The Importance Of The Women's Suffrage Movement In Great Britain

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INTRODUCTION

Prior to the twentieth century women in the United Kingdom were excluded from parliamentary elections and were not permitted to have a say in political matters concerning their country. On the 6th of February 1918 however, with the conclusion of World War 1 the British government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchising all women of the age of thirty and on December 4th 1918 almost seven million women participated in their first ever parliamentary election. For almost fifty years women from all over Britain fought and struggled to secure this right. This is known as the suffrage campaign. The largest and most famous suffrage groups running the campaign were the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) known
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For fifty years women had been struggling for their right and still had made no progress. John D. Fair states, “The women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain has suffered from the misconception that it was through the urgings, exertions and sacrifices of women exclusively prior to 1918 that the vote was finally achieved.”

One of the reasons for this standstill by 1914 and the failure of the suffrage campaign is because the suffrage movement alienated the government. Particularly, the activities of the militant suffragists who belonged to the WSPU. These women engaged in violent and often criminal activities as a form of protest in order to gain support and convince the British parliament to give them the vote. Nonetheless, the British government, the liberal government which was led by the anti-suffragist prime minister Asquith refused to yield to their protests. Angela K Smith states that, “The WSPU campaign of violence and terrorism had been the bane of the government for several
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Whilst the WSPU viewed the NUWSS as too old fashioned and ineffectual not giving credit to all the campaign work they had done prior to 1903 the NUWSS believed that militant methods were a poor tactic and mainly angered politicians without actually achieving anything. As militancy increased so did the division between the two groups as the WSPU became a more isolated organisation. In fact in 1909 the NUWSS made it public that they did not approve militant methods and passed a resolution condemning the use of violence. They distributed copies of the statement to the parliament and to the press. In the view of Millicent Fawcett and in the view of the NUWSS, militancy was doing the ‘greatest possible harm to the suffrage cause’ and Millicent Fawcett blamed the militant for the defeat of the third conciliation bill in march 1912. This open criticism and growing division between the two groups greatly undermined the suffrage cause and their influence on the government. As Sandra Holton argues that “the growing division between the two wings of the movement had a disruptive effect” It appeared as though even women within the movement did not approve of the WSPU giving the government all the more reason to view them as silly and childish and not to take their protesting seriously. The cause lacked the power and influence it could have had otherwise. Instead of all women fighting together for one great cause each

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