After 1870, campaigning for women’s suffrage became increasingly popular for a number of reasons. Until the early-mid 1900’s, women were treated poorly in comparison to men. They were not given the same opportunities in careers, education and voting. They did not have equal rights. Women helped pay the country’s taxes, and yet they were not given the vote to influence how it was spent. Girls were not given the same education as boys, and were taught household chores and how to get a husband. Many poor uneducated men had the right to vote whilst wealthy, well educated women were not allowed. On a suffragist poster, a quote from an anti-suffragist reads:
“Women are physically incapable of making this pledge [vote]”.
Men, and a few women including Queen Victoria, believed that a woman’s place was in the home, slaving after their husbands. By being given the vote, women could change their prejudiced way of life.
The idea of women being given the vote was originally started during the 1830’s and 1840’s during the Chartist’s campaign. Chartists were campaigners wanting all men to be given the vote. During one meeting someone suggested the idea of women being given the vote as well. This idea was turned down. Following this meeting “The Sheffield Association for Female Franchise” was born, the first suffragist group. At this point in history women were beginning to win a few more rights, including being able to divorce their husband if he committed adultery or beat her.
This could give suffragists the confidence they needed to campaign for their beliefs. The suffragists campaigned quietly without making much fuss until 1866, when a mass petition was signed asking for women’s suffrage. This was rejected but a year later Parliament debated the Second Reform Bill, which allowed working class men in towns the right to vote. A writer called John Stuart Miller suggested that the word ‘person’ replaced ‘man’ in the bill. Parliament then voted on this and it was rejected, but a year later in 1869 women were given the right to vote in local elections. This gave women an active part in local government.
During the 1870’s women’s suffrage was discussed in Parliament ten times, and each one was rejected. Then in 1884 the Prime Minister gave male farmers the vote. This outraged women as farmers were seen as very low down in society and high class women were still not given the vote. The Prime Minister, W E Gladstone, was Liberal and women suffragists supported him as they believed he would grant women the vote. This made the suffragists feel betrayed. Gladstone released the statement:
“I do not wish to trespass on the delicacy, the purity and the refinement of woman’s nature by giving her the vote”.
However by 1895 women had won certain other rights including the Married Women’s Property Act which allowed married women to keep their own earnings, and other acts allowed them to go to university and become surgeons. Nevertheless there were still many problems concerning work. Women faced discrimination in whatever occupation they were in.
Over the next two centuries suffrage campaigners fought and fought, gaining many enemies and supporters. The Suffragettes were born, using violent methods in desperation, to grab the attention of the media and politicians. They fought long and hard until finally winning the vote in 1918.