Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week: Suffragettes
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Quotation and joke
While we were watching the film Amazing Grace – about the struggle by William Wilberforce to end the slave trade – the other day, the conversation turned to another British liberation movement: the suffragettes.
It seems almost inconceivable that, in a country that claimed to be free and democratic, half the population should have been excluded from political life simply because they had differently-shaped bits. But that was the case, even after some of the more archaic property laws concerning women’s property on marriage (it generally went to the husband) were repealed in the late nineteenth century.
John Stuart Mill advocated universal adult suffrage in the 1860s, but this proposal was struck out of the draft legislation which eventually became the 1867 Reform Act, the 1868 Reform (Scotland) Act and the 1868 Reform (Ireland) Act – instead, some of the property qualifications for men were relaxed a little. Nevertheless a peaceful campaign for votes for women began at that time. Unfortunately, MPs showed little inclination towards sympathy for women’s suffrage.
It wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century that some members of the “suffragist” movement (as this politically moderate campaign was known) lost patience with the failure of successive governments to address the injustice of denying women the vote. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903 with a single-issue manifesto: to campaign for immediate legislation granting women equal political rights to those already granted to men. Although independent of political parties, it focused its lobbying efforts on the Liberal Party, the more sympathetic of the two major parties of the day and, from 1905, the party of government.
Frustrated by the continuing reluctance of Liberal leaders (especially Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908 onwards) to grant women’s suffrage, Pankhurst and the WSPU resorted increasingly to force. Heckling and processions to the Houses of Parliament had already attracted police attention and thus increased publicity for the movement; these were now supplemented with window-smashing, burnings of letters in pillar-boxes, defacing of paintings in galleries, and, from 1912, arson attacks on politicians’ unoccupied homes – including that of David Lloyd George, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. (This particular attack had the effect of causing Lloyd George, previously a sympathiser, to become an outspoken opponent of the cause.)
The response, not unnaturally, was the arrest and imprisonment of many of the suffragettes, including Pankhurst herself on numerous occasions. Those imprisoned often started hunger strikes, which in turn were met with brutal forced feeding – often with catastrophic effects on the women’s health. Eventually the government passed the 1913 “Cat and Mouse” Act, which provided for the temporary release of women on hunger strike, their prison terms to be resumed once their health had recovered.
Possibly the most famous single act of protest by any of the suffragettes was by Emily Davison, who joined the WSPU in 1906 after a university education which included first-class honours from St Hugh’s College, Oxford (but no degree – women were not admitted to Oxford degrees at the time). At the 1913 Derby she stepped out in front of the King’s horse at Tattenham Corner, with a WSPU banner. It’s not clear whether she intended to commit suicide, to stop the King’s horse or simply to cross the track – but she was trampled and knocked unconscious, dying four days later of a fractured skull.
How far the suffragettes were responsible for the granting of women’s suffrage is a matter for debate. Although the Government did eventually promise some concessions (notably after Sylvia Pankhurst – another daughter of Emmeline – had been expelled from the movement for her socialist activities), they weren’t granted until the end of the First World War – by which time women’s work in the munitions factories and elsewhere in the economy, freeing up men for enlistment in the Armed Forces, had radically changed perceptions of their right to a political role. Even so, the 1918 Representation of the People Act granted only propertied women over the age of 30 the right to vote, at the same time as all men over 21 were enfranchised. (Bizarrely, the provisions of the Act meant that a 21-year-old woman could be elected an MP but could not vote for herself.) It was another ten years before women and men were placed on equal terms electorally.
And yet there are still countries where women don’t have the vote even today. It took over a hundred years in the UK from abolition of the slave trade to women’s enfranchisement. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery (in law, at least) in 1962, but is only now allowing men the vote at local level, after centuries of absolute monarchy – how long will it be before Saudi women get the vote, do you think?
Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?
Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:
The BBC website’s history channel is full of interesting things. Why not have a look?
British History Online is a digital library and resource for academic and personal users. There’s some interesting stuff in there including historical maps.
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
- tweed heads where to live
- dan harrison elephant
- marinated olives research
- dancing queen glissando
- brewin dolphin expats
- short dumpy carrots
- fancy basmati rice bags
- jimmy carr cat legs
- the history of duchesse potatoes
Till next time…
Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine
“If it is true that men are better than women because they are stronger, why aren’t our sumo wrestlers in the government?”
– Kishida Toshiko, Japanese feminist (1863-1901)
Readers of William Safire’s “On Language” column in the New York Times were asked to provide fresh meanings for stale words. A sampling of the results:
- Alphabet: The most aggressive wager on the table
- Approbation: Fear of early release from prison
- Bashful: Being harsh or abusive toward someone
- Defibrillator: lie detector
- Ineffable: A guaranteed Grade-A term paper
- Suffragettes: Cheerleading squad for de Sade High