfully presumptuous in venturing, in any way, to criticize a book which you have commended - but as you were good enough to tell me to say what I thought, I must answer truly.... I cannot believe, that there is more danger in mothers making their daughters self-supporting, than in mothers who look upon marriage as the only aim of existence - and, there seems to me to be possibly some weak point in the suggestion that when the husband dies, the widow who cannot work, may always look for help, with confidence, from relations, friends, and charitable institutions - surely in their cases at least - widows - girls who cannot marry - or who can only marry, as a means of livelihood - there may be reason for wishing that women should have independence of a profession?"
By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women's suffrage. This included the London Society for Women's Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage and the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Lydia Becker was elected as president. Three years later, when Becker died, Millicent Fawcett became the new leader of the organisation.
The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature. The main demand was for the vote on the same terms "as it is, or may be" granted to men. It was thought that this proposal would be "more likely to find support than a broader measure that would put women into the electoral majority, and it might nevertheless play the part of the thin end of the wedge."
Millicent Fawcett believed that it was important that the NUWSS campaigned for a wide variety of causes. This included helping Josephine Butler in her campaign against the white slave traffic. The NUWSS also gave support to Clementina Black and her attempts to persuade the government to help protect low paid women workers.
Emmeline Pankhurst had been a member of the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage but become frustrated at the lack of success at getting the vote. With the help of her three daughters, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst, she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). The main objective was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, “on the same basis as men.” This meant winning the vote not for all women but for only the small stratum of women who could meet the property qualification. As one critic pointed out, it was "not votes for women", but “votes for ladies.” Unlike other women's suffrage societies, the WSPU refused to become part of the NUWSS. As an early member of the WSPU, Dora Montefiore, pointed out: "The work of the Women’s Social and Political Union was begun by Mrs. Pankhurst in Manchester, and by a group of women in London who had revolted against the inertia and conventionalism which seemed to have fastened upon... the NUWSS."
On 16th and 17th October 1903 Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy organized the National Convention for the Civil Rights of Women. The conference was sponsored by the NUWSS and held at the Holborn Town Hall. It was attended by 200 delegates, representing both the NUWSS and some other women's organizations such as the British Women's Temperance Association and the Women's Liberal Federation.
At the convention Isabella Ford argued: "We want mass meetings in all the great towns of the U.K. - and as the local workers will seldom be rich enough personally to defray the costs, grants should be made towards the cost of these and of the many smaller meetings required to work them up." Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), has pointed out: "The NUWSS was instructed to form committees in every borough and country in order to press the question of women's suffrage, irrespective of party, upon every MP and candidate before the next general election and the local party associations should be pressured to select only candidates in favour of women's suffrage."
On 13th October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney of the WSPU attended a meeting in London to hear Sir Edward Grey, a minister in the British government. When Grey was talking, the two women constantly shouted out, "Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?" When the women refused to stop shouting the police were called to evict them from the meeting. Pankhurst and Kenney refused to leave and during the struggle a policeman claimed the two women kicked and spat at him. Pankhurst and Kenney were arrested and charged with assault. Pankhurst and Kenney were found guilty of assault and fined five shillings each. Kenney and Pankhurst were found guilty of assault and fined five shillings each. When the women refused to pay the fine they were sent to prison.
As a result of this action, The Daily Mail coined the term "suffragette" to distinguish the militants from the constitutional suffragists and according to Lisa Tickner "it came into general currency in the months following its first appearance in print on 10th January 1906. Tickner goes on to argue: "The WSPU embraced it, despite the disparaging diminutive Their motto was Deeds not Words, and they were dismissive of the missionary methods of the established societies and of the constitutional movement generally."
Millicent Fawcett, like other members of the NUWSS, feared that the militant actions of the Women's Social and Political Unions (WSPU) would alienate potential supporters of women's suffrage. However, Fawcett and other leaders of the NUWSS admired the courage of the suffragettes and at first were unwilling to criticize members of the WSPU.
After the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party formed a new government. On 19th May, the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, met a deputation from the NUWSS that were led by Emily Davies. At the meeting Campbell-Bannerman admitted he was sympathetic to their cause but was unable to make any promises about introducing legislation on parliamentary reform.
In October 1906 Anne Cobden Sanderson, a former leading figure in the NUWSS, was arrested, along with members of the WSPU, Mary Gawthorpe, Charlotte Despard and Emmeline Pankhurst, in a large demonstration outside the House of Commons. Her friend, George Bernard Shaw wrote in The Times, that "one of nicest women in England suffering from the coarsest indignity" of being in Holloway Prison.
