Woman Of The Month – The Suffragette Movement – “Deeds Not Words”
Welcome to the new section of the blog entitled “Woman Of The Month”
In this series of posts I hope to bring to light some inspirational women and girls who have achieved some remarkable feats, some well known, some not so well known.
We begin in January and this month I am choosing to recognise a group of women, who made their mark on history.
A few days ago I took my two oldest girls to see the movie Suffragette.
I thought it only right, that they see the struggle that women faced in the early 1900’s, to win the right to vote. A right today that we take for granted.
Miss M turns 18 this year, she has already registered to vote and is anxiously awaiting the announcement of an election so she can perform her democratic right. But in 1913 England, this was something impossible for all women.
In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded the movement Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). WSPU Members were determined to fight for the right to vote, by any means necessary.
They campaigned tirelessly and sometimes violently in an attempt to achieve this goal.
Techniques used by the Suffragettes included smashing store windows along Oxford Street, chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to post boxes, even detonating bombs. Over 1000 women were imprisoned as a result of clashes with police and for their conduct.
On being rejected for their claim as ‘Political Prisoners’ (not to mention the authorities didn’t want to have a ‘martyr’ on their hands) standard ‘force feeding of Suffragette prisoners were carried out in barbaric fashion.
The prisoner was held down by numerous hands while a tube was inserted through either the nose or the mouth, contents were then poured into the tube via a funnel. Some Suffragettes who endured ‘force feeding’ developed pleurisy or even pneumonia as a result of a poorly placed tube.
In April 1913 The Home Office passed the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, this made hunger strikes legal. The Suffragette would be released from prison until her heath was regained, she however would be sent back to prison once healthy to complete her sentence. This method relinquished accountability for the British Government, if a Suffragette were to die in custody. In any case, on her release the Suffragette was so weak and sick, she was left unable to participate in any demonstrations.
However in 1913 the Suffragette movement was finally given the martyr the government was so desperate to avoid.
Emily Davison was trampled underneath the Kings horse at the Epson Derby when she dashed under the railing and into the path of the galloping horses.
Some reports say that she threw herself under the horse for the cause, but more recent reports suggest that perhaps she was trying to pin a “Votes For Women” banner to the Kings horse instead and was accidentally struck.
The commencement of the First World War all but brought a halt to Suffragette demonstrations.
Concentration was then given to contributing to the war effort.
As a result of the men being away at war, women took on responsibilities and work that they were once considered incapable of.
The National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies continued to lobby for womens rights during the war, albeit with peaceful methods.
A compromise was worked out with the government and on February 6 1918 “The Representation Of The People Act 1918” was passed enfranchising women over the age of 30 and who held property the right to vote. “The Representation Of The People Act 1928” was passed 10 years later extending enfranchisement to women over the age of 21, finally women in England had the right to vote alongside the men.
Some wonder why it was necessary for the Suffragettes to employ such drastic measures, but what you have to realise is this. There was no such thing as social media to get the message out there, newspapers refused to publicise protests, and the editors of the newspapers were all men, these women felt that they are left with no other option, hence the motto “Deeds, not words”, they felt the time for words had passed.
In 1913, stereotypically women worked in the home. Women who did go out and earn a wage traditionally worked as domestic servants, teachers, nurses or in laundries.
As a result most women were mostly dependent on their husbands for money.
The husband also had sole responsibility and custody over any children in the marriage and held the deeds to any property. Some women endured very unhappy marriages. Due to circumstances they were unable to leave their husbands without ending up penniless and forfeiting their right to see their children. A divorced women was also shunned by society and treated like an outcast.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893, Australia followed in 1902, twenty six years before Britain.
It is incredibly satisfying to see just how far the womens movement has come in 100 years, it’s also very clear just how far we still have to go.
The fight still continues for equality, women are still fighting for equal pay and for equality in the workforce and in some cases even the rights to their own bodies.
Although feminism today may mean something different in comparison to 100 years ago or even 40 years ago, we should be grateful to these pioneers in womens history and thank them for kick starting the feminist movement for us to carry on today.
Thanks to these trailblazers, women can now choose to keep our last names and omit the word ‘obey’ from our marriage vows and achieve a tertiary education. We know that the world holds more for us than making sure there is a hot meal on the table for our husbands and a clean home.
These women started a movement that 100 years later we need to educate our daughters about. To teach them that what these women struggled to achieve now, enables us to enjoy the freedoms and rights we do today.
Note: There are some strong themes and upsetting scenes in the movie Suffragette, I would take heed of the M rating.