So much more than a vote

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For both the suffragists and the suffragettes, the struggle for the vote was about so much more than the vote.

The trouble is, if you are seen as not having the intelligence or moral fibre to have a say on the way your society is run, then that means you’re also seen as incapable of running your own life and making decisions.

For the suffragists and the suffragettes, the vote also meant having the dignity of being seen as a full human being, not first a sweet little virgin, in need of guidance, then a self-sacrificing mother, in need of protection, or the alternative of a rampaging floozy set on bringing down civilisation (if not the world).

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And the fight was not just about the women. Until 1884, the only people in Britain to have the vote were a very small proportion of (very rich) men. With most men, as well as all women, having no say in the running of their country, or indeed of their lives, women and men of the suffrage movement fought alongside each other.

In 1884, the suffragists negotiated for women to have some voting rights as well as more men. Which might have saved an awful lot of trouble in the long run. But at the last minute, the government decided that that women couldn’t be trusted to vote for the right side (as in, them) in the next election. So, in the true spirit of self-interest, gave 60% of men voting rights instead.

The suffragists picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and went back to the drawing board and the tearooms. But the first stone to go through that first window was just that little bit closer … Men continued to support women’s suffrage even after the majority of men had been given the vote, including going to prison in support of the suffragettes – along with going on hunger strike and enduring the torture of force feeding.

In the end, it wasn’t until 1928 that both all men and all women over the age of 21 achieved the vote.

The newspapers of the time were suitably patronising and dismissive, as in this article in the Dundee Courier and Argus of June 1884. I particularly like the bit about students of natural history being ‘aware that timid creatures (lady suffragists) are apt to do rash, and apparently bold things at times…’ Charming.

It was not to be expected that the ladies who are promoting woman suffrage, and the male enthusiasts who in that matter are supporting them, would rest content, even for the present, with the decision which was given against them in the House of Commons last week, although the majority of 136 which rejected Mr. Woodall’s clause was a pretty strong rebuff. The ladies, it seems, are going to try what more they can make of the matter in the House of Lords. … Students of Natural History are aware that timid creature are apt to do rash and apparently bold things at times, and perhaps thus it happens that the lady suffragists have no difficulty in courting the attentions of Lord Salisbury, even though the end of it should be that his Lordship becomes Prime Minister. Their one aim is to obtain votes for women householder and ratepayers. Provided that they succeed in that, they do not seen to care much what might happen.

 

Suffragists Dundee Courier and Argus June 18 1884Screen shot 2015-08-06 at 18.59.03

Dundee Courier and Argus June 18th 1884 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)