In court Anne Cobden Sanderson said: "We have talked so much for the Cause now let us suffer for it... I am a law breaker because I want to be a law maker." She was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Millicent Fawcett wrote to The Times on 27th October 1906 to complain about the press reports of her behaviour in court: "I have known Mrs Cobden Sanderson for 30 years. I was not in the police-court on Wednesday when she was before the magistrate, but I find it absolutely impossible to believe that she bit, or scratched, or screamed, or behaved otherwise than like the refined lady she is." After Sanderson's release the NUWSS organized a banquet at the Savoy Hotel on 11th December.
The NUWSS believed that after the Liberal Party victory in 1906 women would now be granted equal rights with men. However, this did not happen and although Millicent Fawcett had always been a Liberal, she became increasing angry at the party's unwillingness to give full support to women's suffrage. Some leaders of the Labour Party, such as Keir Hardie and Philip Snowden, supported the demands of the NUWSS. However, leaders of the Social Democratic Federation, like Henry M. Hyndman and Ernest Belfort Bax, believed like some senior figures in the trade union movement, that women's place was voteless and in the home.
The NUWSS organized its first large-scale demonstration on 9th February 1907. Over 3,000 women attended a meeting at Hyde Park to hear speeches by Millicent Fawcett and Frances Balfour. In May 1907 the NUWSS sponsored Bertrand Russell, as an unofficial Liberal Party candidate at the Wimbledon by-election.
In May 1908 Catherine Marshall and her mother joined the NUWSS and established a branch in Keswick. Catherine reported: "A committee was formed, rules drawn up, and active propaganda work started at once. It was unanimously decided that our object should be votes for women on the same terms as for men, and that the Association should be a strictly non-party organization; we also pledged ourselves to peaceful and constitutional methods only. Our work was to consist of spreading the principles of Women's Suffrage by means of meetings, of Ietters to the press, of distributing literature on the subject.... The audience at these meetings averaged between 50 and 100 in numbers; in every instance a resolution in favour of votes for women on the same terms as for men was enthusiastically carried."
Catherine Marshall pointed out that influencing the local media was vitally important in the struggle for women's suffrage: "It does mean a great deal of work... I have been doing it myself, though with nothing like thoroughness, in connection with twenty local papers, and it has made very great demands on my time. But the results have more than repaid the cost. Of these twenty papers not one is now hostile; not one ever misrepresents us (that alone is an immense gain); most of them give excellent - almost verbatim - reports of all our meetings, and several support us actively in their editorial columns.... Some of the editors needed educating, but one of our chief tasks is to educate public opinion, and the local papers have an important influence on public opinion in country districts. Educate their editors, and you are educating public opinion at its fountain-head. The difference which a favourable local press makes to the success of' our propaganda work is simply incalculable."
Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister in 1908. Unlike other leading members of the Liberal Party, Asquith was a strong opponent of votes for women. However, after a meeting with Winston Churchill, the new president of the Board of Trade, the NUWSS came away thinking that he was prepared to persuade his cabinet colleagues to introduce legislation to give women the vote.
The Common Cause was first published on 15th April 1909. Mainly financed by Margaret Ashton, it supported the policies of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and in its first edition it stated that it was "the organ of the women's movement for reform". Helena Swanwick was the newspaper's first editor, at an annual salary of £200. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), the newspaper "enabled the local societies to keep in touch weekly with both the activities of the executive committee and with each other."
In the summer of 1908 the famous author, Mary Humphry Ward, was approached by Lord Curzon and William Cremer and asked to become the first president of the Anti-Suffrage League. Ward agreed and on 8th July, 1908 the organisation published its manifesto. It included the following: "It is time that the women who are opposed to the concession of the parliamentary franchise to women should make themselves fully and widely heard. The matter is urgent. Unless those who hold that the success of the women's suffrage movement would bring disaster upon England are prepared to take immediate and effective action, judgement may go by default and our country drift towards a momentous revolution, both social and political, before it has realised the dangers involved."
Mary Humphry Ward argued the case against women's suffrage at debates at Newnham College and Girton College. Once a role model for educated young women, she received a hostile reception from the students when she told them that the "emancipating process has now reached the limits fixed by the physical constitution of women". She recorded in her diary after the Girton debate that "the fire and the rage were immense" and blamed the staff who she accused of being "hotly suffrage".
