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Voting rights, suffragettes and suffragists

·754 words·4 mins·ðŸ™ˆ ·

The 1900s saw dramatic changes in attitudes and legislation regarding women. Some of those who influenced these changes were women writers and among these, two key figures were Vera Brittain and Virginia Woolf.

Suffragists and suffragettes #

Suffragists asked for their rights in a peaceful way, while suffragettes used also violence to intervene in the political scene and raise awareness about women conditions.

Reflect on where do you draw the line beetween a violent and a non-violent demonstration?

What is suffrage? #

Suffrage is the right by law to vote in national or local elections. To get a gist on suffrage demonstrations, you can watch videos from Britannica

Women Suffrage Advocates #

In Great Britain woman suffrage was first advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and was demanded by the Chartist movement of the 1840s. The demand for woman suffrage was increasingly taken up by prominent liberal intellectuals in England from the 1850s on, notably by John Stuart Mill and his wife, Harriet Taylor. The first woman suffrage committee was formed in Manchester in 1865, and in 1867 Mill presented to Parliament this society’s petition, which demanded the vote for women and contained about 1,550 signatures.

Laws about suffrage #

The Reform Bill of 1867 contained no provision for woman suffrage, but meanwhile woman suffrage societies were forming in most of the major cities of Britain, and in the 1870s these organizations submitted to Parliament petitions demanding the franchise (right to vote) for women and containing a total of almost three million signatures. 

Even though as of now we know that many of John Stuart Mill’s works were written by his wife Harriet, her role is not highlighted in this text.

During that period, a women couldn’t publish politics essays and be taken seriously: because of that, even now her name isn’t as known as Mill’s.

The succeeding years saw the defeat of every major suffrage bill brought before Parliament. This was chiefly because neither of the leading politicians of the day, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, cared to affront Queen Victoria’s implacable opposition to the women’s movement.

In 1869, however, Parliament did grant women taxpayers the right to vote in municipal elections, and in the ensuing (successive) decades women became eligible (entitled) to sit on county and city councils. The right to vote in parliamentary elections was still denied to women, however, despite the considerable support that existed in Parliament for legislation to that effect.

Birth of the suffragettes #

In 1897 the various suffragist societies united into one National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, thus bringing a greater degree of coherence and organization to the movement. Out of frustration at the lack of governmental action, however, a segment of the woman suffrage movement became more militant under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel.

Deeds, not words

Motto of the suffragettes

After the return to power of the Liberal Party in 1906, the succeeding years saw the defeat of seven suffrage bills in Parliament. As a consequence, many suffragists became involved in increasingly violent actions as time went on. These women militants, or suffragettes, as they were known, were sent to prison and continued their protests there by engaging in hunger strikes. 

World War I as a turning point #

Meanwhile, public support of the woman suffrage movement grew in volume, and public demonstrations, exhibitions, and processions were organized in support of women’s right to vote. When World War I began, the woman suffrage organizations shifted their energies to aiding the war effort, and their effectiveness did much to win the public wholeheartedly to the cause of woman suffrage.

Women effort in WWI was recognised by the public opinion and most members of parliament from all the major parties.

The British Government was the first to recognize women’s importance in WWI and allow them to sit in the parliament.

The need for the enfranchisement (🇮🇹 concessione del voto) of women was finally recognized by most members of Parliament from all three major parties, and the resulting Representation of the People Act was passed by the House of Commons in June 1917 and by the House of Lords in February 1918. Under this act, all women age 30 or over received the complete franchise. An act to enable women to sit in the House of Commons was enacted shortly afterward. In 1928 the voting age for women was lowered to 21 to place women voters on an equal footing with male voters.