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In the nineteenth century British women gained many rights concerning property, education, and marriage. In terms of the vote, however, they could only vote locally. From 1906 to 1914, they campaigned vigorously for the vote in national elections.
Two groups dominated the British suffrage movement. One, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, favored the use of political means to gain the vote. The other, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, followed a more radical path. Working-class women also participated in the suffrage movement in large numbers.
Mrs. Pankhurst argued that men would only respond to threats to property and to violence. “The argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics,” she said in 1912. She and her daughters led suffragists in campaigns that featured parades, suffragists chaining themselves to the gates of Parliament, and acts of violence that included smashing plate-glass windows and slashing works of art. When arrested, suffragists staged hunger strikes. The authorities countered by using painful techniques to force-feed them.
The most dramatic moment of the campaign came on Derby Day, 31 May 1913, when a WSPU activist threw herself in front of the King’s horse and was trampled to death. World War I interrupted the suffrage movement. Both the Pankhursts and Millicent Garrett Fawcett devoted themselves to war work. They were rewarded with the extension of suffrage to women over the age of thirty in 1918 (women between twenty-one and thirty could not vote until 1928). In Germany, where women also achieved the vote after World War I, the situation before the war was complicated. The women’s movement within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) subordinated work for the vote for women to the larger goal of the defeat of capitalism. Radicals within the mainstream women’s movement created controversy by adopting causes such as the legalization of abortion. In Russia, the women’s movement was similarly divided between socialist women working for the overthrow of the tsarist government and middle-class women who pursued more modest demands. Russian women gained extensive rights after the war and the Revolution of 1917. The nature of the Soviet system, however, meant that many rights existed only on paper.
Suggestions for Term Papers
1. Investigate the life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett. What led her to become involved in the women’s movement in Britain, and what factors enabled her to become the head of that movement?
2. Review the political atmosphere that prevailed in Britain between 1906 and 1914. On the basis of this review, present arguments for and against Emmeline Pankhurst’s “argument of the broken [window] pane.”
3. What arguments did the opponents, both men and women, use against the idea of women’s suffrage? Why, in particular, would women oppose suffrage for women?
4. In both Germany and Russia, socialists strongly supported women’s movements, yet insisted that women support the defeat of capitalism as the prerequisite to women’s liberation. Report on the relationship in either Germany or Russia between the women’s movement and socialism.
5. To what extent was the experience of World War I crucial in the decision in Britain to grant suffrage to women (see the book by Arthur Marwick in Suggested Sources)?
6. Read Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (see Suggested Sources) and present a report on ways in which she extended the arguments put forth by women’s movements in their campaigns for the vote.
In addition to boldfaced terms, look under the entries for “The Home Front in World War I, 1914–1918” (#9) and “The 1917 Russian Revolution” (#10). Search under “Cat and Mouse Act” (Britain), Hubertine Auclert, Clara Zetkin, Lily Braun, and Alexandra Kollontai.
Fawcett, Millicent Garrett. What I Remember. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1976. Originally published in 1925. The story of the struggle for women’s suffrage from a moderate perspective.
Pankhurst, Emmeline. My Own Story. New York: Source Book Press, 1970. Originally published in 1914. Mrs. Pankhurst’s version of the suffrage campaign.
Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966. Originally published in 1938. Woolf argues that women should have the possibility of influencing all aspects of life. Merely voting is, in her opinion, insufficient.
Edmondson, Linda H. Feminism in Russia, 1900–1917. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984. A study of the middle-class women’s movement in Russia.
Evans, Richard S. The Feminists: Women’s Emancipation Movements in Europe, America and Australasia, 1840–1920. London: Croom Helm, 1977. A good introduction.
Harrison, Brian. Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1978. A useful study of the many who opposed suffrage for women.
Hause, Steven. Hubertine Auclert: The French Suffragette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. The suffrage movement in France as viewed through one of its most important activists.
Kent, Susan Kingsley. Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860–1914. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. A major study of the suffrage movement.
Liddington, Jill, and Jill Norris. One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. London: Virago, 1984. An important source of information on working women and the suffrage movement.
Mackenzie, Midge, ed. Shoulder to Shoulder: A Documentary. New York: Knopf, 1975. A very useful collection of documents related to the suffrage campaign.
Marwick, Arthur. The Deluge: British Society and the First World War.New York: W.W. Norton, 1965. Marwick sees the experience of World War I as fundamentally important in the decision to grant suffrage to women after the war.
Quataert, Jean H. Reluctant Feminists in the German Social Democracy, 1885–1917. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. Feminism and socialism in Imperial Germany.
Stites, Richard. The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. An excellent book on the women’s movement in Russia and socialism.
Tickner, Lisa. The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign, 1907–14. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. An original and insightful book. Tickner discusses the images generated by the suffrage movement, by its opponents, and by commentators.