The Anti-Suffrage League collected signatures against women having the vote and at a meeting on 26th March, 1909, Mary Humphry Ward announced that over 250,000 people had signed the petition. The following June she reported that the movement had 15,000 paying members and 110 branches and the number who had signed the petition had reached 320,000.
Mary Humphry Ward became editor of the organizations journal, the Anti-Suffrage Review and as well as writing a large number of articles on the subject, several of her novels, notably, The Testing of Diana Mallory (1908) and Delia Blanchflower (1915) criticised women's suffrage campaigners.
The leaders of the Anti-Suffrage League claimed that the vast majority of women in Britain were not interested in having the vote and that there was a danger that a small group of organised women would force the government to change the electoral system.
During the 1910 General Election the NUWSS organised the signing petitions in 290 constituencies. They managed to obtain 280,000 signatures and this was presented to the House of Commons in March 1910. With the support of 36 MPs a new suffrage bill was discussed in Parliament. The WSPU suspended all militant activities and on 23rd July they joined forces with the NUWSS to hold a grand rally in London. When the House of Commons refused to pass the new suffrage bill, the WSPU broke its truce on what became known as Black Friday on 18th November, 1910, when its members clashed with the police in Parliament Square.
Although the NUWSS campaign had ended in failure, the extra publicity it had received, increased membership from 13,429 in 1909 to 21,571 to 1910. It now had 207 societies and its income had reached £14,000. It was decided to restructure the NUWSS into federations. By 1911 the NUWSS now had 16 federations and 26,000 members. The NUWSS now had enough funds to appoint Catherine Marshall and Kathleen Courtney to full-time posts at national headquarters.
Herbert Asquith and his Liberal Party government still refused to support legislation. At its annual party conference in January 1912, the Labour Party passed a resolution committing itself to supporting women's suffrage. This was reflected in the fact that all Labour MPs voted for the measure at a debate in the House of Commons on 28th March. Soon afterwards Henry N. Brailsford and Kathleen Courtney, entered negotiations with the Labour Party as representatives of NUWSS.
In April 1912, the NUWSS announced that it intended to support Labour Party candidates in parliamentary by-elections. Emily Davies, a member of the Conservative Party, and Margery Corbett-Ashby, an active supporter of the Liberal Party, resigned from the NUWSS over this decision. However, others like Catherine Osler, resigned from the Women's Liberal Federation in protest against the government's attitude to the suffrage question.
The NUWSS established an Election Fighting Fund (EFF) to support these Labour candidates. Anne Cobden Sanderson, who had been a long-time supporter of the Labour Party, contributed generously to the EEF. So also did Henry Harben, a former member of the Liberal Party. The EFF Committee, which administered the fund, included Margaret Ashton, Henry N. Brailsford, Kathleen Courtney, Muriel de la Warr, Millicent Fawcett, Catherine Marshall, Isabella Ford, Laurence Housman, Margory Lees and Ethel Annakin Snowden. The NUWSS also employed organizers such as Ada Nield Chew and Selina Cooper, who were active members of the Labour Party.
In 1913 the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) had nearly had 100,000 members. Katherine Harley, a senior figure in the NUWSS, suggested holding a Woman's Suffrage Pilgrimage in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote. According to Lisa Tickner, the author of The Spectacle of Women (1987) argued: "A pilgrimage refused the thrill attendant on women's militancy, no matter how strongly the militancy was denounced, but it also refused the glamour of an orchestrated spectacle."
Members of the NUWSS set off on 18th June, 1913. The North-Eastern Federation, the North and East Ridings Federation, the West Riding Federation, the East Midland Federation and the Eastern Counties Federation, travelled the Newcastle-upon-Tyne to London route. The North-Western Federation, the Manchester and District, the West Lancashire, West Cheshire and North Wales Federation, the West Midlands Federation, and the Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire Federation travelled on the Carlisle to the capital route. The South-Western Federation, the West of England Federation, the Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire Federation walked from Lands End to Hyde Park.
As Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), pointed out: "Pilgrims were urged to wear a uniform, a concept always close to Katherine Harley's heart. It was suggested that pilgrims should wear white, grey, black, or navy blue coats and skirts or dresses. Blouses were either to match the skirt or to be white. Hats were to be simple, and only black, white, grey, or navy blue. For 3d, headquarters supplied a compulsory raffia badge, a cockle shell, the traditional symbol of pilgrimage, to be worn pinned to the hat. Also available were a red, white and green shoulder sash, a haversack, made of bright red waterproof cloth edged with green with white lettering spelling out the route travelled, and umbrellas in green or white, or red cotton covers to co-ordinate civilian umbrellas."
