Suffragists and Suffragettes
Whenever I’ve thought of women’s fight to have the vote in the UK, this is the image I’ve had in my mind. Women throwing stones. Being arrested, imprisoned, force fed. Throwing themselves under horses.
It was only when I began researching the suffrage movement when I was writing ‘The White Camellia’ that I discovered a very different image. The suffragettes were incredibly brave and resilient, continuing their fight for the vote in the face of physical and sexual abuse, and even death. But their story is only that of the final few years, between around 1905 to 1914, of a very long battle.
For fifty years or more before this photograph of Annie Kenney being arrested in 1913 was taken, the suffragist movement fought peacefully to improve the lives of women, and for the right of women to have a say in the laws that governed them. They might have been peaceful and used the democratic process, but they were no less daring, and resourceful, and prepared to take risks. They did not just write letters or pamphlets, but flouted convention, and the law, to fight injustice every step of the way.
These were women who had no legal existence of their own. They belonged first to their fathers, then their husbands. Whatever their experiences or achievements throughout their lives, they remained children. They couldn’t study, follow a profession, or even earn their own money. They had almost no control over their lives. They existed to bear children, and to stay in the background, quietly, and uncritically, providing their husbands with all the necessary home comforts after his long day at the office, ruling the Empire.
Then in 1866, the newly formed ‘Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women’, presented a petition to the House of Commons with 1,500 signatures. It was supported by the renowned British philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill, who added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would have given women the same political rights as men. The amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73.
Which, since it was voted on exclusively by men, who had been elected entirely by men, in a world in which any other way of doing things was utterly unthinkable, wasn’t exactly surprising.
But, of course, that was not the end of the story.
The tearooms were about to start buzzing …