The women’s campaign for the right to vote (female suffrage), through the N. U. W. S. S, and later in 1903 the more militant movement, W. S. P. U, set up by Emmeline Pankhurst, failed to gain the right to vote between 1900 and 1914, for a multitude of reasons. I will attempt to explain the causes of their failure; historically women gaining the right to vote is a major event, which goes against the tradition of modern history. The main thing to bear in mind is despite eventual promises from PM Asquith; women were often overshadowed by more important political events.
For example International Relations building to a climax by 1914 and the problems in Ireland and home rule increased in importance. The female middle class movement was often repressed by their status in society, and their lack of a majority. As the popularity of their demands grew, other females joined in the fight and newer groups increased in number, and protests grew in violence. The pressure continued to increase on the Government and at times it seemed inevitable that they would eventually gain the right to vote. In 1910 the conciliation bill promised the vote to women householders, and wives of male householders.
However the bill failed to pass due to the general election putting a stop of any legislation of that session. This increased tensions and the violence of the female vote. Pre-1900 the stepping-stones of the Suffragette and Suffragist movement had already been setup in the 19th century, with vigorous campaigners like Caroline Norton, who had fought for an improvement of female status in society. Her progress was slower than the Suffragette and Suffragist movements, the goals in the 19th century were to achieve the right to seek divorce on the same grounds as men, and have the right to own their own property.
The first major change came in 1857 when the Matrimonial causes act was passed. It set up a simpler and cheaper system of getting divorced, on the grounds of cruelty, adultery or desertion. Divorced women were regarded as widows and were given rights over their own property. Later in 1870, (the major turning point of the women’s movement in the 19th century. ) The Married Woman’s Property Act was passed. Soon after this many other reforms were made and the strive for equality become a rolling ball of reforms. However not even the events in 19th century Britain were the original aims for a better life for women.
The Levelers proposed woman votes in 1652, and after the French Revolution the idea was again proposed. Women’s development in status had not started with the forming of the N. U. W. S. S. in 1897; it was not even the start of the movement to gain the right to vote. The idea had been around for many years. In 1903 the Suffragettes were formed in Manchester and soon moved their headquarters to London in 1905. The movement gained a huge increase in support as events occurred, and they gained a degree of Political support.
The Suffragettes produced much propaganda and organised non-violent media from 1905-14, to try and increase the amount of support they had. They used pamphlets, posters, flyers and organized demonstrations and processions. Much of the support they did have was in London; they needed to get a belief in justifications from all women. Though the Women’s Social and Political Union was notorious, it was hardly nationally followed by a majority of women. In order to achieve their aims Pankhurst and the union would have to spread the word, increase the popularity and obtain a larger force to oppose Government.
This is why they printed vast amounts of Propaganda and held many more Processions than before. The Suffragettes had to go to greater measures to try and achieve the right for women’s vote, from 1905 the Suffragettes resorted to violence, their extreme acts would now be considered Terrorism. They vandalized, committed Arson, heckled and attacked Politicians, planted bombs, hunger strikes, purposefully got arrested, disrupted national events, destroyed international treasures. By 1912 members even died to aid their cause when Emily Davidson threw herself in front of the King’s Horse at the Derby.
They induced fear into society and Politicians feared for their families’ lives after an assassination attempt on Lloyd George. The violence of the W. S. P. U led to a split, and the Women’s Freedom League was Formed, led by Charlotte Despard, who continued to use methods to disrupt Government and society with militant, but non-violent actions, such as picketing the House of Commons and refusing to pay taxes. Meanwhile, the Suffragists, led by Millicent Fawcett, continued to use constitutional means of persuasion to reach their goal.
Once a Liberal Government was elected in 1906 it looked likely that they would soon achieve Suffrage and the right to vote, but Women were not supported by the Liberal Leader Asquith. So between the period of 1907-11 many bills were proposed by the Government but were either ignored, failed to gain a majority vote, or merely forgotten and dropped by Government. This did nothing but anger the women’s movement and the actions of the Suffragettes became more aggressive. When the conciliation Bill of 1910 Conciliation failed to pass due to general election the violence of the Suffragettes rose to a new level.
The reason why earlier bills were not passed was because a majority vote was not made in the earlier propositions and bills. This was because many politicians feared what would happen if Women had the power to vote and what the effect would be on the running of the country. Due to the female duties and status, Politicians argued that women, due to their lack of the required education, would not understand the major issues properly. That Women would have unimportant matters they would wish to vote on, such as “House Politics”; things that were relevant to their housewife and mothering duties.
The reality is that Politics had entered the house, with the increase in infant death, as well as many other relevant issues. The lack of justification at being taxed, but not being able to vote on their interests as to what was done with the money raised by taxation. The fact of the matter is, that giving the other 50% of the country the right to vote, whether justifiable or not, would have a huge impact on politics, economy and status of women. The aggressive actions of the Suffragettes arguably speeded up the pace at which women achieved the vote, or possibly decreased it.
Asquith’s actions as he torpedoed the Suffragette movement created anger and a massive increase of support. A support that was rapidly growing as the movement became nationally spotlighted, in bad light as well as good, by the protests and disruptions like the Death of Emily Davidson. Each of the movements, despite the pressure on Government, failed to pass between 1900 and 1914, because it was simply such a major change in society. Britain was the first major superpower to have such pressure to allow women’s right to vote upon its Government.
It was not expected to escalate into such a national movement, from its once middle class women’s roots, whom were ignored and looked down upon by most. Asquith especially was a major part as to why women failed to achieve the vote between 1900-14 as he was stubbornly ‘anti’ women’s vote. Coupled with being the most powerful politician the country had meant that the Movement was perhaps attacked more aggressively by Politicians and Liberal Newspapers. Many politicians in government feared the implications a Bill passed allowing women the right to vote would have.
Also the Women’s Suffrage was more often than not overshadowed during 1900-14 by other important political happenings, such as the Irish Home Rule and the German Kaisers threatening International Militant actions. It is inevitable that eventually women would have achieved the right to vote. Between 1900-14 they failed to achieve this because of various other Political interests, the opinion of the British Prime Minister, and the speed at which such a major change in society came about, with its aggressive actions.