Members of the NUWSS publicized the Woman's Suffrage Pilgrimage in local newspapers. Helen Hoare, for example, sent a letter to The East Grinstead Observer: "It is no doubt true that some men were formerly inclined to support it have been alienated by the doings of the militant party. The National Union of Womens Suffrage Society (that is the law-abiding, non-militant party), in order to show the world that it is alive, and to encourage its members in a long and disheartening struggle, has organised a great pilgrimage from all parts of England to London."
Lisa Tickner has pointed out: "Most women travelled on foot, though some rode horses or bicycles, and wealthy sympathisers lent cars, carriages, or pony traps for the luggage. The intention was not that each individual should cover the whole route but that the federations would do so collectively." One of the marchers, Margory Lees, claimed that the pilgrimage succeeded in "visiting the people of this country in their own homes and villages, to explain to them the real meaning of the movement." Another participant, Margaret Greg, recorded: "My verdict on the Pilgrimage is that it is going to do a very great deal of work - the sort of work that has hitherto only been done by towns or at election times is being spread all over the country." The pilgrims were accompanied by a lorry, containing their baggage. Margaret Ashton brought her car and picked up those suffering from exhaustion.
During the next six weeks held a series of meetings all over Britain where they sold The Common Cause and other NUWSS literature. The meetings held on the way were nearly all peaceful. However, the women had to endure a great deal of abuse. Harriet Blessley of Portsmouth recalled: "It is difficult to feel a holy pilgrim when one is called a brazen hussy."
A serious riot took place at a meeting organised by Marie Corbett of the East Grinstead Suffrage Society and Edward Steer of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage at East Grinstead three days before the end of the march. As the The East Grinstead Observer reported: "The procession was not an imposing one. It consisted of about ten ladies who were members of the Suffrage Society. Mrs. Marie Corbett led the way carrying a silken banner bearing the arms of East Grinstead. The reception, which the little band of ladies got, was no means friendly. Yells and hooting greeted them throughout most of the entire march, and they were the targets for occasional pieces of turf, especially when they passed through Queens Road. In the High Street they found a crowd of about 1,500 people awaiting them."
Edward Steer was the chairman and Laurence Housman was the main speaker. The local newspaper reported that both men were attacked by the crowd: "By this time pieces of turf and a few ripe tomatoes and highly seasoned eggs were flying about, and were not always received by the person they were intended for. The unsavoury odur of eggs was noticeable over a considerable area. Unhappily, Miss Helen Hoare of Charlwood Farm, was struck in the face with a missile and received a cut on the cheek and was taken away for treatment."
Despite this riot The Common Cause reported that overall the pilgrimage was a great success and "the result was nothing less than a revelation, to those who doubted it, of the almost universal sympathy given to the Non-militant Suffrage Cause once it is understood." The Daily News commented on the woman's brown skins on the march and added "never was so peaceful, so pleasant a raid of London - and rarely one more picturesque or more inspiring."
An estimated 50,000 women reached Hyde Park in London on 26th July. As The Times newspaper pointed out, the march was part of a campaign against the violent methods being used by the Women Social & Political Union: "On Saturday the pilgrimage of the law abiding advocates of votes for women ended in a great gathering in Hyde Park attended by some 50,000 persons. The proceedings were quite orderly and devoid of any untoward incident. The proceedings, indeed, were as much a demonstration against militancy as one in favour of women's suffrage. Many bitter things were said of the militant women."
On 29th July 1913, Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith "on behalf of the immense meetings which assembled in Hyde Park on Saturday and voted with practical unanimity in favour of a Government measure." Asquith replied that the demonstration had "a special claim" on his consideration and stood "upon another footing from similar demands proceeding from other quarters where a different method and spirit is predominant."
By 1914 the NUWSS had over 600 societies and an estimated 100,000 members. After the disastrous arson campaign, the WSPU had seen a rapid decline in membership. Some of the WSPU wealthier supporters also switched back to the NUWSS. Elizabeth Crawford has calculated the NUWSS spent over £45,000 in 1914.
In July 1914 the NUWSS argued that Asquith's government should do everything possible to avoid a European war. Two days after the British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, Millicent Fawcett declared that it was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. Although the NUWSS supported the war effort, it did not follow the WSPU strategy of becoming involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. Fran Abrams has pointed out: "She (Millicent Fawcett) would lose no fewer than twenty-nine members of her extended family, including two nephews."
