How Did Suffragettes Get Their Name?
The Suffragettes were given that name by a newspaper reporter who wrote that not only did the members of the Women’s social and Political union want female suffrage, or the right to vote, but that they meant to get it. The name was accepted immediately, perhaps because words ending in ”ette’ often denoted something feminine. The greatest leader of the suffragette movement was Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), who founded the WSPU in 1903.
The question of women’s right to vote had been raised already by Keir Hardie, Philip Snowden and George Lansbury. In 1905 two suffragettes, Christabel Pankhurst (Emmeline’s daughter) and Annie Kenney were roughly handled at a Liberal meeting in Manchester and then arrested as they tried to address the crowd outside. They chose to serve a prison sentence and thereby aroused attention all over the world.
British suffragettes were mostly women from upper and middle-class backgrounds, frustrated by their social and economic situation. Their struggles for change within society, along with the work of such advocates for women’s rights as John Stuart Mill, were enough to spearhead a movement that would encompass mass groups of women fighting for suffrage.
Mill introduced the idea of women’s suffrage on the platform he presented to the British electorate in 1865. He was subsequently joined by numerous men and women fighting for the same cause.
Suffragettes persistently lobbied Members of Parliament, one of whom, Bamford, Slack, agreed to introduce a Bill in Parliament. He was prevented from doing so by other MPs prolonging the previous debate. The suffragettes decided on militant action. They were ill treated, abused, arrested and sent to prison, where they went on hunger strike because they were not treated as political prisoners.
Some radical techniques used by the suffragettes, especially hunger strikes, were learned from Russian exiles from tsarism who had escaped to England. Opponents at the time saw evidence that women were too emotional and could not think as logically as men.
They lost some public sympathy by the violence of their demonstrations, which included smashing windows and slashing pictures in public galleries. Seven suffrage Bills were defeated in Parliament, but gradually public support increased and hundreds of thousands of pounds were given to the movement.
In 1918 Lloyd George’s government sponsored the Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote to married women, women householders and Women University graduates over 30. Ten years later women voters were given equality with men.