Despite pressure from members of the NUWSS, Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: "She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union." At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace."
After a stormy executive meeting in Buxton all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned over the decision not to support the Women's Peace Congress at the Hague. This included Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney, Margaret Ashton, Catherine Marshall, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden, the editor of the The Common Cause.
Kathleen Courtney wrote when she resigned: "I feel strongly that the most important thing at the present moment is to work, if possible on international lines for the right sort of peace settlement after the war. If I could have done this through the National Union, I need hardly say how infinitely I would have preferred it and for the sake of doing so I would gladly have sacrificed a good deal. But the Council made it quite clear that they did not wish the union to work in that way."
According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "Mrs Fawcett afterwards felt particularly bitter towards Kathleen Courtney, whom she felt had been intentionally and personally wounding, and refused to effect any reconciliation, relying, as she said, on time to erase the memory of this difficult period."
In April 1915, Aletta Jacobs, a suffragist in Holland, invited suffrage members all over the world to an International Congress of Women in the Hague. Some of the women who attended included Mary Sheepshanks, Jane Addams, Alice Hamilton, Grace Abbott, Emily Bach, Lida Gustava Heymann, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Kathleen Courtney, Emily Hobhouse, Chrystal Macmillan, Rosika Schwimmer. At the conference the women formed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WIL).
On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act the first opportunity for women to vote was in the General Election in December, 1918. Several of the women involved in the suffrage campaign stood for Parliament. Only one, Constance Markiewicz, standing for Sinn Fein, was elected. However, as a member of Sinn Fein, she refused to take her seat in the House of Commons. Later that year, Nancy Astor became the first woman in England to become a MP when she won Sutton, Plymouth in a by-election.
On the resignation of Millicent Fawcett in 1919, Eleanor Rathbone became president of the NUWSS. A new organisation called the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship was established. Later that year Rathbone persuaded the organization to accept a six point reform programme. (1) Equal pay for equal work, involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. (2) An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and prostitution. (3) The introduction of legislation to provide pensions for civilian widows with dependent children. (4) The equalization of the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged to the equality programme. (5) The legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children. (6) The opening of the legal profession and the magistracy to women.
(a) That in the opinion of your petitioners the continued denial of the franchise to women is unjust and inexpedient. (b) In the home, their position is lowered by such an exclusion from the responsibilities of national life. (c) In the factory, their unrepresented condition places the regulation of their work in the hands of men who are often their rivals as well as their fellow workers.
On June 21st an impressive historical and symbolical pageant, organised by the National Union of Suffrage Societies, marched through crowded, cheering streets from the Embankment to the Albert Hall. Under the chairmanship of the President, Mrs. Fawcett, a mass meeting was held of such size and enthusiasm as men of long political experience declared had seldom being equalled A week later came the monster demonstration in Hyde Park, under the auspices of the Women' Social and Political Union. The Times said of it: "Its organisers had counted on an audience of 250,000. The expectation was certainly fulfilled, and probably it was doubled, and it would be difficult to contradict anyone who asserted that it was trebled The Daily Chronicle said: "Never, on the admission of the most experienced observers, has so vast a throng gathered in London to witness an outlay of political force."
Our Association came into being on May 18th, when a few ladies known to be in favour of Women's Suffrage met at Hawse End, by invitation of Mrs. Frank Marshall, and decided to form a branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in Keswick. A committee was formed, rules drawn up, and active propaganda work started at once. It was unanimously decided that our object should be votes for women on the same terms as for men, and that the Association should be a strictly non-party organization; we also pledged ourselves to peaceful and constitutional methods only. Our work was to consist of spreading the principles of Women's Suffrage by means of meetings, of Ietters to the press, of distributing literature on the subject, and of "promoting intelligent interest and a sense of responsibility among women with regard to political questions". In furtherance of this policy meetings have been held at Braithwaite, Portinscale, Grange, Stair, Bassenthwaite and Brigham. Miss R. Spedding, Miss M. Broatch and Miss C. Marshall volunteered to hold a series of outdoor meetings in the neighbouring villages, and they were fortunate in enlisting the help of various suffragists who were staying in the districts. The audience at these meetings averaged between 50 and 100 in numbers; in every instance a resolution in favour of votes for women on the same terms as for men was enthusiastically carried. Questions and objections are always asked for, and the discussion raised has always been conducted seriously and in a friendly spirit.
The NUWSS and the WSPU between 1905 and 1911 adopted different election policie. The WSPU cry in every election was "Keep the Liberal out," not, as they asserted, from party motives, but because the Government of the day, and the Government alone, had the power to pass a Suffrage Bill; and as long as any government declined to take up suffrage they would have to encounter all the opposition which the militants could command. The NUWSS adopted a different election policy - that of obtaining declarations of opinion from all candidates at each election and supporting the man, independent of party, who gave the most satisfactory assurances of support.
It does mean a great deal of work... I have been doing it myself, though with nothing like thoroughness, in connection with twenty local papers, and it has made very great demands on my time. But the results have more than repaid the cost. Of these twenty papers not one is now hostile; not one ever misrepresents us (that alone is an immense gain); most of them give excellent - almost verbatim - reports of all our meetings, and several support us actively in their editorial columns, and reprint Women's Suffrage articles of their own accord from the "Manchester Guardian" and other sources. Some of the editors needed educating, but one of our chief tasks is to educate public opinion, and the local papers have an important influence on public opinion in country districts. Educate their editors, and you are educating public opinion at its fountain-head. The difference which a favourable local press makes to the success of' our propaganda work is simply incalculable.
June 17th was a red letter day in the history of the movement for the the emancipation of women. The women's demonstration took the form of stretching across the streets of London from Blackfriars Bridge to the Albert Hall one fine Saturday afternoon a living five-linked chain of women, dressed for the most part in white. The chain, decorated with flowers and flags, enlivened by matching music, and tied up here and there into a knot by a tableau or a pageant, was in ceaseless movement throughout its entire length. Miss Bryce, the niece of the Ambassador at Washington, rode at its head, arrayed in armour and carrying a sword to represent the immortal Maid of Orleans, that supreme type of militant and conquering womanhood. It was called the Coronation Procession of the Women of Britain, and was the first and the longest and most original of all the processions that celebrated the King's crowning. To the anti-Suffragists who look down from the club windows in Pall Mall, which are still the exclusive lairs of the male monopolist, the great procession winding its slow length along must have seemed like a deadly boa constrictor stretching its coil around its fascinated victim. But to the veterans of the movement - who, like Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy, reviewed the march past from a window in St. James Street, or the still older Mrs. Haslam, of Dublin, who, despite her seventy-eight years, marched the whole way from the Embankment to the Albert Hall - the procession must have sounded the signal: "Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."
All the women's societies participated in making the procession a success. Militants and non-militants marched, if not exactly side by side, then certainly in loyal comradeship, in succeeding ranks. In the evening each section went to its own place, the militants going to the Albert Hall, which was crowded with an enthusiastic audience. The Shakespeare Ball, held in the same place in the following week, was more elaborate in its decorative design, but it is doubtful whether its gaily caparisoned army of Peers and grandees in masquerade produced a more striking effect than was presented by the massed militants that historic Saturday. It was a night of jubilation not without justification. Not five years had passed since Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy standing upon a chair in order to address a small but earnest meeting of Suffragists in my office in Mowbray House, gave the signal for the beginning of the militant campaign, and here were the results. The redoubtable trio who have engineered the movement, the Pankhursts, mere et fille, and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, were joined this time on the platform by Mrs. Annie Besant, who formulated in logical and uncompromising terms the right of all human beings to justice and a free opportunity to use all their talents, without distinction of sex, even if this demanded the admission of women to the Bench, the pulpit, and to the House of Commons. The note of triumph was accentuated by Miss Christabel Pankhurst, who chortled in her joy as she read out Mr. Asquith's pledge that next Session the women should not only have their promised week for their Bill, but that the promise of reasonable facilities should be kept in letter and in spirit. As a thank-offering some £5,000 was subscribed on the spot, bringing up the campaign fund to £64,000.
After 1903 the whole country, indeed we might almost say the whole world, rang with the doings of the Suffragettes, as the violent Suffragists came to be called. I would point out, however, that for at least two years of their activity, 1906-1908, while the suffered extraordinary acts of physical violence, they used none, and all through, from beginning to end of their campaign, they took no life, and shed no blood, either of man or beast.
1. Equal pay for equal work, involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. 2. An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and prostitution. 3. The introduction of legislation to provide pensions for civilian widows with dependent children. 4. The equalization of the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged to the equality programme. 5. The legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children. 6. The opening of the legal profession and the magistracy to women.